Living up to its name, the controversy surrounding the Fyre Festival has reduced the organization's credibility to smoldering ashes.

While everyone points to a different reason -- cheese sandwiches billed as gourmet dinners, disaster relief tents passing for luxury villas, or patrons fearing for their basic personal safety -- the internet consensus is that the highly-anticipated "Caribbean Coachella" was an inexcusable disaster. Ja Rule and the organizers have even been hit with a $100 million lawsuit for fraud -- not a great start to their festival throwing escapades.

There are many things to say about Fyre Fest's epic failure, but watching the event's trajectory is a case study in how not to use social media. While their initial use of influencer marketing was skillful and generated a lot of buzz, Fyre Festival's organizing team completely botched their management of the aftermath, and even more importantly, they promised something they couldn't deliver.

In the age of social media, Fyre Festival is an instructive lesson in how things can fall apart.

Social media: Fyre's best friend and worst enemy.

By and large, Fyre Festival was built on the hype of social media. It was the backbone of their marketing and their main mode for promotion. And in that sense, they succeeded -- at least, at first.

The festival was an instant hot topic on Instagram. Their marketing was superb, featuring quality content, beautiful shots of the location, and skillful use of nearly 400 influencers to market the event.

They generated a lot of buzz very quickly, turning Fyre Fest into one of the can't-miss events of 2017. This showed marketing savvy: many are saying 2017 will be the "year of influencer marketing," and Fyre Fest utilized it skillfully. Unfortunately, good marketing does not a festival make.

Social media ended up being both Fyre Fest's best friend and worst enemy. While it generated a lot of hype for them, social media also makes everything transparent: there was no way to hide how unprepared they were and the poor quality of the festival itself.

In comparison to Fyre's well-produced Instagram content before the event, the attendee-posted images of cheese-and-bread sandwiches and disaster relief tent "cabanas" proved a chilling comparison. At core, Fyre Festival made a big promise via social media that they couldn't deliver -- and in our hyperconnected world, that's a cardinal sin.

"We didn't start the Fyre."

Fyre Festival did have a chance to make it right. When they come across as heartfelt, brand apologies via social media can be surprisingly effective. Unfortunately, apologies from the Fyre team were neither heartfelt nor effective.

In a confusing Twitter apology, festival organizer Ja Rule dropped a gem:

The official apology from Fyre Entertainment was just as contradictory, seeming at once to try to apologize but also avoid taking blame and responsibility. In fact, the apology of Bella Hadid, an influencer paid to promote the festival, outshines both Ja Rule and the official apology in being direct and heartfelt -- and Hadid had nothing to do with the festival's failures.

The pass-the-buck mentality and failure to leverage their strong social presence to right their wrongs tells us that Fyre was doomed to fail from the start. Postponing the event and dragging their feet on offering full refunds will only further reinforce the public perception that this was a scam, propped up by social networks but ultimately torn down by the same system.

Social media is a blessing and a curse.

Fyre Festival's publicity saga is a reminder of the power of social media as a real-life influencer, equally able to facilitate genuine hype, manipulation, and shameful unmasking.

To every brand and product owner, let Fyre Festival be a lesson that you should never use social media to make promises you can't keep, and to make your apologies quick and heartfelt if need be. The same thing that builds you up can tear you down -- tweet by painful tweet.

Published on: May 1, 2017
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