Unaware of Fyre Festival? Please let me know which social media-free parallel universe you’ve been hanging out in – because I want in. But before I go there with you (posse of models and Ja Rule in tow), I want to highlight several things your business can learn from the Fyre Festival mishap.

Fyre Festival was a hugely-hyped event that failed spectacularly in 2017. Billed as an ultra-luxe island getaway in the Bahamas packed with beautiful people, gourmet dining experiences and an incredible lineup of leading talent, Fyre Festival became a rich-kid nightmare that evoked riotous schadenfreude when it swiftly disintegrated in real time on Instagram and Twitter. Upon alighting in the Bahamas, guests experienced problems relating to food, accommodation, security and medical services. Their expensive tickets purchased them FEMA tent accommodation and pre-packaged sandwiches, and an experience akin to a latter chapter of Lord of the Flies.

In many ways, Fyre Festival is the perfect storm of noughties trends: speculative investment, a fevered belief in the notion of ‘build it and they will come’, ‘sweat equity’ app development, lavish activations to launch products, the use of millennial influencers’ clout as unidentified advertisers. There have been two fascinating documentaries made on the phenomenon – ‘Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened’ and ‘Fyre Fraud’.  The accompanying New York Times’ coverage also goes deep, and is a great counterpoint to these critiques. Sure, Fyre Festival presents an extreme, exploded version of the mistakes that business owners may make in the course of their practice – but it is a compelling cautionary tale too big for our generation of entrepreneurs to ignore.

Considered Social Media is Powerful

Fyre Festival’s social media marketing was savvy. It was minimal. It utilised some of the world’s most powerful influencers to legitimise its promise of a luxury paradise, and an exclusive once-in-a-generation event. Production values were high: Fyre Festival understood that brand legitimacy is built with quality assets including sleek video, achingly lush photography, beautiful models and just enough information to make their audience curious without being explicit about the reality of their offering.

By investing in marketing and connecting their product with influencers who are known and trusted, they were able to sell tickets and build online viral momentum. Any business can choose to make their brand legitimate by investing in marketing, social media content, copywriting, graphic design, videography – and yes – even influencers. It’s not brain surgery – it is committing to your project with the support of experts. Fyre Festival’s issue was not their approach to social media marketing: it was an inability to deliver on what their customers had paid for.

Over-Deliver, Under-Promise

Whether you’re starting a luxe towel brand or running your first event, make sure that you are capable of delivering on the promise you’ve made to your customers. It’s always better to under-promise and make raving fans by over-delivering on their experience. Here are some common examples of wow-ing and going above your promise.

  • Gorgeous bespoke, branded wrapping and unexpected novelty bonuses with customer orders.
  • Random and thoughtful gifts for clients throughout the year.
  • High quality digital downloads (eBooks) or members-only social media groups.
  • Intimate events or tailored services that are only available to long-term customers.
  • Goodie bags that are of actual value.
  • Investment in fun activities at events – from Instagram booths to on-brand catering or photo walls.

Be sure that you can actually deliver on your promise. When GroupOn was at its peak, many small businesses were enticed to make motivating offers to gain custom. And whilst they may have got a whole lot of orders, they were then left with the conundrum of delivering on a premium promise at a bare-bones price. This naturally snowballed into problems around quality delivery and negative reviews for some business owners. All I’m saying is: don’t get carried away with over-delivery or over-promising. It can cause irreparable damage to your brand.

Do the Numbers

Can you actually run your event, your business or make your product for the price you’re charging your customer? If you can’t, don’t.

Unless you have a giant wad of leprechaun gold saved somewhere and you’re making a strategic loss decision to build your brand by sponsoring a portion of your customer’s purchase or experience – ensure that you can afford to deliver on your promise based on purchase price. Business is meant to be enjoyable – both for you as an entrepreneur, and for your customer. It shouldn’t bankrupt you or destroy your spirit. Run the numbers, make the responsible call.

‘Fess Up Early If Things Go Awry

Event tickets not sold through? Miscalculated on costs? Aware that you will not be able to deliver on the promise you made?

Make sure you pivot swiftly and communicate the change in circumstances to your customer. How you choose to rectify the matter is up to you – anything from a full refund to a reduced price or new offer might be on the cards. The point is: if things are not going to plan and you know you can’t deliver on your promise – consult with your lawyer and take steps to turn matters around. Don’t let your reputation go up in a ball of Fyre. *ahem*