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Avoid the Fyre: Lessons on Authentic Community-Building

Ah, Fyre Festival.

The gift that keeps on giving…

If by giving we mean lessons on what *not* to do when building your brand and community online. As you may recall, Fyre promised the party of a lifetime but delivered a cheese sandwich on a rainy night. It’s a stark reminder that, when it comes to personal brands and small business, you should aim to deliver as much (or more) than you promise (minus the chaos)

Let’s learn from mistakes (others’ that is, thank goodness)

Alright, if you haven’t yet indulged in the schadenfreude buffet that the Fyre Fest documentaries offer, here’s your spoiler-free rundown:

  • Netflix’s Documentary: Shocked Pikachu face—how could anyone have known?
  • Hulu’s Take: A perfect storm of too much money and too little planning, with a side order of economic heartbreak for the locals.

But beyond the popcorn entertainment, Fyre Fest is the Everest of examples on the importance of congruence between what you market and what you actually deliver. A concept crucial for those of us building authentic communities online.

The Perfect Party Starts with Honest Invitations

If Fyre Fest was a masterclass in hype, make yours in honesty. Building an authentic online community isn’t just about crafting the most gorgeous invitation; it’s about ensuring the party itself is even more dazzling. It’s about genuine connections, not just with you but among community members, fostering a real sense of belonging and mutual support.

Let’s be real: the party is WAY more important than the invitation. It’s what happens after guests arrive that counts. This means before you even tweet about your next big thing, make sure you’ve got something tweet-worthy. 

So, what does an ‘honest invitation’ look like?

It starts with transparency and continues with integrity. Here are a few examples:

1. Product Launches:

Instead of simply hyping a new product as a ‘game-changer,’ provide a clear, straightforward description of its features, benefits, and how it compares to existing options. Include genuine customer testimonials that reflect real experiences rather than curated highlights. 

2. Service Updates:

When updating a service, communicate openly about what has changed and why. If prices are going up, explain the reasoning behind it—be it enhanced features, increased costs, or improved service levels. This fosters understanding and maintains trust.

3. Community Events:

For events, whether online or offline, clearly state what attendees will gain from participating. If networking is a key component, describe how you will facilitate connections. If learning is the main draw, detail the topics and takeaways, not just the overarching theme.

4. Special Promotions:

When running a promotion, clarify any conditions or limitations upfront. An honest invitation to a sale or special offer includes all the details customers need to make a decision—no fine print hidden away for later discovery.

5. Membership Drives:

If you’re inviting people to join a membership or subscription, lay out the benefits and commitments honestly. For example, instead of promising ‘exclusive, never-before-seen content’ without specifics, provide examples of what members can expect regularly.

Each of these examples serves the same purpose: ensuring your audience knows exactly what they’re getting into and what they can expect (remember how setting expectations is the root of authenticity and transparency?). This approach not only builds trust but also enhances the perceived value of your offerings. By aligning your initial invitation with the actual experience, you’re more likely to build a loyal, engaged community that feels valued and understood.

Community Building the Right Way: Authenticity First

Using Fyre Fest as an example (because it truly is the gift that just doesn’t stop giving), let’s dive into another takeaway: authenticity is everything.

No matter what, you must plan with purpose—know what you’re building, why you’re building it, and who it’s for.

Eg: if you’re launching a community platform for local artists, be clear about your mission. Is it to provide a space for collaboration, to offer marketing support, or to enhance local art appreciation? Knowing and communicating the ‘why’ behind your community will not only draw in the right members but also give your platform a clear direction.

Deliver consistently on the basics before adding the wow factor. Consistency builds trust, and trust is the currency of effective communities.

Eg: If you promise weekly webinars, make sure they are held every week without fail. This consistency shows that you value your members’ time and engagement, which is foundational before introducing more spectacular events or benefits.

Admit when you mess up. Transparency when things go awry is not just refreshing—it’s necessary.

Eg: If a scheduled event must be canceled or a promised feature is delayed, communicate openly and promptly with your community. Explain what happened and how you plan to address the issue. This kind of transparency not only mitigates disappointment but can actually enhance members’ trust in your leadership.

Authentic connection thrives on trust.

The fastest way to build trust? Set clear expectations, then meet or exceed them—consistently.

By integrating these guidelines into your community-building strategy, you not only foster a sense of belonging and engagement but also cultivate a space where members feel secure, valued, and connected. Authenticity in these actions ensures your community not only grows in numbers but also deepens in value.

Keep It Real (And Fun) 

Let’s toss the ‘fake it till you make it’ mentality into the bonfire of the vanities where it belongs. Instead, let’s embrace a ‘make it real, then talk about it’ philosophy (aka… authentic marketing). Share your authentic self, and let your community peek behind the curtain. Believe me, they’ll appreciate the honesty more than a polished facade (and it’s way less stressful for you too!).

Ways to Keep It Real in Your Online Marketing:

Transparency in Processes and Decisions

Say you’re adjusting your product prices or changing service features: explain why these changes are happening. For instance, a crafts store could share a video explaining the reasons behind price adjustments, such as increased costs of materials or improvements in product quality. This honesty not only justifies the changes but also helps customers understand the value behind what they’re paying for.

Behind-the-Scenes Content

We’re all secretly (or not so secretly) voyeurs, and BTS content always goes over well. Whether it’s a day-in-the-life video of your team, a tour of your workspace, or the creation process of a new product, this transparency builds trust and humanizes your brand. A bakery, for example, could share Instagram stories showing how their pastries are made every morning, highlighting the craftsmanship and care in each step.

Honest Client/Customer Engagement

When folks have concerns or criticisms, address them openly on your social media channels. If a new product receives mixed reviews, discuss what you’ve learned and how you plan to improve. Show that you value customer feedback AND that you’re also committed to continuous improvement.

By embracing these practices, you’re not just marketing your business—you’re building a community founded on trust and genuine interaction. This approach not only attracts people to your brand but also turns them into loyal advocates who believe in your transparency and values.”

From Fyre-d to Inspired

While Fyre Festival might be your go-to case study for how not to launch a festival (or anything, really), it’s also a goldmine for understanding the essence of genuine community building:

– Deliver what you promise.

– Make your reality as enchanting as your promises.

– Own your mistakes and learn from them.

If you’re unsure where to start (you know what’s coming), look to your values.
(Seriously, they’re your compass.)

Invite sent out. Now, let’s wow them at the party.

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