With Fyre Festival in The Spotlight, The Influencer Industry Faces Adulthood
The influencer industry has spent the last decade in its teenage years, relatively devoid of accountability and spoilt with both economic and social support from both brands and consumers alike. The value of influencers has gone mostly unquestioned and the issue of what responsibility influencers have, when it comes to what they promote, is one that has rarely been raised in public.
However, over the last few weeks the ethical queries associated with the content influencers produce has come under scrutiny, thanks to the release and popularity of the Netflix and Hulu Fyre Festival documentaries. The festival itself was heavily promoted across social media by some of the biggest influencers, selling the dream of the ultimate, private island festival. It is not an understatement to say that these influencers drove thousands to buy tickets to the festival expecting the most Instagrammable experience money could buy.
What actually transpired was a series of calamities resulting in the cancellation of the festival (hours before the first flights landed), an evacuation of the island and a lawsuit resulting in the festival’s organiser receiving a 6 year prison sentence and multi-million dollar fine. The influencers, however, remained free of any accountability and kept their fees while others suffered bankruptcy or massive financial losses.
So, the question stands, what responsibility should influencers have over the products they promote?
Influencers have remained relatively unrestricted in terms of what they can promote online, with the most prominent rule being that all sponsored content should be declared as such and social posts should include “#ad”. Outside of that, an influencer can promote almost anything they like with no ramifications if the product or service ends up failing to meet the expectations of consumers.
Even with the declaration of ads rules in place, very few influencers have ever faced punitive measures for not including said declarations with many of the biggest recently being let off with a slap on the wrist and a forced apology.
Whilst the majority of industries around the world have seen regulations tighten and punitive measures become more severe, the influencer industry has remained relatively unregulated, with young individuals starting up their own influencer businesses, despite having little-to-no idea of their tax responsibilities, digital marketing policy or data hosting laws (all of which are key to any digital business).
NO SMOKE WITHOUT FYRE
What the Fyre Festival incident has done is expose the lack of responsibility influencers take over the kinds of products they promote. Provided their experience is tailored to them, they are happy to promote something to thousands/millions of followers, even if their experience could be significantly worse for the average customer. The perfectly photoshopped, over-filtered world of Instagram has allowed influencers to blur the lines between reality and fantasy to the detriment of consumer expectations, yet this over-hype/under-deliver cycle continues without legal recourse.
For the first time, however, this was visible for all to see as the Fyre Festival came crashing down spectacularly. Worldwide news, late-night comedy shows, YouTube analysis and finally top streaming services covered the incident in excruciating detail and at the heart of it all was a promise from a con-man promoted by the biggest influencers. Though not all blame can be laid at the feet of said influencers, there has been little done to ascertain how much accountability they do have for the fallout.
The global audience read, heard and watched as Instagram celebrities were paid up to $250,000 and had the party that everyone else had been sold. They saw the perfectly-polished party of extravagance they had spent thousands buying tickets for and realised would never be fulfilled. The line between fantasy and reality had been made clear and, for influencers, it didn’t make for a pretty picture.
ONCE BURNED, TWICE SHY
The important lesson, from all of this, is that we have to realise influencers are businesses. They are brands with incredible power over their followers and access to aspects of their respective industries that their audiences generally do not. We need to regulate them like businesses, enforce tax registration, ensure advertising standards compliance, penalise those who break the rules and exemplify those who prioritise their consumer interests. This industry needs to mature from its current teenage form into full adulthood, accepting the responsibilities, financial accountability and legal ramifications that come with that.
Influencer marketing is expected to be a $10 billion industry by 2020 so simply ignoring it is ignoring huge amounts of investment from both businesses and consumers, creating an economic bubble primed to burst. Universal transparency is the only way for this industry to survive in a sustainable manner, ensuring brutal honesty between brands, influencers and consumers on an ongoing basis. Though the situation is rarely as clear cut as Fyre Festival, it is time for influencers to do their due diligence on the people/companies they work with.
So, next time you see “#ad” on a post, take a moment to see if you think that person is being honest with their followers. Are they following the rules and does it seem transparent? Because if not, you could be being sold the next Fyre Festival flop...