Influencer Marketing: The Benefits and the Perils

It’s rare that an event has been so grotesquely mismanaged that it inspired not one but two competing documentaries. Yet that’s exactly what happened with Fyrefest—an online marketing, influencer driven, train wreck. Fyrefest (and the corresponding documentaries) really highlight the power of influencer marketing. And with great power, comes… well, you know.

How Influencer Marketing Built a Fake Event

To call Fyrefest a fake event is probably charitable. Really, it’s worse: it’s an event that was, by all means, intended to be real, but with absolutely no thought put into making it happen. Rather, the organizer seemed to truly believe that if he got enough money and clapped his hands it would all coalesce. That’s not surprising. For many people who have failed upwards, that’s exactly what has happened. Things have just, you know, fallen into place.

But those “things” weren’t “renting an island and throwing the party to end all parties.” Fyrefest was intended to be an incredibly luxurious, hedonistic experience, with tickets going for $25,000 a pop. The exclusivity of this event was driven by its perception in social media. Social media (and influencers) were able to make it appear as though this was legitimate—and most people who bought into the illusion really had no reason to question it. Why should they?

People and brands that they trusted were promoting this event. And those people and brands were promoting the event because people they trusted were doing so. By creating an event that had some veneer of credibility and working his way up from the bottom, the organizer was able to create a chain of people (much like an MLM) who had “bought in” to the premise because of other people buying in. It became an unstoppable force, with enough momentum to make money, but not enough momentum to not be a complete disaster.

The Incredible Power of Influencer Marketing

Make no mistake: if the organizer of Fyrefest had actually managed to pull it off, it would have been legendary. All of the marketing worked. But that’s sort of the problem. Remember when I mentioned there were two competing documentaries?

Where they differ is that one documentary involved the social media crew that worked with Fyrefest. The other one… mentioned them, but didn’t work with them. Understandably, they come off in a much more charitable light in the documentary they participated in. If you believe one documentary, the social media crew was swept up in the hype. If you believe the other, they were part of the problem.

The Influence of the Dark Side

Marketers have been marketing products they don’t believe in since… well, the advent of marketing. But the problem is that influencer marketing isn’t always so obvious. An influencer isn’t saying: Here is a commercial for Fyrefest. All an influencer is saying is “I just bought my tickets for Fyrefest!” It doesn’t look like marketing, it looks like a status update.

Some influencer marketing is even more insidious. It isn’t a Coca-Cola ad; it’s a picture of a Coca-Cola in the background of a shot at the gym. That means that no media is safe. Users are being manipulated left and right and there’s no way to tell how. It’s subliminal advertising all over again, except this time, it’s everywhere.

And it’s becoming a matter of ethics.

Could the Tide Turn?

One thing the Fyrefest documentaries did was really bring to light influencer marketing into the mainstream. Everyone knew about influencers, but few people really understood how they were being integrated into marketing. Now that people do understand, people are going to naturally start becoming more skeptical about influencers. This isn’t something that originated from Fyrefest: Fyrefest is just the frothy bit at the edge of the wave.

But, in general, influencers have become more corporate and more eager to cash in on their brand, while their audience has become more savvy. While many marketers are jumping onto the influencer trend, it’s actually diluting the impact that influencers have. After all, when everyone’s an influencer, who will there be left to influence?

Marketing trends rise and fall, and marketers need to be able to take advantage of these trends without overly relying upon them. Influencers are exceptionally powerful now, but this may not be permanent. In fact, we may already be seeing the beginning of a more conscientious, more skeptical audience.