The garbage fire that was (or wasn’t) the Fyre Festival has media pundits clutching their pearls and warning the populace against the grave dangers of influencer marketing. And now that a major lawsuit has been brought against some of the influencers themselves, you may be feeling nervous about the state of your own business and considering hiding under the covers permanently (surely the FTC can’t find you there!).
While the Fyre Festival brought greater attention to the use of influencer marketing, and not much of it positive, things aren’t as black as they look. Influencer marketing isn’t going anywhere, with 92% of consumers saying they trust recommendations from other people (even strangers) over branded content. That said, a closer look at the Fyre Festival disaster reveals where these influencers made huge mistakes and how you can protect yourself from following in their footsteps.
1) They didn’t vet the product
According to the New Statesman, anybody without stars in their eyes could have figured out that the Fyre Festival wasn’t going to be the next Coachella like its organizers promised. “There were hundreds of warning signs about the event,” Amelia Tait writes. Vanity Fair’s Nick Bilton called the Fyre Festival’s leaked pitch deck “one of the most preposterous invitations for outside capital that I have ever seen.” In other words, these celebrity influencers should have seen it coming. It’s precisely this lack of vetting that so many in the media are using to disparage influencer marketing. “These people will say or do anything for a quick buck” is the general sentiment among the angry mob of journalists.
How can you ensure the pitchforks and torches aren’t directed at you next? The fix for this is simple: do your homework. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If a potential brand partner is approaching you with the most preposterous business plan you’ve ever seen, it’s a good idea to back away slowly, no matter what they’re offering you in exchange. If you’re still feeling anxious, it’s time to ask for outside help. You started out doing what you do because you love making content and connecting with your followers (more on this later). Turning your passion into a business is a great move, but it might be unexplored territory for you. Let Influencer.co be your guide. We’ve personally vetted 70,000 merchants and over half a million products for you that won’t come back to bite you in the derriere. In other words, we’re the smart kid that will let you cheat off our homework so you can get back to doing what you do best.
2) They didn’t follow the rules
I know, I know—being a goody-two-shoes rule-follower sounds laaaaame. Less lame? A $40,000 fine from the FTC, which, according to Wired, is what you could end up paying for not being sufficiently transparent with your marketing posts. This issue was one of the major sticking points in the Fyre Festival debacle. According to several articles, Emily Ratajkowski was the only one of the so-called Fyre Starters to appropriately tag her her Fyre Festival-promoting post with #ad. Whether true or not, many festival attendees claimed they would have been deterred from buying tickets had they known the celebrities involved had been paid for their endorsements. As noted above, there were obvious signs that the festival was not going to be the life-changing experience it was billed as. Savvy consumers could have made a smarter decision, regardless of how many influencers attached their seal of approval. That said, smart influencers should protect themselves (and their relationship with followers) from any potential backlash over a lousy product.
The upside is that the solution is simple: make like a window and get transparent. Engadget notes that influencers only have to make the small concession of including #ad, or the words “sponsored,” “promotion,” or “paid ad” to be compliant with the FTC. True, openly addressing that some of your content is paid might turn off some followers, or discourage them from checking out a promoted product. Remember though that your sales will be hurt significantly more by an FTC fine. Even if you are making big bucks, influencers should expect the FTC to get more serious about enforcement following Fyre Festival. Worse than that, a product endorsement gone wrong can do severe damage to your brand’s reputation if you haven’t done enough to protect yourself.
Your followers respond to your authenticity and plugging any old product that comes your way won’t be a successful strategy. Tagging a post as paid content will sting less if it’s balanced by real enthusiasm on your part. Influencer.co’s aggregate service makes it so much easier to find products you love than surfing for affiliate programs at random or waiting for companies (whose market may not match your audience) to come knocking at your door. Find your niche and your promotions will fit in seamlessly. Influencer.co also offers piles of educational material (I promise it’s way more interesting than it sounds!) that will not only help you stay on top of industry standards but also give you tons of tips and tricks to run your influencer business more effectively.
3) They didn’t apologize
A good influencer knows that the bottom line of their business is not just about the dollars and cents—it’s about relationships and engagement. Sure, with their massive followings, most of the Fyre Starters won’t see irreparable damage to their brands, but you can bet those of their followers who did attend the “festival” will think again before trusting whatever influencer led them down that path of doom. And rather than try to repair the relationship with those followers, the celebrities in question responded with … silence (insert crickets chirping here). The majority of Fyre Starters scrubbed any mention of the festival from their social media accounts. One can almost imagine a group text going around: “We must never speak of this again.” A couple of those involved did speak up, but mostly to deflect responsibility. Co-organizer Ja Rule made a heartfelt-ish apology, in which he simultaneously takes responsibility while also calling the disaster “NOT MY FAULT.” Bella Hadid issued a pseudo-apology on Twitter that has since been taken down, claiming that “This was not my project what so ever, nor was I informed about the production or process of the festival in any shape or form.” While better than silence, these non-apology apologies aren’t exactly reassuring to loyal followers.
Suppose you don’t have Influencer.co in your corner yet, and you’ve already made mistakes 1 and 2. What’s an influencer to do? Apologize, apologize, apologize. As Josh Dickey says in his Mashable article, “With great influence comes great accountability.” Unlike the merchants you might be promoting, your money-making ventures operate at the intersection between your business and you, a real-live person. Your first loyalty should be to your base, not your branded partnerships—without your base, those partnerships will disappear anyway. You might be worried about openly acknowledging that you made a bad move or were taken advantage of. But your followers will respond to your authenticity, and anyone who was hurt by a bad purchase is more likely to forgive you if they’re reminded that you’re a real person who makes mistakes but still has their back.
The Fyre Festival has undoubtedly drawn negative attention to influencer marketing, but it can be a positive opportunity for influencers. Use the mistakes made by other influencers to clean up sloppy practices in your own business, and take a minute to educate your followers on what makes you as an influencer a force for good. Your followers love your content, and they’re hungry for trustworthy recommendations in the face of overwhelming advertising. Vet your products, be transparent, be accountable, and you can let the blowback from Fyre Festival propel you forward.