In the past week the media world has been awash with a debate around influencers. This clamour follows the release of a new documentary on the Fyre Festival, a now infamous catastrophe in which the rose filtered fantasy of Instagram met the hurricane tented harshness of reality.
The documentary tracks the development of the Fyre Festival from inception of the brand, through a meteoric rise in popularity fuelled by social posts by popular social influencers, and culminating in a spectacularly disastrous end. Working in PR and communications I cannot deny that Fyre ran arguably one of the most successful PR campaigns of all time. It all hinged with unashamed egotism on the power of social media influencers.
Today the world, governments and regulatory bodies have woken up to the powers of the social media giants, and their ability to both deceive the electorate and topple governments or bring about huge positive social change.
These social platforms have always seen advertising as their cash cow. The influencer market has grown in size from $1.7bn in 2016 to $4.6bn in 2018 and is forecast to hit $10bn in 2020. With these huge sums being spent, platforms like Instagram and YouTube are keen to help influencers and brands to understand their followers, by understanding what content performs best allows them to cement the loyalty of their fans.
It is important to remember, the influencer’s audience has chosen to follow this person, to have regular snapshots of their lives appear in their feed every day. There is an affinity and trust in influencers often more so than real people in their lives. Creating this connection to who the influencer is, what they stand for and how they represent themselves to the world is nearly impossible to replicate through other mediums.
Two years ago, the Fyre festival tapped into the Instagram ecosystem in which celebrity influencers with huge followings could make or break brands and companies overnight. With just ten influencers and a mysterious orange tile, the hype for the Fyre festival resulting in it selling out in days, despite tickets costing thousands of dollars. As a marketing campaign it was an overwhelming success.
But the ensuing disaster of the festival shone a very public and harsh light on influencer marketing, a sector that had rapidly become the wild west for fickle entrepreneurs to make a quick buck. Many celebrities and influencers can demand inordinate sums, Kendall Jenner was reportedly paid $250,000 for a single post on Instagram launching the Fyre Festival ticket sales.
But as most brands are unable to afford such extortionate fees it has given rise to micro-influencers who often only target tens of thousands of followers, never the less, offer opportunities to target audiences within core demographics. What is more, these micro-influencers can be more precious of their following, often insisting on editorial control after charging a few thousand pounds for endorsements or trials.
When this influence is bought so easily, the integrity of the medium can quickly be diluted. Many influencers, like those involved in the Fyre Festival, have fallen foul of unethical brands and vice versa, brands who have failed to do their research have suffered from the natural content of unscrupulous ambassadors.
The isn’t a new issue, in 2012 Snickers were cleared by the advertising watchdog following a campaign in which Katie Price and Rio Ferdinand posted a series of tweets that were incongruous to their usual behaviour. Followers responded with concern that their respective accounts had been hacked.
This may have seen harmless, but it planted a seed, especially when health and lifestyle decisions are concerned. This week sixteen celebrity influencers following warnings from the CMA agreed to alter the way they post content in order to highlight and distinguish the paid for content from their natural activity.
This is a positive step, and one that brands should welcome. By insisting that any work in which brands engage with influencers are clearly marked it will enable greater openness and transparency with the end audience.
Influencers have always existed in society and their evolution in the social media space is only likely to continue. There are ever more methods for reaching target audiences and brands should embrace influencers as one string in their bow. Social media offers limitless capabilities to communicate the values and ambition of a business or brand given creativity in the approach.
The Fyre Festival showed the power of influencer marketing to sell an image of a brand. Influencers and brands work incredibly hard to cultivate a following, but the Fyre saga showed, in a disastrous spectacle, that PR should fundamentally be grounded in truth.