It started with a compelling pitch and $250,000 Instagram posts and ended with a Tweet of a cheese sandwich. The infamous Fyre Festival fiasco, born from social media hype, has also reignited the debate over social media ethics through competing documentaries on Hulu and Netflix.

A well-designed influencer campaign by the team behind the festival and their social media company built massive buzz for what was supposed to be an exclusive, luxury event.

Instead, one of the co-founders is in jail on fraud charges and attendees left the island feeling cheesed and cheated. Two competing documentaries on Hulu and Netflix shine additional light on the failures leading up to the start of the event and the nightmare that awaited those who bought tickets.

One of the main takeaways from both documentaries focuses on the promotion of the event. Highly-paid influencers shared the introductory video for the festival on Instagram with a mysterious orange box to increase initial interest. According to reports, Kendall Jenner was paid $250,000 for her Instagram post about the mysterious new festival taking the world by storm.

To the public, it looked as though the celebrity interest in the festival was genuine to gain credibility. This was an unethical method used by both the organizers and influencers, who unknowingly played a part in perpetrating fraud.

What should have been done differently? For starters, the influencers and the festival’s social media company needed to disclose their financial relationship. By making it clear that the posts weren’t organic, attendees would have been able to make a better-informed decision. The free flow of information is an important pillar in the Public Relations Society of America Code of Ethics, and one that would have led to the disclosure of payment for the influencers posting about Fyre Festival.

Additionally, festival organizers worked to avoid negative attention by disabling comments on their social media platforms. This further prevented the transparent, flow of information and quieted questioning voices in an unethical way. One of the key components of a good communications program is open and honest communication. Deliberately hiding voices that raise questions flies in the face of the ethical standards that communicators use to conduct themselves and their work.

The overall impact of the festival has landed at least one person in jail and led to the Federal Trade Commission cracking down on influencers and disclosure rules. We feel that had the organizers followed the ethical standards set forth for PR and advertising professionals, they could have prevented thousands of visitors from being scammed in the first place.

What can be done to prevent the next con from happening? First, communicators need to know that they’re getting the necessary answers to their questions. If a client is unwilling to give you information to answer public concerns, that should raise a red flag. Additionally, preventing the public from raising questions related to an event or product is a sign that something is amiss. Have a frank and open discussion with your client to find out what the issues are, and if they fail to have that conversation, consider alternative options.

 

What are your thoughts on the modern con?

Randy Pilon is an account executive at Franco. You can reach him at (734) 775-3349 or pilon@franco.com. Follow him on Twitter @randypilon.