Social media. Love it, hate it, addicted to it, whatever your relationship is with it, social media is an omnipresent force in our modern day-to-day. What was once the revolutionary idea of sharing photos and reconnecting with people far away, social media seemed like the tool to connect with people more than ever before. While social media is still great for that, in some corners of the internet, and thanks to some unethical decisions, it’s also become something more dangerous.

Social Media Influence and Fyre Festival

I recently sat down to do some very scientific and highly enjoyable ‘research’ into the role social media has played in recent event promotion. Set with my coziest pajamas and resident lap cat, I started with a case I thought I knew all about. Fyre Festival. Being helplessly devoted to social media in my own work and life, I had followed the Fyre Festival since the first utterance of the name Ja Rule being involved and I was thrilled to have not one, but two in-depth documentaries to watch on the topic. The event was billed as an exclusive festival where VIPs, celebrities, and their fans could come together in a tropical oasis to listen to music, party, and live the celebrity lifestyle. Tickets went for as much as $12,000 with the promise of luxurious accommodations, chef-prepared meals, and more. In reality, guests arrived to find a lack of shelter, horrible food, and no organization. There had to be red flags along the way and I want to break down some of the details of Fyre Fest and how social media made it happen.

Social Media Influence on Fyre Festival

The Influence of Beauty and Money

Let’s start with influencer culture. As social media became a more permanent fixture in the collective social experience, marketers realized there was money to be made. People weren’t connecting with the soulless marketing ploys of paid models in manufactured set designs. And thus influencer culture was born. People are more willing to trust or want to imitate their favorite celebrities or pseudo-celebrities. From beauty bloggers to celebrity models wearing and tagging clothes, the opportunities are endless for social media influencers. 

I could go on and on about influencer culture, maybe even explore the dark world of YouTube celebrity, but that is for a different day and a different blog. And much more coffee.

Selling the Lifestyle of the Rich and the Famous

This shift in influential marketing brings us back to the biggest event marketing hype and failure to date. When Ja Rule and Billy McFarland came up with the idea to create a music festival that not only gave regular people access to great concerts in a great venue, it offered something no other festival had offered before. The lifestyle that influential models and personalities enjoy without being an influencer or celebrity. The approach very blatantly played off of people’s desire to live the lives they see in their Instagram feed and that promise turned out to be very persuasive for many people, even at an astronomical price point. When we look back at the promotion and social media marketing, it’s clear the idea was to give teens and young adults a glimpse into the lives they see behind social media accounts to live out for themselves.

Social Media Accountability

This is where the event took a turn. A turn no one would be able to correct. Instead of refunding money or being transparent about the lack of preparation for the event, the team behind Fyre Fest turned a blind eye to the mounting issues and silenced social media from posting anything negative on their channels. Influencers who were promised payment never received the compensation and were none the wiser about the reality of the event they were promoting to their fans. Instead of fielding questions and giving up-to-date information, social media went silent and any reference to a less-than-perfect event was immediately deleted from the Fyre Festival accounts. The documentaries go in-depth on this subject, but it is an important point to contemplate in who is at fault in this situation. It’s a difficult question to answer, and one I’m sure we will see again in the future but are the people behind the social media accounts responsible for the strategy behind them?

Takeaways and Teachable Moments

So, what can we take away from the Fyre Festival disaster? For one, social media marketing and influencer digital marketing are extremely powerful tools. But tools that should be used carefully. Disruptive marketing was also key in making people stop and pay attention. So think to yourself, how could you utilize influence or disruption for your business? You might not get people like Kendall Jenner, or Ja Rule to post your content, but say you’re a local roofer. How powerful would it be to have the local home expert share news from your organization? The key to the most powerful influencer marketing is understanding your audience. This is one area Fyre Fest excelled at, almost to an alarming degree. They knew the type of person who would want an event like this and played on their deepest desires and the promise of something extremely exclusive to sell non-existent tickets. So I will leave you with this, use social media and use it well, but be careful with how you respond and what you say. Nothing stays hidden for long in the age of social media.

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