We need to talk about Fyre – the greatest party that never happened – and the rise of social influencers

Recently dropped on Netflix, Fyre – the greatest party that never happened is an original document from the streaming service that tells the story of the now infamous Fyre festival. This was an ‘immersive music event’ and what’s key to its story is that it was launched, marketed and ultimately ripped apart by social media.

This is an excellent documentary that uses footage captured by the festival’s marketing agency, consumer-generated footage and original interviews to tell the insane story about the festival that was set up by ‘entrepreneur’ Billy McFarland and early 2000s rapper Ja Rule. You remember Ja Rule, right? Ja, you do.

To give you the skinny in case you don’t know, this festival ultimately never happened but oversold incredibly expensive tickets and promised attendees an exclusive, private-island experience in the Bahamas. It did this through an incredibly over-the-top influencer-driven video campaign on social media. Then when people who had parted with a lot of cash for a ticket turned up, the campground was unfinished, the music acts started pulling out, there was no food or water and the organizers had zero idea what they were doing. Everything that was promised was a sham.

Luxury camping was in fact in hurricane relief tents.

This Netflix documentary goes much further than the story that came out on social media and in the press. What was presented was something that quickly became an internet meme where it was fine to poke fun at the people silly enough to buy tickets to a completely untested festival.

The documentary profiles McFarland, asking the audience to decide for themselves whether he was a good-intentioned dreamer who got in over his head or a scam-artist who knew exactly what he was doing. I’m well and truly on the side of the latter. But this was all apparent in the media when the whole thing went down. But what Netflix does is go further, talking to the people who were left out of pocket. This includes the local businesses who worked for weeks and months without pay and the Bahamian workers who were promised the earth but left without anything.

The access Netflix gets to stories like this are only increasing. So many conversations now start with ‘I watched this documentary on Netflix…’ And the topics are about sociological issues and real-world events rather than the reality shows that were popular a few years ago.

And that in itself is reason enough for everyone to head to Netflix and watch this doc. Fyre is a brilliant example of this because yes, it’s funny all these people flew to the Bahamas expecting an Instagram-worthy weekend but it also shows how easily everyone’s need for the ‘Insta-life’ can be taken advantage of.

Because when we talk about Fyre – the party that never happened, we need to talk about the issue with influencers.

More than ever, people like Kendall Jenner or Emily Ratajkowski are able to sell products and services simply through posting a picture. This documentary spends a lot of time highlighting the influencers who were paid to promote this festival by simply posting an orange square to their Instagram fees. Jenner herself was reportedly paid $250,000 for a single post promoting the festival.

And what was sold by those influencers wasn’t a great line-up of musical acts, incredible food or anything else substantial. What people parted with their cash for was an idea. The promotional video for Fyre was all models drinking, posing and splashing around in the water on a private beach. What was sold was the chance to create a very enviable Instagram post.

The social media influencer promo video promised an Instagram-worthy weekend away.

“Imagine how amazing your feed will look if you pay us to let you come to our island to camp in a luxurious tent and party on the beach.”

Even one of the festival’s event-organisers says that his experience of working on Fyre was dreadful – one of the worst events he’s done. And by all accounts, no-one working on it had a particularly good time of it. But during that time, said organiser was working from the site in the Bahamas so his Instagram feed was full of ‘look how good my office view is today’ posts of beach scenes and clear blue waters.

And it’s this sort of thing that’s representative of what I think is a major issue with social media and people trying to compete with the posts that are seen on influencers’ feeds.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some kind of social media denier. I think online platforms have changed the world mostly for the better. I use social media to get my news, to learn about current events. I find articles and blogs I like and share content with people.

But what impact is the ‘influencer culture’ having on us and what will it do to a generation of kids growing up and not knowing different. As a marketing channel it’s likely much more effective than older means. If you have a product that’s targeted at 16-25 year old women and have the money to pay an influencer whose following is that demographic – well, you’d be silly to stick an advert on a bus instead.

But the power that comes with being an influencer can be dangerous. Since paid posts have become more prevalent, influencers now tend to make sure people know that a post is an #ad if it’s being paid for. But I wonder if they also do their due diligence into company X, its products and reputation. Many of their followers do after all, hang on to their every word. They trust this person to who they’re just one of 20 million followers.

With the Fyre festival, there certainly wasn’t any kind of fact-checking on the influencers’ behalf. They got a trip to the Bahamas to shoot a video with the organisers and all they had to do was publish one post. And it left lots of their followers as well as businesses and labourers out of pocket. All in the name of chasing the best Instagram post.

So I think we can all do a bit more when we see something that’s being promoted by an influencer. Before we assume their word is gospel, let’s do some research into what it is they’re promoting.

Afterall, that’s what Google’s for.

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