The release of two Fyre Festival documentaries on Netflix and Hulu has sparked a much needed debate on consumer trust and the misaligned incentives between influencers and their followers today.
In my presentation Distrust goes viral, I present an in-depth look at recent events where distrust has been amplified by millions of people in a matter of seconds including:
Why Fyre Festival is a pinnacle moment for influencer culture and late-stage capitalism
What happens when an ultra-exclusive event backed by the world’s most popular Instagram influencers ends in disaster as thousands of ticket holders, some of which paid up to $250,000 to get last minute tickets, are stranded on a remote island in the Bahamas…
Distrust goes viral.
This is the first time we’ve seen lawsuits citing “100 Jane Does” — 100 unnamed influencers who promoted and posted about the festival. One lawsuit claimed these influencers acted “with negligent misrepresentation, fraud, breach of contract for failing to ‘provide the festival experience as promised’ and for ‘misrepresentations’ that caused people to purchase tickets.’”
What happens when major corporations like Samsung face distrust on a global scale
Following multiple instances of exploding devices, we’ll look at the data behind the recall of 2.5 million Samsung Galaxy Note 7 devices.
Distrust goes viral.
Why United’s “Fly the Friendly Skies” slogan failed to deliver on multiple occasions.
We’ll explore why celebrities like Seth Rogan and Chrissy Teagan tweeted about the unfair treatment of two young girls who were barred from boarding a United flight and the infamous passenger removal on United flight 3411 where a paying customer was dragged off a plane.
Here we see two situations in less than one month where a company put policies before people.
This is a scary time for companies. Every private conversation can we shared publicly in a matter of seconds.
Every interaction that we have with our customers is critical and this is the new reality. So what can we do?
We’ll look at the new sources of trust for consumers today:
- People trust themselves
- People trust friends and family
- People trust people like them
Distrust goes viral was originally presented at Pioneers Tech Conference just after the shocking events that unfolded that Fyre Festival.
Read the transcript with slides below or watch the video.
This summer, all eyes have been on one specific event…
A festival on an island in the Bahamas: an ultra exclusive venue with amazing accommodations and backed by some of the most popular influencers in the world. When you look at this event, it looks pretty incredible.
As we go through the festival lineup, we see major acts that we would expect to see at Coachella but without the lines or the crowds. VIP packages including airfare and luxury tent accommodations for US$12,000 and last minute sold for up to $250,000 per ticket.
The best part about Fyre Festival? It was backed by the coolest celebrities and Instagram influencers, you had to be in the know to hear about it. From Kendall Jenner’s post alone, Fyre Festival saw 6 million unique impressions.
Celebrities, influencers and models created a total of 78 million impressions to promote the event.
Following the social media push led by celebrities and influencers, traditional publications fast follow with earned coverage promoting the ultra-exclusive festival that everyone is talking about.
Let’s go back to the beginning. A remote island, an elite crowd, two unforgettable weekends. What could possibly go wrong, right? Well, let’s look at what really happened.
You’d expect beach-side bungalows in the Bahamas and a great place to stay for those two weekends. Well, what actually happened is we start to see a disaster is about to unfold.
The dining experience. A very important part of a festival experience because you want every moment to be Instagram worthy. So let’s just take a couple minutes and look at these cheese sandwiches. What a joke.
Finally, we see a price tag for celebrity endorsements.
Jenner was paid $250,000 to promote this event. For Jenner fans, this news is disappointing.
For influencers and celebrities, lesson learned. It’s your job to protect your audience and keep advertisers honest.
The FTC has previously brought cases against Warner Bros., Sony and the fashion brand Lord & Taylor over influencer-centric marketing campaigns, but never against individuals. In the case of Fyre Festival, we see lawsuits citing “100 Jane Does” — 100 unnamed influencers who promoted and posted about the festival.
One day before the festival, the talent cancels blink-182 pulls out completely. They say, “We’re sorry, this isn’t the type of festival we want to be involved in.” But for someone who has already bought tickets and booked their flights, it’s a little too late. You start to imagine who actually organized this thing and how is this even possible?
Well, we look at the event organizer, Ja Rule.
In his public statement to talk about the festival, he makes two really bold claims.
He says, One: “This is not a scam.” Two: “It’s not my fault.”
So as the co organizer of this event, it’s all hands-off. Sorry, I don’t want to take the blame for this.
Next, we look at the main source of truth. People on the ground.
These are two tweets coming from someone who bought tickets to this festival. She’s tweeting from the plane saying, “Look, I’m stuck on a plane. The government won’t let me in.”
Next one, “I just heard they are emptying our plane and literally rescue people are coming.”
As she’s live tweeting from this event, there are millions of people watching on Twitter and waiting for the full story to unfold.
Every interaction has the opportunity to go global.
In a matter of seconds, any situation can be amplified by billions of people, but this isn’t the first time that we’ve seen this happen.
Let’s look at the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, it’s a cool product from a trusted company.
2.5 million phones were recalled after live videos, tweets and photos went viral on social media.
My personal favorite, you can see here a new slogan for the Galaxy Note 7: Now our technology explodes. Not ideal right? Now as we zoom out, you can see each spike is a new video being posted on social media.
The major spike at the end is one short video coming from a Burger King in South Korea.
Millions of impressions and thousands of people jumping into the conversation.
This is truly a disaster for Samsung.
We have one more example. Trust keeps going viral.
United has invested a lot of time and money to create a “customer-centric brand.” Fly the friendly skies.
The photo is pretty graphic, but it’s impossible to ignore. If a company sells you on “fly the friendly skies,” and this is your personal experience, you’re going to think twice before flying with them again.
The expectation of flying the friendly skies was much different than the actual reality.
When we zoom out, here’s where things get really interesting.
Most people don’t know this wasn’t the first time United had this sort of situation.
It was actually the second one in one month.
Leggings Gate was situation where two minors were not able to board a flight with their parents because they were wearing tights. As you can see from this situation, big companies put policies ahead of their people, and it’s really frustrating.
As we look at the three examples that I’ve shown, a really powerful quote comes to mind.
Trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair.
“If we take a step back and we think about trust, it is the core component to all relationships. Whether it’s personal or professional, we will not last without trust.
Nothing works without trust, so when we apply this to the recent examples that we talk about, trust takes years to build, it takes seconds to break, and it takes forever to repair, but imagine amplifying that by millions of people.
This is a really scary time for companies. Every private conversation can we shared publicly in a matter of seconds. Every interaction that we have with our customers is absolutely critical, and this is the new reality.
In 2017, distrust has gone viral. Companies are afraid to talk to their customers because the stakes are so incredibly high. We’re afraid to deal with those sort of situations. So the question becomes, what can we do about it?
How do we build trust and how do we make sure that our customers enjoy talking to us, and they feel a sense of trust with us? We need to figure out ways to speed up this process. At startups, how do we build a company that’s trustworthy from day one? Let’s take a look at the data.
The number one source of truth for people? It turns out people really trust themselves. Sampling a product or service is the most trusted source for information today. Product samples and free trials for software are the new norm.
People trust themselves
People want to see things for themselves. They want to try before they buy. If you have a tangible product, they want to experience it and make sure that it’s legit. People also care about word of mouth, editorial content and reviews
Let people get to know your product before you expect them to pay.
Don’t try to sell them the full suite without getting them first using the base features. Next thing to think about is easy refunds and cancellations.
Now, from a company perspective, this can be really hard to deliver.
Refunds can be costly. Cancellations are annoying. We don’t want to have to deal with these two things, but building trust is a long-term game there are no shortcuts.
Let’s look at Amazon. Each individual feature is outlined, and it’s very clear to see that with Prime you’re getting more bang for your buck. You can also see very clear and transparent pricing. You understand that you’re able to try this product, and you’re able to cancel at any time. There’s no frills here. It’s just the facts.
Get in, try our product, and if it’s not right for you, cancel.
People trust their friends and family
In fact, 92% percent of consumers trust recommendations from their friends and family over traditional forms of advertising. We need to figure out ways to get our friends and family to talk about products.
For startups, this is an area where we can move faster than big companies. We don’t need major brand campaigns.
What we actually need is to build trust with our customers from day one.
For big companies, this is a very scary challenge. No longer can we hide behind major brand campaigns. We need to figure out ways to make sure that our experience matches what we’re claiming and advertising.
Let’s look at an example from Strava, the fitness activity tracking app, which has a highly engaged community of runners, cyclists and athletes who track their progress and cheer each other on.
In addition to tracking your progress on Strava, you can also push all of your updates to Facebook to share with an even group of friends and family.
People trust people like them
When you think about it, we’ve had enough of experts and paid influencers.
We’ve seen first hand with Fyre Festival that experts have their own incentives and sometimes those incentives are misaligned with their followers and constituents.
Following Brexit, we’ve seen everyday people gaining power and influence in a country where government trust has been declining.
For companies today, the success of your company is truly in the hands of our customer, and when we look at the data here, you can see that a person similar to yourself is on par with an academic expert and with a technical expert.
Everyday people have power and influence.
People trust people like them.
Every company today needs to have a review strategy. Listen and engage on sites where people are talking about your product. It’s also also important to collect reviews in a controlled environment, build feedback and reviews into your core product experience.
Rent the Runway is a clothing subscription company and the great thing about the runway is they offer designer dresses for a reasonable rental fee.
Rent the Runway’s initial wedge into the market was weddings and formal events, so the stakes were high for them to get the customer experience right. Size, fit, delivery time and quality all matter. Through the use of profiles, Rent the Runway is able to leverage user-generated photos and reviews to build trust with customers.
Consumer reviews are also becoming increasingly important when you’re selling B2B software.
G2 Crowd aggregates reviews from everyday people who use specific tools at work everyday. These unbiased reviews create a trusted source for individuals who are buying software for their company. The stakes can be even higher at work, you are putting your professional reputation on the line when you choose a new vendor.
Sadly, companies can easily find shortcuts and ways to game the new sources of trust thus perpetuating the complicated relationship between companies and their customers. Let’s look at the dark-side of reviews:
In May 2018, BuzzFeed Technology Reporter Nic Nguyen conducted a deep investigation inside Amazon’s fake review economy where third-party merchants pay on average $4 to $5 per review, plus a refund of the product, to individuals who willingly write positive reviews irrespective of their personal experience with the product.
“The systems that create fraudulent reviews are a complicated web of subreddits, invite-only Slack channels, private Discord servers, and closed Facebook groups, but the incentives are simple: Being a five-star product is crucial to selling inventory at scale in Amazon’s intensely competitive marketplace — so crucial that merchants are willing to pay thousands of people to review their products positively.”
One listing read, “The reviews don’t need to be verified or anything, so the task won’t take more than a minute of your time. I will send you the link to the product, you go and leave a brief 1 star review, and that’s it. I will pay $5 to you through Paypal as soon as the review is live on Amazon.”
In 2019, distrust has gone viral and every interaction we have with our customers is critical.
One private conversation with your customer can be shared with millions of people in a matter of seconds.
My challenge to you: stick to the sources of truth. Now that we understand what it takes to build trust with our customers, let’s build trust into our product and let’s keep calm under pressure.
Companies and products mentioned in this talk:
Fyre Festival – A music festival scheduled to take place on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma over two weekends in April and May 2017. Organized by Fyre Media founder Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule as a luxury music festival to promote the Fyre music booking app, the event was promoted on Instagram by “social media influencers” including socialite and model Kendall Jenner, model Bella Hadid, model and actress Emily Ratajkowski, and other media personalities, many of whom did not initially disclose they had been paid to do so. Learn more here.
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 – a now discontinued Android phablet smartphone that was produced and marketed by Samsung Electronics. On 2 September 2016, Samsung suspended sales of the Galaxy Note 7 and announced an informal recall, after it was found that a manufacturing defect in the phones’ batteries had caused some of them to generate excessive heat, resulting in fires. Learn more here.
United Airlines Flight 3411 incident – On April 9, 2017, O’Hare International Airport Aviation Security Officers forcibly removed passenger David Dao, from United Express Flight 3411, after Dao refused to leave the aircraft as airline staff insisted. Aviation Security Officers were called and dragged him off. Dao screamed as officers pulled him out of his seat, and his face hit an armrest during the struggle. Officers then dragged him, apparently unconscious, by his arms on his back along the aircraft aisle past rows of onlooking passengers. Learn more here.