Influencer marketing is not a new concept (see celebrity endorsements), however when barriers of entry came crashing down by way of social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, it created the opportunity for anyone to be an Influencer. Now a billion-dollar industry on Instagram alone, brands and marketers have quickly flocked to Influencers for support in their marketing efforts.
When Influencer marketing works, it works. A true person of influence has the power to impact the behaviours and opinions of their audience, and the ROI is real with 71 percent of consumers being more likely to make a purchase based on a social media reference.
When Influencer Marketing doesn’t work it becomes a costly and wasteful endeavour. Authenticity in the industry has always been a topic of discussion, however, the conversation has flared up again due to Unilever’s chief marketing officer Keith Weeds’ proclamation that the brand will no longer be working with Influencers who buy followers. Now, this is really a common-sense policy, a person with fake followers has no impact and thus cannot provide you with any return on your marketing investment. The problem with Influencer Marketing is that there is a growing demographic of fake Influencers employing various deceptive tactics to trick brands into giving them substantial amounts of money and product. This is new age fraud at its finest, and the following are three ways fake Influencers are pulling off this heist on Instagram.
They Buy Followers / Bots
This is the most common scam. Fake followers are bots or farmed accounts that don’t represent real people but are actually spam accounts purchased in bulk and sold to those who want to rapidly increase their following as opposed to organically growing a real audience. How can you tell if an “Influencer” has fake followers? Take a scroll through their follower base, it won’t take long before a ton of accounts with weird names like “ucfji12722” or “insert Russian characters here” comes up. This is a clear indication of purchased followers. An even better way to tell? Growth monitoring platforms like Social Blade (shown below). Insert your intended Influencer’s handle into the browser’s search function and look for irregularities in growth like sudden unexplained increases or decreases in followers. Outside of a giveaway or specific campaign, it’s not very likely someone will grow by 6,000 followers in one day, or lose 1,000 followers another day. These irregularities are evidence of a staggered approach to fraudulent followers being added in bulk over a few days or weeks to appear more “real”.
They Buy Likes
An easy tail-tell sign of a fake Influencer are those with tons of followers, but low engagement (comments and likes). We understand that the Instagram algorithm has decreased engagement across the board, but there is no way that a person with 100,000 followers will accumulate a mere 50-100 likes and 2 comments per post - unless those posts were, of course, being served to a fake audience. Now, fake Influencers who are aware that a marketer or savvy business owner will know enough to calculate their engagement rate will likely take the next step after purchasing followers, and that is to purchase fake likes and comments. How can you tell if an “Influencer” is buying engagements? To spot fake likes, tap on the "Like By" section of their post, scroll through and look for the same fake usernames and non-English language handles. To spot fake comments, look through the comments section of their post to identify anything unrelated to the content like “Cool shot!" (on a video) or random irrelevant emojis. Everyone gets spammed on their Instagram account by bots, but fake Influencers will see a significant percentage of their comments be irrelevant to their posts, where real Influencers will see comments that correspond with the content indicating an engaged community.
They Join An Engagement Pod
This is the sneakiest one of all. Instagram Engagement pods are groups of Instagrammers (numbers of attendees can vary based on our research) with similar audiences who create private groups to increase their post engagement. These Pods are a likely response to Instagram’s algorithm changes that caused a wide-reaching decrease in engagement for Influencers and Brands across the board. Pods work to hack the algorithm by ensuring that everyone in the group likes and leaves a meaningful and lengthy comment as soon as a member posts in order to have it rank higher and be seen by more people. This would be harmless if it weren’t for the fact that it deceives marketers and businesses into thinking that the "Influencer" actually has the ability to raise awareness of their products or overall brand, especially for those who solicit comments like “I love these shoes on you, I’ll have to check them out online” to imply influence. This is fake engagement and it is flagrantly inauthentic. How can you spot a likely Pod member? Look for comments and likes that repeatedly come from the same followers on every post, and then check that follower’s profile to see if you note the same behaviour in return.
Investigating this may all seem like a lot of work - it is, and it should be. It’s essential that Influencers are audited in order to ensure you get the intended ROI of your marketing campaign. Fake Influencers cannot convert, which means a lot of money and time wasted on your part if you don’t pick wisely. Need help uncovering real Influencers in your brand space? Talk to us about building out an Influencer strategy that makes sense for your business.