Influencer Fraud: What It Means and What To Look Out For
Fake it until you make it, a phrase that up until a few months ago would have been the mantra for many aspiring influencers. However, as the influencer marketing industry continues to grow and a single sponsored post easily costing in the tens of thousands of pounds, the question still remains – how do you know that what you’re getting in return is genuine?
Research carried out last year by CampaignDeus found that out of the 700,000 Instagram accounts which it analysed, with followers ranging from 5K – 5M, as many as 12% of the accounts had shown signs of buying fake followers.
So as the cost of influencer marketing is increasing, how can brands be sure that their budget is being used effectively and delivering the right results? The answer? Figuring out who is cheating the system and learning how to spot any influencers that are using or buying fake followers to ensure that your next campaign reaches real people and not just bots….
So what should you be looking out for?
Well, the good news is that many social networking sites have already been cracking down on the issue – by actively removing anything that it deems as inauthentic. Last year alone, Twitter purged tens of millions suspicious accounts, while Facebook (who also own Instagram) began heavily investing in machine learning tools that would help them to detect and remove any suspicious account activity. But despite their best efforts, there are still influencers out there manipulating the system. Therefore, we’ve outlined our top tips on what you need to look out for when vetting potential influencer partners…
Step 1 – Closely analyse their profile
When looking at any influencer profile there are a number of red flags which can pop up at any time. Firstly, look at the persons engagement rate. If they have a high number of followers, but little to no post engagement, then there is a very high chance that they have previously bought followers. Secondly, scroll through the comments of a couple of their posts – this is often where you can spot any programmed bot interactions. Look for generic comments like ‘nice feed’ and ‘great shot’ as this will indicate that the interactions are unlikely to be genuine. Lastly, have a brief scroll through the influencer’s list of followers to see if they look like real accounts. If there are lots of accounts with no profile pictures or unusual usernames, then this could be another red flag.
Step 2 – Stick to the stats
It is widely known that many of the sites that sell fake followers operate the fake accounts from places like South America and Eastern Europe. Therefore, before you agree to work with any influencer, you should ask for a direct screenshot of their follower demographics to verify that their audience is both legit and relevant to who you want to try and target.
Step 3 – Dig deeper with a third-party site
There are a number of different apps and programmes that claim to have found the ultimate algorithm to spotting fake followers. However, the truth is that no one platform has the answer you’re looking for, but they can occasionally help as part of the wider vetting process. Social Blade is the preferred platform for most, as it allows you to track user statistics across Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and more. Here you can find things like their engagement rate, the average number of likes and comments per post and most importantly their daily followers and following. It’s here that you are looking for any unusual spikes in new followers or lots of following and unfollowing. The latter strategy often involves following hundreds of new accounts one day and then once they have followed you back, quickly un-following them to leave themselves with a higher number of followers. While this technically doesn’t count as buying followers, it is a way for influencers to manipulate the algorithm and inflate their stats, which again could indicate that you should approach with caution.
Step 4 – Look for external mentions
While painstakingly obvious, a simple Google search of any authentic and well-respected influencer should produce a series of valuable external mentions. Look for published articles or interviews with the influencer to get a feel for their online credibility and history of past collaborations.
Step 5 – Trust your instincts
You can often get a feel for when something isn’t right, so always trust your instinct when it comes to working with influencers. Until an industry wide solution emerges, vetting influencers will rely on brands and agencies being able to closely understand and manage their relationships with social media stars. Therefore, if you’re unsure about anyone and have a inkling that they are up to no good, then keep searching until you find someone that perfectly connects with your brand.