In 2017, Fyre Festival captured the world’s attention. For a moment in time it was the hottest ticket in the world and founder Billy McFarland built its initial worldwide excitement and buzz entirely on social media. But the festival dramatically fell from grace when the terrible execution of the event shocked the world, resulting in Billy being convicted of fraud and owing roughly $27 million dollars to his investors. When reality hit, it was also social that documented the downfall of the festival and ultimately Billy’s reputation.
In our season 2 finale, Billy McFarland explains what actually happened with the Fyre Festival’s social media campaign. We hear where it went right and wrong, as well as his thoughts on the future of social and how to stay ahead in captivating the attention of followers. Brace yourself for a candid exploration of the power and perils of harnessing social media for marketing, as we uncover the lessons learned from one of the most infamous events in recent history.
Speakers: Cat Anderson & Billy McFarland
Cat: Welcome to season two of Social Creatures, a podcast from Sprout Social. My name is Cat and I’m here to explore some of my favourite success stories from the world of social media.
This is a space for anyone and really, nearly anything goes, but what makes an account successful or popular? Honestly, it’s hard to know, but that is exactly what we’re here to find out.
Throughout the series, we’ll talk to the brands behind some of the best accounts that you know, and some that you don’t know yet to explore the way these businesses, organisations, and individuals have achieved their success on social media, and how you can do it too.
Today’s guest is someone that you have no doubt seen before, whether in documentaries, articles, on social, or in the news.
Billy McFarland is the founder of the notorious Fyre Festival, a music festival that for a moment in time was the hottest ticket in the world, but that ultimately, fell from grace when the execution was so bad that it ended up with Billy being convicted of fraud and owing roughly $27 million to his defrauded investors.
But what does he have to do with social? For better or worse, Fyre Festival was an event that built its initial worldwide excitement and buzz entirely on social. It utilised influencers in a way that we’d never seen before with synchronised burnt orange squares and supermodels swimming with pigs in The Bahamas, it looked amazing. And unsurprisingly, the tickets flew off the digital shelves.
But when reality hit, it was also social that documented the downfall of the festival, and ultimately, Billy’s reputation. Having now served his time working on his repayments, and planning Fyre two, Billy is a man who has felt both sides of social from the highest highs to the lowest lows.
He has undoubtedly a unique relationship with social media, and I, for one, cannot wait to hear more about it.
And just to let you all know ahead of time, this episode does include some bad language. It also includes tons of great insights, but if naughty words aren’t your thing, feel free to skip this episode.
Billy, great to have you here. So, excited to chat with you today.
Billy: Cat, what’s going on?
Cat: I mean, a lot. I’ve got a lot to talk to you about. The first thing I just want to ask is that researching for this conversation shows up tons of different narratives of how people see you.
So, there’s people who see you as a villain, there’s people who see you as an entrepreneur who got things wrong. There’s people who see you as maybe just someone who is a bit naive with your plans.
With so many differing opinions existing on the internet, and also bearing in mind, I did hear you say that even if Fyre had gone well, you still would’ve gone to prison, how do you see yourself?
Billy: That is the hardest question, Cat. I truly didn’t care until it was maybe like six months straight where every day someone’s like, “How do you feel when you google yourself, it says the word fraudster.” I’m like, “Well, I really hope I’m not sitting there googling myself and reading it.”
I just didn’t care for the longest time, but I think it’s gotten to the point now where I just don’t know how it’s holding me back. I meet with someone in person, we agree to do some work together, and there’s someone on the board in some far-off room who I don’t know who’s like, “Hmm, sounds good, but we just can’t take that risk.”
So, I do feel like that public perception or public painting does really hurt behind the scenes. And while I like to think I didn’t care, it needs to change soon.
Cat: And I can totally understand that, and I hope you don’t mind me asking that. It’s just interesting because it’s hard to get an idea of who you actually are as a person. So, I’m looking forward to this conversation to learning more about you.
But this is a podcast about social media, and we particularly are interested in people who have had success on social media, and how they achieved it because obviously, there’s millions of people using social media every day to very varying degrees of success.
And in the documentaries about you, and in my experience as someone who saw Fyre come to prominence, social seemed to be the main arm of promotion for Fyre Festival. Was this actually the case? And why did you choose to proceed in this manner?
Billy: So, Fyre came up in the era and the nascent days of influence. And I think we kind of saw an interesting trend where a lot of brands were trying to hop on the influence train by hiring individual talent and they’d hire these agencies and spend so much time trying to figure out who that one person was that represented their brand.
And we took a 180 approach where we’re like, there is no one person that represents Fyre because Fyre is all about bringing different people together. So, what if we have hundreds, and in our case, 400 people all post and promote fire at exactly the same time to go against the grain?
We don’t know who this one brand sponsor is, but we know these 400 people if they were all on a remote island together for four days, would have the time of their lives.
Cat: And can you tell us, I mean the burnt orange tile was amazing, and it immediately shot two PR headlines around the world. Can you tell us a little bit more about the result that you got on social media as well? Like how did you track that?
Billy: So, I really thought it didn’t work. We had our 12 biggest talents on this remote island, and it was like literally just us.
And we put them all around this table. We have a chalkboard or nothing else. Alright guys, here’s what you’re going to post and here’s what you’re going to say. But the idea being if the 12 leaders did it, the other 388 around the world would follow suit.
So, we did it and it worked, and the orange tile was going everywhere, but no tickets are being sold. And I went to bed on the island that night all depressed. It’s like I spent my last penny, plus a couple million dollars more to make this work and no one bought a ticket.
And I was all groggy being woken up early the next morning by someone who worked for me. He’s like, “Billy, Billy, Billy, we’re screwed.” I’m like, “Oh God, what happened?” He’s like, “We sold millions of dollars of tickets, what are we going to do?”
And what happened was the orange tile was meant to kind of create this confusion where you weren’t exactly sure what the brand was, and it took a handful of hours for it to resonate.
And then once the internet figured out it was for this music festival on a remote island, the ticket sales just went crazy. So, interesting to see how being indirect and creating some confusion led to this mad rush of desire to get in and get your tickets.
Cat: I think that’s so interesting because Christopher Nolan has said that before about his movies, that it’s better to have a confused audience than a board audience. And curiosity is just so powerful.
Cat: And especially coming from 400 of the world’s top influencers. But it’s interesting, you said your colleague was like “Uh-oh, we’re in trouble,” because 95% of the tickets in 48 hours.
Were you expecting that kind of influx, and did you panic a little bit? Because that’s a hell of a lot. What were you thinking with such a rush on the tickets?
Billy: I know I’m going to get destroyed for saying this, but I think the tickets were actually too cheap, and we would’ve been better off making them more expensive and taking our time and having a slower roll. Yeah, we certainly oversold it by making it too cheap and too accessible early on.
But just total wild experience where using startup terms, like we didn’t know if we had product market fit. We didn’t know if this idea of hundreds of adventurous influencers on a remote island in the middle of nowhere would sell to the consumer.
And this is literally our landing page, like this is our test example. And it just went and took a life of its own and created this four-month tsunami of events that became Fyre in the Fyre Festival.
Cat: And why do you think it got so big so fast? I’m curious about the power of influencers, and you said that it was adventurous influencers. So, how did you select these influencers?
I know about Kendall Jenner and everyone like that. Who were the other 400 influencers and how did you select them? Was it just based on their follower size?
Billy: So, what was interesting was that the diversity of the influencers made it really work. We had athletes, music artists, models, comedians, and I think that confusion is what really made the marketing go.
When our average consumer was looking at their Instagram feed and they saw a comedian, a magician, an NFL football player, NBA basketball player and a model who don’t seem to know each other all posting the orange tile, it led you to try to connect the dots, and like you’re here as a fan of these five people and now you’re trying to understand what their connection to each other is.
And when Fyre became that connection point, and Fyre, the brand is all about bringing people together, I think that theme subconsciously really resonated with the consumers.
Cat: What else was live with Fyre at this point? So, the burnt orange tile goes out, it’s got the hashtags and everything in it. Had the very famous swimming with the pigs promotional video, was that all live and was that all active at that point?
Billy: We launched that shortly after the first 12 group posted the orange tiles. So, it all went live at the same time. It took people a few hours to organically discover the video and connect the dots, but we almost kind of created this hidden little treasure hunt where you’re trying to understand why all these people who don’t necessarily know each other are all connected and how they’re connected.
And then once Fyre became the link that connected all these people, that led to the video and now it all kind of made sense. And I think Fyre did a really good job of trying to democratise a private island in an experience that most people want to do.
It’s like on their bucket list in their life, they just don’t know how to go about it. And if we can provide that experience alongside really interesting people, I think that’s a pretty cool value proposition.
Cat: You mentioned that you went to bed that night thinking it had failed and you’re like, “Oh no, I’ve spent my last dollar and some on this.” Do you think this was only successful because you had big budgets or was it the concept that also worked?
I’m also curious, with the influencers, I know there was a promise that they would be able to come to the festival as well, but presumably, they were being paid as well. So, how did you manage to organise all of this?
Billy: Part of the problem was I was absolutely terrible at managing all of the finances. And I think a great way to put it into perspective is one of our big investors who runs one of the largest international banks, he came to the island for a weekend and there, I am sitting there with no money in my account ordering jets and yachts and they’re all just kind of like arriving.
And he goes, “Billy, I work with the biggest banks and companies in the world, and no one has this credit that you have.” And it wasn’t official credit on paper, I didn’t have a good credit score.
It was just the tornado of excitement around Fyre where I was sitting there on a satellite phone from this remote island saying, “Hey, we need four jets, three yachts and four more islands this weekend.”
And people were just so excited to be involved. Things would just show up and the bills would come four months later. So, I kind of created this situation where we were overextending ourselves, which created the hype. Then obviously, when the bills came due, the problem started arising.
Cat: Do you think you got caught up in the hype of it as well?
Billy: I certainly got caught up in the hype and I kept justifying to myself that we are growing so fast both as businesspeople and a brand that whatever we do today is not going to matter tomorrow financially.
If we spend a hundred thousand dollars today and we make a million dollars tomorrow, what’s a hundred thousand dollars? I’m like it worked at that level. But at a certain point, the numbers got so big that logic no longer applied where it became, “Hey, what’s $10 million today?” Like wait, that’s actually real, you can’t keep escalating these levels like we were doing.
And I just didn’t know how to sit back and establish the guardrails where it’s like, “Okay, shit we’ve established a brand here that clearly has a theme and a message that people want to be a part of,” but now, I need to sit back and stop. I just can’t keep ordering things from my satellite phone and going crazy.
Cat: Gosh, that’s so interesting because I can kind of understand that logic as well. And you see that a lot in the tech industry where at the start, you are kind of selling a vision, when a company is young and you’re selling the future state.
And I can see with all of the excitement that was happening around you as well, and with the tickets that sold, it probably felt like it was a sure thing. One thing I’m really interested in, is it’s well accepted that sometimes social media doesn’t actually represent reality.
And so, with one part of the promotion, presumably, it was understood that swimming was supermodels with pigs in The Bahamas wasn’t going to happen, that was never going to be part of the plan.
Billy: I think it was.
Billy: Yeah. I mean, Fyre started by doing these four-day weekend mini festivals on these islands. It started with 10 people, and I think our biggest one pre-Fyre was 3 or 400 people, and that’s what it was.
It was talent on small aeroplanes, boats, jet skis, swimming pigs, and that was the experience we were trying to democratise. And I think the concept for Fyre just came from this insecurity and need for me to share this experience with everybody.
It’s like, “Wait, I’m on a private island with all these crazy people swimming with pigs and diving with sharks.” I try to tell my friends who are back home in their offices at banks or law firms in New York and like, “Yeah, sure, whatever Billy, cool story bro.” I’m like, “No, no, no, it’s actually real.”
And I think the desire of Fyre Festival was what adventurous 20 or 30 something in New York, grand Miami or LA wouldn’t want a weekend outside of their day-to-day life where they were just free to explore. And that was the plan.
And obviously, it worked a lot better with 300 people than it would’ve with 5,000. But if I was all about this desire to open and share and democratise what I thought were the coolest weekends of my life with as many people as possible.
Cat: Well, I can go right ahead and say I did not think that was the answer you were going to give to that.
Billy: That was the plan.
Cat: I’m kind of stunned because I was going to follow on and say, that I think social media is kind of understood as sometimes not representing reality from an individual basis right up to brands.
I think generally, there’s an acceptance that social media isn’t maybe telling the truth to a T, but that’s completely blown my socks off that you’re like, “No, well actually this was the experience that we wanted to sell.”
Because I was going to ask, do you think people need to draw the line between that? But do you actually were like, “This is the experience that I’m going to give you at this festival?”
Billy: Absolutely. And obviously, the experience gets diluted if there are thousands of people there, and it becomes less intimate than the magic we’d actually created. So, I think what would’ve been better is we should have opened up a Fyre hotel where there was a permanent location for 200 people, and we could do this every weekend.
I think that would’ve been a more reasonable and responsible way to share the same adventure and excitement with the world rather than trying to bring too many people at one time.
Cat: It’s still aspirational though. So, I wonder what’s your take on what constitutes aspirational marketing and when it sets unrealistic expectations?
Billy: Interesting. We were slightly different in that our marketing was the product, like Fyre was about the experience. I think it wasn’t necessarily like a liquor brand or a consumer brand where you might have a top talent or a top athlete promoting a product and you’re buying that product because you think that person is interesting. Fyre itself was this experience and it was simply people doing that experience.
So, we were selling our weekend, we essentially had a camera crew follow us for three weekends and that was the trailer. It wasn’t like we created a shot list and say, “Hey, we’re actually making a commercial.”
It was more like documentary style, “Hey follow us around for three weekends while we go and do crazy adventures in The Bahamas.” And that became the promotional material.
So, I actually think that maybe this is kind of sharing some plans with the future. A hotel would’ve been amazing. Because that is a responsible and scalable way to have 200 people every weekend come and do this experience.
So, I think that when you’re selling a product that’s backed by talent or influencers, you have a different set of responsibility than selling a physical experience, which we were trying to do.
Cat: The reason why we invited you on this podcast is because the promotion for Fyre was just unbelievable. To the extent that you did achieve what so many people want to do, which is creating buzz, you generated money.
You generated excitement, you got PR, and I speak to so many people who are trying to achieve even just one of those things on a daily basis. Do you have a good understanding of what it is that people want?
You mentioned that it was a particular time like a zeitgeist with social media and the power of influence at that time. Or is it that again, you just had these really large budgets and knew how to use them, or maybe it’s a combination of all three. Why do you think you were able to harness social media marketing so effectively at this point in time?
Billy: I think it was the desire of the influencer world to experience life with a hinge of danger. And I think the biggest talent at the time was feeling slightly complacent, where they would get a big brand deal from a consumer product to get paid a million dollars to do 10 posts over a year, and that was kind of it. And there was a yearning for more.
And what really made Fyre work in these small trips that got people excited was we flew them all in a great jet to the main island. But then we boarded these five or six 1960s propeller planes with four to six seats, and we would get up there with crazy pilots and just start doing tricks in the air.
And it was something about the danger where we’re literally not sure if this plane is going to crash or land, and the pilots are all kind of part of the theatrics and kind of wild guys and girls that brought everybody together. And all of a sudden, we land in this remote island, they’re no longer thinking, “Oh this isn’t the four seasons that I was just at last weekend.”
They’re like, “I just defied gravity. I just defied death with this group of people, now we are bonded in a different way.” So, I think it was taking people outside of this digital era and having them push this lifestyle boundaries that they like to think they were doing physically in a way they had never done before.
Cat: So, it’s like you’re bonding through adrenaline almost.
Billy: You need to take someone outside of their day-to-day to really create an experience. Like if you invite 400 of the world’s biggest star system gala, which is super boring and you’re eating regular food and drinking wine around a table, that’s boring because they do that three times a week.
So, we found a way to make it different, and understanding that our target clientele, whether it was a talent posting or the super successful 30-year-old who wanted to buy the highest end package for the festival, they wanted something different and they have access to everything.
And that different was adventure, it was freedom, it was exploration. I think it did a really good job at embodying those themes.
Cat: At the top of this, you said that this happened at a time when influence had a lot of power in social media. Do you think that time has passed now?
Billy: I think we’re in an interesting time now where people are jaded to these well-done promotional videos and well-done talent content. Obviously, we’re seeing it on TikTok where user-generated content just outperforms a lot of the well-produced high-end content.
So, I think it’s in this transition period where brands are starting to realise that the influencers that sold products six or seven years ago are no longer converting. And it’s more about getting a large number of people with more organic feeling content to actually cut through the noise.
Cat: Would you say then it’s about creating communities and working within those communities?
Billy: People want to feel part of something that’s going to fulfil their lives and give them value. So, I completely believe that community-based marketing is more important than influencer marketing.
If Fyre Festival launched from scratch today with the same talent, it wouldn’t work. It would be more about finding communities people want to be a part of and engaging those communities.
Cat: You mentioned how influencers are selling products isn’t converting in the same way that it was however many years ago. And we certainly have seen that there are now some legal requirements where people have to disclose that this is an ad.
Do you think that we’re going to see increased scrutiny and legal restrictions on how we market things on social media via other people?
Billy: I don’t think so because I think that as user-generated content starts becoming these huge drivers of sales for brands, it’s going to be harder and harder to regulate.
And I also believe that regular people who don’t necessarily label themselves as content creators or influencers will earn income through these user-generated content that they’re creating, which essentially makes everybody a walking advertisement at all times.
So, if everybody is doing it and everybody’s a walking ad, I don’t think it becomes necessary to delineate the fact that this content’s an ad versus content isn’t one. At the end of the day, it is all advertising.
Cat: Interesting. How do you use social media now for your upcoming projects? For example, and maybe you want to tell us a little bit, because again, I’ve heard a lot, there’s like Fyre festival, the Broadway Show, there’s an event I believe in the Hamptons next month, there’s talk about redoing the festival again.
I mean, I feel like you might have teased there’s a hotel coming in the future, there’s like a whole pile of things coming. How will social media be a part of the promotion for those, or will it?
Billy: I believe that social media now is all about telling a story and creating turbulence. If I announced today that Drake and Kanye West and Taylor Swift were performing at Fyre Festival and it was being done by this great brand and this great company, I don’t think people would really care because they would know the outcome, and they would know that partner would successfully execute the event.
I think the best way to grow the demand around Fyre is to be a single engine aeroplane flying through the storm where you as a consumer having a front row seat and you have no idea whether I’m going to crash or land.
And whether or not I do you’re going to be safe, but either way it’s going to be interesting, and I want 70% of you to hope that I crash and 30% to hope that I land. And I feel like if I can tell that story, that’s how I’ll create buzz around Fyre too.
Cat: I can’t tell if that was metaphorical or you’re actually being serious.
Billy: I’m being kind of serious too.
Cat: That’s amazing. And it’s interesting you said you want 70% of people to want you to crash and 30% of you want you to land.
And that’s another thing that is super interesting about your story. You bet big on social, you got big on social but unfortunately, it’s almost like it was at both sides of this story.
So, like this huge ascension into success being recognized worldwide, but when it didn’t happen, social media was also right there at the front seat to watch it all sort of unravel.
And as we mentioned at the top of this, start to cast aspersions on your personality and have different opinions. And as someone who I think is clearly ambitious, how has that been to cope with because it’s like social media is your friend and your foe almost.
Billy: It’s tough because I think that I loved the business validation of the large group of supporters that I had six or seven years ago with Fyre. And it’s a little different now where unfortunately, due to my terrible decisions, the smart people who are supporting me just can’t afford to take that public risk. So, a lot of that support is behind the scenes.
So, I think I’m more of like a one man show in the front right now, and that comes with some good but also comes with a lot of bad.
However, I think that the era now will allow for that to succeed more than it would seven years ago where before we kind of needed that group mass effort and now people are so tired of these high-end productions and overt ads, they want to see the turbulence and they want to see the unknown endings where they’re not sure if they’re watching a train wreck or redemption. And I think that becomes really interesting.
Cat: You mentioned again about the high-end productions not being favoured. Is this why you yourself are personally doing quite a lot of Instagram reels and keeping it super in the moment and quite raw sort of everyday footage of you? Is that part of your strategy as well to sort of show people what life is like as Billy McFarland now?
Billy: I think the success of Fyre too is far more interesting if it comes out of nowhere. If things are perfect for the next six weeks and six months and a year, it kind of loses the allure. But if things appear sloppy and then are actually super well done, I think that is a far more intriguing story and outcome.
Cat: Have you always been quite … I mean, you said turbulence, which is quite a recurring theme here with the plans that we’re talking about as well, but you seem to be really wired to sort of buck against the system and be disruptive. Have you always been like that?
Billy: For sure. And I think that starting back when I was 10-years-old learning how to program, I’ve always sort of found technology as a way to find my own adventure and to create my own system and create my own rules, and Island was a physical representation of the early days of programming.
But I think I’ve always kind of been driven by this desire to show to myself what’s possible and what the boundaries actually are.
Cat: And has it been that same mindset that you’ve used to approach, “Okay, I’ve made this very public mistake,” but instead of sort of just sitting with it and letting that define you, you’re almost using it now to, as you say, either crash and burn or have this huge redemption story. Is that all the same sort of headspace?
Billy: So, this is what confuses me the most. It’s like I get so much backlash. I think the number one backlash I get from a person who doesn’t know me online is like, “Hey, why don’t you just stop this,” and in their words, “Go and get a real job.”
And I owe an incredible amount of money, I owe an incredible amount of trust back to those people that supported me. I owe people back to relationships and friendships. And I think the obvious answer is the only honourable path forward is to try to pay it all back.
And that starts with trust. It includes financial paybacks, it includes success. There’s so much to it, but I feel like quitting is just not the way to find pride and fulfilment. And I’d rather go for it and go for it honestly.
And if I fail, honestly that is okay, but that is the better path to take than to go make coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts and say, “Sorry guys, that’s it, I’m out here.” I think that’s more of the cowardly move.
Cat: Yeah, I mean, I’m not an authority on what is ethically right or ethically wrong, but I do agree with you. And I wonder though you have talked before about this drive that you have to build and to push ahead and to succeed.
And I wonder, do you see that as a blessing, or do you see it as something that you need to be aware of sometimes? Because maybe it is also what got you into this situation in the first place?
Billy: For sure. And I think one of my biggest undoings was the inability and the insecurity to ever ask for help or deliver bad news. And that’s a huge flaw when running a business.
Like if you can’t deliver bad news, you’re going to start telling white lies and ultimately, realise in order to avoid the inherent chaos that every business has underneath the scenes. And so, I feel like I need to really be in tune with that.
And I’ve taken the opposite approach now where I’m bluntly transparent, and if someone is backing me or supporting me, it’s like, “Hey guys, this probably is not going to work,” it’s like trying to be super honest and, “Hey, the plane might crash, and I don’t want you guys to think that Fyre too is going to be good job.” It might be a terrible single engine plane crash.
So, we’re trying to be brutally honest and overly transparent in the areas that I lied before, but without kind of losing that creative drive to go and actually make this right. And as soon as I lose that drive, then the dream and the goal of making this up to people becomes impossible.
Cat: These answers, they’re good answers, Billy. No, they are, they’re not the answers I thought I was going to get. What so far in your career has been your proudest moment?
Billy: I did seven months straight in solitary, and I think that was my proudest moment. Just like I’m so wired to be nonstop, whether it’s mentally, physically, I just like to move around and create momentum and just take action, and being physically and mentally confined in the concrete box is just so against all of my good attributes and all of my flaws. So, I think I am most proud for getting through that.
Cat: I mean, I think — again, I’m not a psychologist, but from just a human level that is a sensational amount of time to spend by yourself. What were you thinking about? Were you planning for the future? Were you reflecting on the past or were you just trying to sort of stay present?
Because it’s also an enormously challenging position to be in for a stupendous amount of time. So, I’m just curious. Tell me I’m going too far, if you don’t want to answer that, that’s totally fine.
Billy: No, it’s all good. So, the hardest part of it was I didn’t know when it was going to end. And I think if I’d gone in on the first day and they’re like, “Hey, you know Billy, you’re here for seven months.” Like yes, that would totally suck, but at least you can wrap your head around it.
But it was the opposite for me. It’s like, “Oh we don’t know, you might be here forever.” And when you’re alone and you have no one to sanity check your thoughts, you start thinking the worst and becoming very pessimistic. And I truly thought for a good portion of those seven months that I was going to be in that concrete box for the rest of my life.
So, it was the balance of trying to contain those negative thoughts while still planning for the future. And I just wrote all day long everyday plans for everything I want to build and how I want to do it. So, it’s kind of the balance of planning for the future while trying to quiet down the fears that this really could be it.
Cat: You mentioned balance there, and another thing that I am curious again — obviously, I haven’t met you before, but I get the sense you are a very ambitious person. And your ambition is something that I think is a character trait that goes through every narrative that exists about you online.
And as you mentioned, there’s a lot of people who see in a super negative view, a lot of people across the globe, there’s also people that you really want to win back. You mentioned business relationships and friendships and stuff like this.
So, you’re sort of balancing, I guess, having to cope with the fact that a lot of people who don’t even know you have terrible opinions about you. There’s a lot going on there, and I don’t know if you’re familiar with Robin Dunbar has this concept called Dunbar’s Number, which states that the human brain is only capable of having 150 relationships at any one time.
Billy: Interesting. Okay.
Cat: And I feel like from researching you, even just in your day-to-day life, it’s like so much more than that I would assume. You’ve got so many people who you’re interacting with presumably in any number of different capacities, but when we add the social media perception as well into that, that’s a lot to cope with.
So, how do you balance all of those conflicting sort of, do you care, don’t you care, and sort of stay sane at the end of it?
Billy: I think that’s one of the biggest challenges towards fulfilment. In the Fyre days, I would try to find fulfilment by surrounding myself with as many people as possible. And I always like things to be bigger.
If I was going to dinner, I wanted 40 people with me and not three. If I’m going on a trip, I want 20 people coming with me and not one. And at the end of the day, that was really unfulfilling and I kind of found out, especially through the time in jail, that having a large number of surface level of relationships is terrible. And I think life truly is about 5 to 10 people who you can go deep with for the next 30 or 40 or 50 years.
And that’s the one thing that I’m trying to really improve on this time around, are not surrounding myself with a lot of people because it feels good in the moment, but finding people who I can grow alongside for the rest of my life.
Cat: Nice. What do you think is next for social media?
Billy: I think it’s giving the consumers access to this lifestyle they’ve witnessed for the past 10 years online. And I think we’ve gotten to the point now where it’s like, “Okay, I am tired of watching the Kardashians or this person live this life they can no longer do.”
And while that lifestyle porn was attractive for a number of years, we are kind of becoming desensitised to it, and are more interested in how we can live (this is corny) our best lives and go out and do.
So, I think the future of social media is going to be about giving access to that lifestyle to the average consumer. And whether that’s virtual reality or other technology that democratises it, I think is where the future is going.
Cat: When you’re thinking about future promotions for your future projects, will you be ditching Instagram and moving over to threads? Will you be on TikTok? You’ve mentioned TikTok a few times and I think obviously the user generated content angle is huge.
Have you started to think about how your social media strategy will actually develop in terms of the platforms that you’re using?
Billy: I think it’s going to be more about owning direct relationship with your customers. There is a platform that I use called SuperPhone, which is basically like a texting service.
So, I could directly text with thousands of people at one time, which is pretty interesting. And I own those relationships and those phone numbers, which I think is pretty cool.
So, I’m trying to think beyond the Instagram or Twitter or threads or TikTok of today and just understand how it can have direct access to my consumers, and then eventually how I can build the technology that allows them to live this life they’ve witnessed and have seen from a far online over the past 10 years.
Cat: Amazing. Okay, Billy, thank you so much for these questions. It’s rare that I am genuinely surprised by answers, and you’ve really done that today. I’ve really, really enjoyed this conversation, so thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. I think it’s been a fabulous conversation.
Billy: Cat, thank you so much. And before we go, I need to invite you to Fyre Festival too.
Cat: I would love to come. Thank you.
Billy: You’re there. Let’s go. Hell yeah. Thank you. At least you could talk about it good or bad on a podcast after you go.
Billy: I’ll see you there.
Cat: You’ve been listening to Social Creatures with me, Cat Anderson. Many thanks to Billy McFarland for joining me today for what was the final episode of season two. And of course, a big thank you to Sprout Social for making this podcast possible.
If you’ve enjoyed this episode or the season, make sure to let us know on social media at Sprout Social, and we would love it if you would subscribe to hear all of our other episodes wherever you get your podcasts.
Thanks very much for listening, and we’ll see you again in season three.
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