In late April, event organizers Billy McFarland and Ja Rule (yes, that Ja Rule) put on an event that was billed as a Coachella for the 1%. Amazingly, concertgoers paid as much as $12,000 for a chance to live it up with their favorite bands on the idyllic Bahamian island of Great Exuma.
In the days leading up to the event, however, it became apparent that the Fyre Festival wasn’t going to be all it was cracked up to be. The event planners missed deadlines, failed to secure vendors, and dropped the ball on critical infrastructure arrangements. On the eve of the festival, Fyre’s headliner, Blink 182, backed away from the event altogether.
Fyre's unsuspecting guests were promised luxury VIP treatment but ended up in conditions that resembled an episode of Survivor. After waiting hours to board chartered flights from Miami, they were greeted by tropical storms, disaster tents, and subpar food.
An unmitigated disaster, the festival ended up drawing 5 lawsuits, one seeking more than $100 million for 150 individual plaintiffs.
Not to fear, though; the good folks at Fyre are planning another event for 2018.
Here are five lessons we can learn from the ill-fated Fyre Festival:
1. How to do Influencer Marketing the Right(ish) Way
To Fyre’s credit, they managed to break out the big guns to promote their event. Stars like Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, and a spate of supermodels along with other ‘social media influencers’ took to their platforms to shill for the exotic music festival.
Of course, Fyre paid each person handsomely for his or her efforts. Jenner reportedly received $250,000 for a single Instagram post. The ‘lesser’ celebrities received a paltry $20k. The campaign worked, however. Tons of people were excited about Fyre.
Most of us don’t have the budget to call on top tier celebrities. Still, we can learn something from Fyre. They had a laser-focused vision for a luxury event riddled with bikini clad woman. So, they went and found the perfect models to convey that vision to their target audience.
2. Budgets Matter
But seriously, $250,000 for a single Instagram post? With that kind of marketing outlay, it’s not hard to see why Fyre didn’t quite have the funds on hand to splurge on fringe benefits like bathroom facilities, adequate sleeping arrangements, and… you know… musical talent.
It takes wisdom to manage a community well. We can’t let our eyes get so fixed on clever marketing campaigns that we tap out the resources we need to actually run the community.
Watch those marketing dollars!
3. Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep
It seems the folks at Fyre just weren’t ready to take on an event of this proportion. Their marketing campaign was great, but it exceeded what they could competently handle. As a result, they couldn’t live up to their lofty promises.
- Guests expected swanky luxury dome tents. Instead, they slept in disaster relief tents.
- Guests were promised a celebrity chef. Instead, they got fake cheese on wheat bread.
- Guests were promised chartered flights. Instead, they got locked inside airports.
What face are you putting out there? What do people think your community is all about? What kinds of benefits are you promising to people? Don’t be like the guys at Fyre.
Don’t be afraid to follow the conventional wisdom: under promise and over deliver.
4. Learn How to Handle Criticism
When the stuff started to hit the fan, disgruntled guested began tweeting pictures of the disaster that was Fyre. The event organizers didn’t quite know how to contain the PR nightmare. So, they called their lawyers and had them send out cease & desist letters.
Clearly, their efforts did nothing to contain the fiasco.
Sometimes your critics will be trolls with little to no genuine criticism to offer. In those cases, you can either ignore them or try to win them over to your cause.
On the other hand, legitimate critics can be your best friend. You may not appreciate their candor, but an honest critic will help you to see where you’ve screwed up and how you can improve.
Don’t write them off and, please, don’t have your lawyer try to shut them up by force.
5. Check Your Ego at the Door
What caused a handful of young guys to splurge their capital on supermodels, yachts, and expensive luxury vacations? What led a group of neophytes to think they could pull off an event of this magnitude?
In a word, pride.
For these guys, this event was all about stroking ego. According to a source from inside the planning staff, when confronted with the serious problems threatening to sabotage the event, one guy simply said, “Let’s just do it and be legends, man.”
If you want to succeed as a community manager, don’t fall into thinking this is all about you. Even if you’re building a personal brand (unless you’re a movie star), odds are your success isn’t so much about you as it is what your message and what you stand for.
Once you allow your ego to take the wheel, you’ll stop making decisions for the benefit your community and start doing things to polish your image and artificially swell your numbers. You can only build that house of cards so high before a stiff breeze knocks it over.
Fyre may have been a spectacular failure. But as with any other failure in life, this fiasco has quite a bit to teach us. Let’s use it to make us all a little better at what we do.