What does the Fyre Festival mean for Influencer Marketing

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With social media constantly changing and pushing the boundaries for how we market products, events and businesses, influencer marketing has started becoming a large avenue for PR. This can be done in a positive way that connects with audiences, but it hasn’t been done without some bumps down the road.

Take, for example, the Fyre Festival. If you haven’t heard of the Fyre Festival (are you not on social media or have a Netflix account?!), it was ‘supposed’ to be a festival hosted on a deserted island in the Bahamas. The festival was thought up by Billy McFarland and Ja-Rule to promote an app based on hiring out talent. They promoted the three-day event as a ‘luxury, immersive music festival’. How they promoted it is where things get interesting.

The two hosted supermodels such as Hailey Baldwin, Emily Ratajkowski and Bella Hadid on the island for a week-long party that was shot, edited and promoted on social media. The video looked as though you would be hanging out with supermodels, on gorgeous beaches, and enjoying a party for three days straight.

They then had these models and influencers post about it on social media with the fire emoji and #fyre to build a buzz. On one day, in particular, all these influencers posted an orange square on Instagram to get the audience’s attention. The audience bought it, wanting to live the life of super-mega influencers and supermodels. They would pay anything to live this ‘insta-life’ they were seeing. In essence, they were doing it for the ‘gram.

So, when the festival was a disaster, leaving the ticket holders high and dry when it came to food, shelter, electricity, you name it, the influencers and supermodels also landed in hot water. They were promoting something they didn’t fully believe in, or even know any details about.

With the disaster of the Fyre Festival, and Influencer Marketing fail, what does this mean for influencers now?  

Around the same time that this was playing out across the media, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) in the United States was looking for ways to have guidelines about Influencer Marketing and disclosing information about their inner workings. They started sending brands and influencers letters stating that they must disclose if they are being paid.

For Canada, we don’t have as strict regulations, but AD Standards of Canada has set guidelines for the best practices of online marketing via influencers. First and foremost, influencers are running a business, so they are responsible for any content or message that is put out. With this, you need to be transparent.

Even if you are not being paid, but you’ve been sent a gift or sent to an event where you receive a product, its safer to disclose that, than risk breaking transparency. As Randy Sageman from Ad Standards says, “when in doubt, shout it out”.

Instagram has come up with great features for influencers to ensure that they are fully disclosing their practices. Where you can tag your location on photos, you can now input ‘in paid partnership with..’. The use of hashtags is also really important. If your doing an ad or partnership with a company, using #ad or #partnership where it can be seen for your followers is key.

When these best practices are not followed complaints can be made to Ad Standards. As they are not a government agency, they try to work with the brand or influencer to rectify the issue and ensure it doesn’t happen again. If there is no positive progress being made, their name or brand is forwarded to the Competition Beauro of Canada where they could be fined. Depending on the situation, the fine can be as large as $1 million. A good example of this in Canada is Bell.

Bell had their employees promoting their product, but had full control of the message, timing and narrative. As this wasn’t disclosed to the audience, they were fined $1.3 million dollars.

Now, with influencer marketing, there are certain steps that need to be made to ensure that this doesn't happen. While you are promoting and marketing to your audience, you don’t want to deceive them. There is a lot of trust in influencer marketing, and when it’s done correctly, it can be very successful.

About the Author

Darian Kovacs is the principal of Jelly Digital Marketing and PR and is the Sponsorship Director for CPRS Vancouver.

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