Earlier this month, the Fyre Festival turned influencer marketing into a mainstream term when the wanna-be high-end music festival turned sour and the high-profile celebrity organizers and endorsers alike quickly rushed to wipe their hands clean of any involvement. Amid tweets of unsanitary and scary conditions and, more recently, class-action lawsuits, many began to question the responsibility of influencers like Kendall Jenner and Ja Rule in promoting an event that didn’t at all live up to its hype, as well as the broader role of influencers in a successful marketing and PR strategy.
Though the fallout from Fyre is far from over, the incident will likely be a mere blemish on the overall influencer marketing category long term.
Here’s why: influencer marketing today is very similar to blogger relations in the early 2000s. It was a new and often difficult audience to engage, one who functioned a lot like journalists, but often didn’t come with the knowledge of how best practices like embargoes, exclusives and off the record conversations worked, nor j-school or writing training to ensure a quality piece.
It took years for many brands to feel comfortable engaging bloggers, but today they’re a critical element of an overwhelming majority of PR strategies. Influencer relations will likely follow that same trajectory, and Fyre is one of what will certainly be several high-profile bumps along the way. For those of us in tech PR, It’s the equivalent of TechCrunch’s famous missive promising “Death to the Embargo” and the ensuing upheaval of widely-held industry best practice that ensued.
As an industry, we overcame that and figured out how to effectively work with TechCrunch and countless other bloggers to the benefits of both parties. We will (and must) do the same with influencers. And this is especially true for working with non-celebrity influencers. While mainstream musicians and models are certainly influencers in certain circles, they carry a much different risk than, say, a high-profile HR expert does to a HCM tech company or a vExpert does to an enterprise IT brand. There are still risks–and they need to be weighed, the influencers fully vetted and expectations clearly set and communicated. However, that is easier to do when the influencer is, say, a business school professor or CIO.
And just as bloggers have learned how to work with PR pros, so, too will influencers. Ultimately, there is an unwritten contract between them and their followers/fans–be it teenagers following Instagram feeds or professionals seeking advice in a LinkedIn group–that they must uphold when partnering with brands..
The lesson for both brands (and their PR teams) and influencers coming out of this is to far better vet who and how they engage–or everyone risks getting burned.