Why you should never put your social media on Fyre

The Fyre Festival attracted a swathe of positive publicity before it all went up in flames. With new documentaries on Netflix and Hulu putting the boot in, our Director for Social Media Strategy Michael MacLennan explains the lessons that can be learned.

Viewers around the world are this month being gripped by a pair of documentaries – there are competing ones on Netflix and Hulu – about the Fyre Festival and the very public downfall of its founder Billy McFarland.

A short synopsis for those of you who may be unaware: the Fyre Festival was launched by McFarland in a blaze of luxurious publicity, with supermodel influencers promoting the mysterious event from the spectacular-looking island on the Bahamas where it was set to take place in the summer of 2017. (Kendall Jenner was reportedly paid $250,000 for a single Instagram post.)

However, when paying ticket-holders finally arrived they were shocked to discover an organisational shambles, with nothing as hyped, leading to utter chaos. McFarland was ultimately charged with wire fraud, with others implicated, innocent workers left out of pocket, and people stranded and left locked inside an airport. And those details are the tip of the iceberg: trust me, either documentary is well worth a watch.

In one already-famous moment, one of the interviewees on the Netflix doc talks about the vast amounts spent on positive publicity on social media, and how it was all ruined by a single ‘cheese-on-toast’ post from an account on Twitter with only a few hundred followers:

The post went viral, alerting the press and the wider world to how badly wrong things were going – the Fyre Festival was marketed as a premium event, and had sold out with many paying thousands to attend.

So what can brands learn from this, aside from not putting on a flaming dumpster fire of an event? Well, there is one massive lesson as it turns out, and that is about maintaining trust with your audience.

Expectation management is key. With the Fyre Festival things were going drastically wrong behind the scenes for weeks before it was supposed to take place, yet on social media they were still presenting an ultra-lush fictional version of how things were going to be. Had they owned up to the scale of what was going wrong, at least they could have tried to salvage their reputation for any possible future events – and save people extra pain, expense, and hassle in the process.

When brands own up to their mistakes, and do it in an honest way, then they can gain themselves credit in the process. Just take last year when KFC did the unthinkable and ran out of chicken (here they went with a printed ad knowing that Twitter would do its magic):

There is also one more thing to be aware of: beware the use of influencers. In addition to the Fyre Festival showing how many top Instagram influencers inadvertently misled their followers, UK authorities this week warned several about when and how they should disclose relationship with brands.

This sort of news could kick off a declining trust in influencers, and while it is unlikely in the short-term to be something that has a major effect on the popularity of using influencers for paid advertising, it is definitely something to bear in mind if wanting to maintain an image of being upfront and honest. Ultimately people are much more likely to forgive a mistake or slipup when you own up to it, rather than when you attempt to pull the wool over their eyes.