Points of view

Can we really trust influencers?

11.03.2019 | By ELODIE RUSSO

Unless you live under a rock, you have most likely seen the Netflix or Hulu documentary about Fyre Festival, a.k.a. the worst musical event to never happen, or as his founder would rather have it, “the biggest event of the decade.” But just in case you haven’t even heard of Fyre before, let me introduce you to the biggest fraud of 2017.

 

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Fyre Festival was supposed to be a three-day luxury event, held on a private island in the Bahamas and organized by Billy McFarland, CEO of Fyre Media Inc and rapper Ja Rule – Think private jets, white sandy beaches, luxury villas, huge headliners, gourmet cuisine and models running around in tiny bikinis. Sounds amazing, right? Unfortunately, the truth looked a lot more like charter planes, wet disaster relief tents and cold American cheese on stale bread.

What makes this even more fascinating is the fact the event had been heavily promoted on social media by some of today’s biggest supermodels and influencers in exchange for free VIP tickets, accommodation and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some, like Kendall Jenner, were quick to delete the now infamous orange square from their Instagram grid, while others, like Hailey Baldwin gave their paycheck to charity in an attempt to do some late damage control, but it was already too late for many people who were left wondering if they could indeed trust what they saw their favourite influencers.

 

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In the past few years, influencer marketing has become an essential tool for brands and companies wanting to promote a specific product to a large, mostly young audience. But what happens when your favorite blogger, Instagrammer or YouTuber becomes a walking billboard? Well, Fyre Festival happens.

 

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Of course there are rules and regulations that come with being an influencer. In fact, the ASA has been cracking down on some of the UK’ s biggest influencers who failed to comply to the rules in 2017. The US has also been on it with the FTC requiring influencers to fully disclose gifts, ads and sponsored content on their social media channels since 2016.

The rules are clear: say when you’ve been paid, given or loaned something, be clear about your relationship with a brand or business and don’t be misleading when it comes to product placement. It all seems pretty straight forward and yet, not everyone is willing to play along.

 

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And it’s easy to see why when some brands are often willing to work around the rules or pay more for an undisclosed post, which to the untrained eye, looks more natural and genuine. And while many influencers have now started to disclose, many still haven’t, in fear of losing their followers’ trust, attention or simply stunt their growth online. How do I know that? Because I personally used to be what you would called a “micro-influencer” today and believe me when I say, I have seen and heard it all.

In fact, one could argue that the whole concept behind influencers is misleading in nature. After all, influencers are bombarded with brand deals every day so their readers should, in theory, trust them to only promote what they believe in, but with thousands of dollars involved, it gets harder and harder to draw the line between what is ethical and what isn’t.

52% of millennials admitted to trusting influencers less than they used to

You would think the audience is somewhat oblivious to the fact influencer marketing is, as the name would suggest, just another marketing tool but are they really? Not according to Dealspotr’s survey in which 52% of millennials admitted to trusting influencers less than they used to. Maybe it’s not all due to the disaster that was Fyre Festival, but the whole story was without a doubt an eye opener for many who saw the story unfold on social media, last year.

 

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Billy McFarland famously said Fyre Festival was “selling a pipe dream” and in a way, isn’t that what influencer marketing is all about? And now thanks to Hulu and Netflix, people finally get to see what the reality behind the dream often looks like, whether it’s a sad cheese sandwich in a styrofoam box or a lesson to take everything you see or read online with a pinch of salt.