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Influencers aren’t villains – brands are just lazy

Sedge Beswick is the managing director and founder of Seen Connects, an innovative, global influencer and social marketing agency.

The case for influencers

Everyone's talking about Netflix’s latest phenomenon, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, the story of the doomed Fyre festival. Set on a remote Bahamian island, the event was supposed to be something akin to Coachella and Burning Man and ticket buyers were pitched a dream of dancing all night with their favorite models, musicians, and influencers. It ended in a complete and utter shitshow.

As Ja Rule says in the doc, Fyre was supposed to be about ‘Instagram coming to life’. An abundance of Instagram models were used to promote the festival, and in the beginning, it was gearing up to be the bucket-list-ticking dream it promised to be. You might be wondering, how can something with such scale and such vast amounts of money pumped into it go so drastically wrong? Well, pretty easily apparently.

While many are entertained at the “rich kids” being stung by the biggest event faux pas in recent years (and that’s putting it lightly), there is, of course, a much deeper issue at the heart of Fyre’s fallout. The impact Fyre’s destruction had on people who contributed their life’s work to the festival, like Maryann Rolle – the owner of the Exuma Point Resort which was hired to provide catering – has been catastrophic.

Maryann was never paid for her services, and thanks to the damage caused by hundreds of festival attendees who were penned into her beach bar with (literally) nowhere else to go, she had to fork out $50,000 (her entire life savings) to get herself back up and running. This scenario brings responsibility into the spotlight, and since influencers were so heavily involved in promotion should they take the fall?

Of course, one of the biggest backlashes to have come out of Fyre is the apparent irresponsibility of the social influencers who promoted the event. After all, they created a buzz and the festival sold out. Now that the festival’s creator Billy McFarland is in jail doing time for fraud, many are wondering whose fault it all was, and should influencers be in there with him?

There are lots of understandable questions floating around the Fyre media cloud, like how did Ja Rule get off so lightly? And, why did Kendall Jenner – who was reportedly paid $250,000 for her backing – not have to donate some of her earnings to Maryanna Rolle after the documentary came out? Should the influencers involved be penalized for their promotion of the event, and do they have to put up with the flack?

It’s worth noting that whilst the likes of Jenner and Bella Hadid have seemingly shown little sympathy for those negatively impacted by Fyre, it is thanks to the cogs of social media and network of the internet – many other influencers included – that $175,000 has been raised via GoFundMe to help Maryann Rolle regain what she lost.

Instead of telling you who is right and who is wrong in this scenario, perhaps it’s better to offer a takeaway from all of this, on where it leaves influencers in general, not just the ones involved this time around.

It doesn’t matter who you are, no one can deny that the celebrities and influencers chosen to promote Fyre did their job – the orange promotional squares went viral, Fyre became the new place to be that summer and 95% of the tickets for the festival sold out within 24 hours. I believe influencers are a modern-day brand necessity and I will always champion them.

One thing that really sticks out from the documentary is that when influencers who attended Fyre became aware of how disastrous it had turned out to be, they were honest about it from the word go, and actually warned thousands from even arriving on the island – in many ways, their outlets and authentic initial reactions on social channels acted as involuntary damage control.

If anything, the documentary will open businesses’ eyes to the importance of regulation – ie the responsibility of flagging promoted content using hashtags like #ad, #spon, and #sponsored – when it comes to influencer marketing. Even though we’re at least a decade deep now, influencer marketing is still something of an unchartered territory because of the face of the internet, social channels, data management and the ethics of it all changes so constantly and rapidly at the moment. Bearing that in mind, it’s not good enough to shift the blame onto influencers, just because businesses are acting naively.

The apparent nuclear fallout from Fyre has understandably left businesses nervous about utilizing influencers to promote their brands. I can distinctly report, however, that the problem isn’t the influencers at all – it’s the naivety of brands utilizing the influencers inappropriately. I can also tell you factually that influencer marketing isn’t going anywhere since a reported $2bn was spent in 2017 and that’s set to grow to $10bn by 2020.

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