What Fyre Festival’s Failure Can Teach Us About Influencer Marketing

Last week, the internet had a field day mocking the thousands of wealthy festival-goers who ended up stranded in the Bahamas at the failed Fyre Festival. Hundreds of hot takes were forged in the flames of Fyre Festival’s demise.

But you don’t have to care about Ja Rule, models, millennials, privilege, or yachts to learn from one critical element of Fyre Festival that went particularly badly: Influencer marketing.

Influencer marketing inspires shoppers.

There’s no doubt that influencer marketing is powerful. In fact, it certainly contributed to Fyre Festival selling thousands of tickets despite having an arguably embarrassing lineup of artists and a suspicious lack of details about the logistics of attendance. You don’t have to be a high-end music and culture festival — and you don’t need models as influencers — to benefit from the strategies that promoted the doomed fest.

Influencer marketing works best when you research your audience carefully and identify who that audience admires and draws inspiration from online. You can scale this strategy up or down depending on the scope of your marketing, your core offerings, and your budget.

For example, if you’re selling politically-themed enamel pins, you go after people who share and wear pins, and who post on Instagram about their political beliefs and fashion. It sounds complicated, but there’s a fandom for everything online. (Really. Don’t say we didn’t warn you if you start searching.) Someone cares deeply about what you’re selling.

fyre festival influencer marketing

Fyre Festival did not skimp on influencer marketing.

Perhaps the one thing Fyre Festival did right was identify the influencers who resonated with people who aspired to live large and party hard on private islands. (In short: models with huge Instagram followings.)

Twenty-five-year-old Fyre Festival organizer Billy McFarland not only thoroughly ignored the logistics of getting toilets and any sort of infrastructure onto the festival grounds, he also threw caution to the wind when it came to influencer marketing. The results may shake out to be as catastrophic as the PR nightmare (and meme-spawning celebration) that occurred as the festival melted down in real time.

According to Vice, McFarland spent a significant portion of his budget long before the festival. Not on security or lighting or infrastructure but on Instagram. Kendall Jenner received a whopping $250,000 for a single Instagram post. Sources report that it’s unlikely that anyone who posted about Fyre Festival received less than $20,000 to generate buzz via videos and images on Instagram.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Influencer marketing is smart tactic and a perfect fit for the audience and the budget involved with Fyre Festival. Everything appeared above board until a few little details were scrutinized. Specifically, hashtags.

But they did miss a critical detail…

Only one Fyre Festival influencer designated an Instagram post as sponsored. Typically, this can be achieved as simply as a #spon or #ad hashtag, though on longer form pieces like blog posts, a full disclaimer is more appropriate.

This post is properly disclosed:

We only mixed half the ingredients before she started snacking, but lately the only way I can get her to eat good stuff is to bring her in the kitchen to prepare meals together-and we both have fun in the process! #goodismade @Quaker #sponsored

A post shared by Jessica Shyba (@mommasgonecity) on

This post is not:

work is tough ?

A post shared by Hailey Baldwin (@haileybaldwin) on

By allegedly not disclosing posts as sponsored, Fyre Festival and the influencers involved violated FTC guidelines on endorsements.

Lawsuits have been filed against Fyre Festival and the influencers who promoted it without disclosing their relationship to the festival.

Learn from their influencer marketing mistakes.

If you take one thing away from this cluster, it should be a reminder to follow Federal Trade Commission guidelines when you work with influencers on Instagram, Twitter, blogs, or other social platforms. You don’t have to be a huge brand or part of a media nightmare to get sued or fined for violations.

And it shouldn’t ultimately be about the risk of consequence. Influencer marketing isn’t “tricking” your audience. If you’re selling something remarkable and you pick the right influencers, you won’t be held back by necessary disclosures — and your audience will appreciate your honesty when it comes down to making a purchase decision.

Want to market a product, event, or organization on social media? Say hi. As long as you plan on installing enough portable toilets on your private island, we’re happy to help.