Wherever you are as you’re reading this, take a look around you. Make note of the objects and things that surround you, and consider this question: is there anything in your close vicinity that you purchased simply because someone else told you to? Maybe they didn’t do so directly, and you may have never met this person, but really think about how and why the objects around you came into your life.
Then, ponder this: how many purchasing decisions have you made completely on your own, independent of outside influences?
Four years ago, the world’s greatest music event was never held. Fyre Festival, the notoriously fraudulent boondoggle made world-famous by two streaming documentaries, promised attendees a weekend of luxury, lavishness, and life-changing VIP experiences on an exclusive white-sand Bahamian island. The harsh reality of Fyre Fest was revealed immediately upon guests’ arrival, however, as they were subjected to pure chaos and confusion unheard of in the festival world. Fyre Fest was, and will forever be known as, the perfect example of an epic fail.
Like many familiar with this catastrophe, you’ve probably wondered: Didn’t these people look into the details of the festival? Why would they buy a ticket without knowing anything else about the festival? How could they have not done more research? Well, my friends, the reason people were so willingly duped into the magic of Fyre Festival is because of one singular yet profound societal constant: the power of influence.
An influencer is someone with the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of their authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with their respective audience 1https://influencermarketinghub.com/what-is-an-influencer/. It’s important to understand that influencers are not explicitly used as marketing tools by companies, but instead serve as social relationship assets that help brands achieve marketing objectives and increase their presence in the public arena 2https://influencermarketinghub.com/what-is-an-influencer/. In the case of Fyre Fest, celebrities Hailey Baldwin, Emily Ratajowski, and a slew of similar influencers were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to create buzz for the upcoming festival by posting an innocuous yet now highly iconic image...
Yep. That’s it. An orange square. Nothing else. Kind of crazy, right? Well, Oren Aks, the mastermind behind the orange tile campaign, has explained the strategy behind his work as the graphic designer & social media consultant for Fyre Fest:
“The idea was to allow the influencers to post something easy and universal,” Aks told designboom magazine. “It works because the orange tile is confusing. If you follow a lot of models, you would have to go through a dozen of the same post and therefore HAVE to investigate. You need to get in on the secret that everyone else on the internet knows about already, except you.” 3https://gumgum.com/insights/the-visionary/features/science-color-fyre-festival
So, you’re pulled in by the orange square on your Instagram feed, which then directs you to a two-minute promo video and, before you know it, you’re hyped for this festival and can’t help but spread the excitement by sending the holy message of Fyre Fest to all of your coolest & closest friends. Surprise, surprise — the video had nothing to do with the festival itself, but you’re completely converted and ready to spend whatever it takes to get you to the Bahamas. I hate to say it, but the director of this video really, really deserves an award. Footage of influencers on a beautiful beach perfectly edited to create a twenty-something's idea of heaven? Sold. Literally sold to ~8,000 people with ticket prices ranging from . . . well . . . more than any duped attendee would like to admit.
Although Fyre Festival was a colossal fail, the marketing campaign created by Aks was anything but; I would actually argue that it was a complete and utter success. Fyre Fest organizers bamboozled thousands of people into believing in a festival that never existed outside of social media hype, and artists, investors, influencers, actual attendees, as well as any person who happened to scroll through Instagram on the “orange tile” release day was drawn into the collective Fyre Fest frenzy. If you weren’t already going, you wished you were, and there’s a good chance you looked into buying tickets.
I can’t see something as large as this happening again (considering Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland’s 6-year prison sentence), and I think there’s one crucial lesson the world learned from the Fyre Fest fiasco: the perception of influencers as puppeteers has proven somewhat accurate, and the public should be heedful of their power.
So, what now? Do you stop trusting influencers? Do you assume everything they post is simply for personal financial gain and not because they truly endorse a particular brand? The simple answer is “no.” Many genuine influencers seek professional partnership opportunities to earnestly help a brand, and these are the kinds of people companies should seek when they want to launch a successful influencer-driven marketing campaign.
Time has proven that the most genuine and sincere social media personalities are often what’s known as micro-influencers, individuals with modest yet active followings. A 2017 analysis by leading research & advisory firm Gartner found that micro-influencers actually have the highest user engagement, while accounts with larger followings have the lowest. Brands are starting to catch wind of this fact, and have begun to shift their focus from big-number accounts to ambitious micro-influencers with highly-engaged followings who often demonstrate increased levels of loyalty and commitment.
Since we here at Salvi Media and Salvi Chicago like to keep our finger on the market’s pulse, we recently produced Phone Eats First, a new video series hosted by Chicago’s own micro-influencers. Here are some strategic key points we used to ensure the success of our campaign:
- Quality over Quantity.
- Remember not to be fooled by the number of followers someone has. A small following can still produce killer engagement numbers, so be sure to analyze influencers’ profiles in depth. Make sure to look at their video views, number of comments, and post frequency to determine their relationship with followers
- Fun fact: the second most-viewed video in our series was hosted by the influencer with the smallest following.
- Have a Contract.
- A well-developed contract is, without a doubt, the best way to ensure commitment. It’s a guaranteed way to know that your content/product will be viewed by an audience outside of your network. The deliverable expectations for our campaign were crystal clear and covered details like post dates, mandatory tags, and mandatory assets.
- Leave Room for Authenticity.
- Because they are promoting your brand, it may be natural to want to control every aspect of what an influencer posts; in reality, though, you want to give them the flexibility to remain authentic and genuine since their personality is the reason you partnered with them in the first place. We did not provide any mandatory copy for our series contributors, but instead gave them tags, keywords, and general concepts to incorporate and explore in their own voice/tone.
- Connect with Other Micro-influencers.
- Once our micro-influencer partners shared their episodes on social media, other micro-influencers began following the Salvi Chicago account. Regardless of whether they were intrigued by the potential for future opportunities or simply enjoyed our video content, we gained connections within all sorts of networks and enjoyed high levels of new exposure. There’s value in all potential connections, both small and large, because you never know who will lead to a partnership or referral.
All in all, it seems like a good idea to be mindful of the power influencers wield on their respective platforms. While you probably won’t find yourself being coerced into extravagant purchases like tickets to Fyre Festival, influencers have probably had an impact on smaller decisions you’ve made (like the restaurants you frequent and the stores you support). Influencers aren’t going to lose their power any time soon, so try to avoid hucksters and fill your internal feed with genuine influencers you trust. And, if you’re working with influencers, choose the ones who will add an authentic voice to your brand.