In 2017, over half of young adults in the UK had purchased an item that had been promoted by an influencer.” (Yenan Wang, Content & Influencer Account Director, PHD UK)

Yenan Wang, Content & Influencer Account Director, PHD UK

Fyre Festival is making headlines once again, following Netflix’s new behind-the-scenes documentary of the calamitous event, and with the headlines have come questions around the authenticity and trustworthiness of influencer marketing. What credentials do influencers have exactly, and, as consumers, can we trust them?

BBC News took a Socratic approach, asking, ‘Has Fyre Festival burned influencers?‘ Meanwhile, The Drum shared an incisive view on ‘the rebirth of influencer marketing.

But I think there are other questions to be raised – who are the creators with the power to influence purchase decisions and what have we learnt from Fyre Festival’s mistakes?

“We’re selling a pipe dream to your average loser,” the festival’s co-founder Billy McFarland memorably said. Indeed, Fyre influencers are reported to have posted promotions that reached over 300 million people in 24 hours. Amongst them was supermodel Kendall Jenner who was paid $250,000 for posting one single Instagram image to announce the launch of ticket sales. The results: 95% of the tickets were sold within the first couple of days of the launch.

In 2017, over half of young adults in the UK had purchased an item that had been promoted by an influencer. Regardless of whether influencers’ posts are sponsored or not, influencers’ content has the effect of promoting the lifestyle they live in. Using FOMO and scarcity marketing, influencers encourage their target audience to aspire to luxury; they sell the dream.

There’s no doubt that influencers hold substantial power in the marketing sphere. However, in the wake of scandals such as Fyre, we’ve seen that their relationship with consumers is beginning to change quite significantly, particularly around the themes of trust and authenticity. What have we learnt?

Of course, there are plenty of lessons to be taken from this utter mess, but here are my top three:

1. Be transparent in influencer marketing.

In 2017, the US’ Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warned celebrities and influencers that they must be clear about when a post has been paid for – but not all of them are. Many of the influencers promoting Fyre did not use the now requisite ‘#ad’, leading followers to believe the recommendation was organic, rather than paid. The backlash from Fyre will have taught brands and influencers that this is unacceptable: they need to think about how they label posts and what the merits of recommendation are.

With increasing issues surrounding transparency, it’s of paramount importance that, in marketing, we treat influencer activity like any other channel, making sure we work with the best talent and run the best performance for all our campaigns.

Influencer content is indeed most resonant and powerful when creators apply their own expertise, style and creativity – without heavy brand influence. Recently we started seeing celebrity social media influencers pledge to change way they post, including Alexa Chung and Ellie Goulding, promising to label posts clearly and honestly.

2. Work with micro-influencers to build trust and authenticity.

It’s common to think of well-known celebrities when you hear the word ‘influencer’. However, niche influencers can be just as powerful. They are the micro-influencers, who are active on social media but don’t necessarily have a large following. Their communities are highly engaged and micros are able to build rapport by interacting with their audiences. Their opinions evoke a high degree of credibility as well as confidence from friends and followers.

It’s also very cost effective to work with micro-influencers, as their rates are significantly lower than their peers with millions of followers. Micros are loyal, and cherish their growing community, whereas high-profile influencers have more in-demand, celebrity status which often prevents them from being as personal with their large audience.

By leveraging these smaller influencers in the influencer strategy, brands can achieve the best possible ROI on a campaign.

3. Establish a long-term partnership with influencers and make them the brand ambassadors.

One of the notable failures from the Fyre Festival is that their influencers were paid to do a one-off campaign, which may as well be a programmatic banner buy. Did these influencers invest time in understanding the brand and forming a personal relationship with Fyre? Probably not. And why would they bother if it was just a transactional cash grab?

Brands need to build this trust before it’s gone forever – adding to the authenticity of an influencer, especially to their followers, who could make purchase decisions based on a social media recommendation. They need to align influencer content creation and distribution with consumer interests and conversions, as well as integrate with multiple touch points of the customer journey wherever possible.

The industry should learn from Fyre Festival’s mistakes and create valuable collaborative content that not only maximises reach, but is also honest and trustworthy for our audience. After all, the consumers are what truly matter in this industry.