By now, it’s no secret that influencer marketing, when effectively executed, can translate into significant success and profit for businesses and brands. Unfortunately, said profitability has led to increased fraud and corruption within the industry. In a study about influencer fraud conducted by digital marketing expert Digiday, it was reported that a single day’s worth of posts on Instagram tagged #ad and/or #sponsored, contained more than 50 percent fake engagements. And out of 118,007 comments, only 20,942 were made by real people and not by bot accounts.
The issue of and concern over influencer fraud have become significant enough that various consumer and advertising watchdog groups and organizations have recently implemented a number of important rules and changes. One of the most significant, via the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), now requires influencers to disclose when a post is a sponsored ad in the first lines of their caption. This ensures that individuals don’t have to click the “read more” to know that the post is an ad since many people don’t read beyond the first lines of a caption.
The biggest challenge for many businesses is knowing how to spot and avoid fake influencers, i.e. individuals who falsely pad their follower count and misrepresent their social media presence. For the amount of money that can be made in the world of influencer marketing, it is very important that businesses do due diligence to ensure that they’re not throwing away thousands and potentially millions of dollars to fake influencers who will not positively impact their bottom line. And in fact, may even end up causing damage to their brand reputation.
There are a number of ways for businesses to spot a potentially fake influencer. These are some of the most common and obvious red flags.
- Sudden Significant Increase in Followers – This seems obvious enough right? If an individual had approximately 2,000 followers a week prior and always shown a steady increase of maybe two to three new followers a day and then out of the blue, their follower count increases to 10,000 or even 5,000 in a few days, that’s a red flag. Unless there was something significant that the individual did on their account, e.g. some type of popular promotion, a post that went viral, etc. it is simply not feasible that their follower count could increase that drastically. And that means they’ve likely purchased followers.
- High Follower Count but Low Engagement Rate – An individual who has thousands and maybe even millions of followers but gets very low engagement for their posts, is not a very effective influencer. Now the likely explanation for this, of course, is that the individual has purchased followers and so most of their followers are really bot accounts. However, it is possible that an individual could have many followers but low engagement because maybe they were very popular at one time and gained a lot of followers but their influence had since waned, making their audience no longer engaged. Either way, this is not an influencer you would want to work with.
- Type of Engagement – We all know that technology gets savvier and savvier every day and so there are sophisticated bot accounts that do comment on posts. However, the type and quality of the comments and engagement, in general, can be a red flag if businesses pay close enough attention. This includes repeatedly generic comments such as, “great post”, “awesome”, “looks great”, etc. If a potential influencer with millions of followers has 90 percent of generic comments in response to their posts, that’s a red flag. Also, if it is only generic comments, with no shares, retweets, etc., that is a major red flag.
- New Account with Large Following – Unless an individual is some type of celebrity, e.g. actress, singer, etc. or related to a high profile individual, it is virtually impossible that they would have thousands of followers in less than a year. So look at the activation date of the potential influencer’s account. If their account is less than a year or even less than two years old but they already have thousands upon thousands of followers, that’s suspicious.
- Credibility – Finally, the best way to avoid influencer fraud is to research the potential influencer and establish their credibility. For example, have they attempted in the past to mislead their followers by not fully disclosing that a post was an ad, have they lied about using certain products simply to get paid by the business or brand and mislead their followers, have they previously been caught buying followers, etc? As with every decision that affects your brand’s image and business profitability, it is imperative to thoroughly do your homework and research.
It is not impossible to spot fake influencers. However, as noted above, with technology getting more advanced every day, fake influencers are also getting savvier and savvier. In an industry that can net individuals thousands and even millions of dollars, unsurprisingly, corruption becomes a major issue.
It is up to businesses and brands to stay abreast of changes and be as savvy to all the tricks of the trade and of course, always do due diligence before trusting your product and brand to anyone. It is also important to remember that bigger isn’t always better.
Sometimes businesses get too caught up in the numbers game – i.e. this individual has a million followers, so they must be a more influential influencer than the individual with 5,000. Not true. In fact, AdWeek reports that campaigns driven by micro-influencers are 6.7 times more efficient per engagement than those led by more influential counterparts.
Influencer marketing is a worthy investment for businesses that can afford it. It is important to ensure that it’s done the right way, with honest and credible influencers.