The boom of Influencer Marketing – The good
The powerful market of influencer marketing is currently valued at $1 billion dollars. It doesn’t stop there! The prediction is that the value will keep increasing over the year of 2019 to a ginormous amount of $5 – $7 billion dollars.
Due to its efficacy, we have brands flocking to the concept and making huge investments in this sector of marketing. In the early days, brands only connected with celebrities or influencers with a big follower count, but the trend of micro-influencers has been taking over. Some of the brands have managed to spike their sales up anywhere between 10% – 70% due to influencer marketing. This only applies when it is done right. Unquestionably, with anything that works so good comes the numerous pros along with the cons.
Influencer fraud – The bad and the ugly
We have seen such deceptive practices followed so often that having awareness about the issue will make the actual concept work that much better. Influencer fraud happens when a particular account pays an agency or a website source to buy followers, likes, comments and any type of engagement. What happens as a result is that these accounts have a high number of following to deceive brands, but don’t actually influence their followers. The accounts do not reveal their business interests and declare that they have had experience with and opinions about food, fashion or lifestyle etc. Clearly, they are illegally misleading consumers and are subject to law-breaking terms.
These fraudulent accounts are the counterfeit notes of the booming economy of online influencer marketing. Some of the fake accounts are said to be deployed by government, criminals or businesses to obtain consumer information. According to The New York Times, out of 48 million of Twitter’s active users – nearly 15 percent of them – are automated accounts or bots designed to simulate real people, even though Twitter has refuted this number.
Apart from such fraudulent behavior, fake accounts are also on the rise. Old age social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have been dealing with this issue for a long time. Instagram also has its fair share of fake accounts. Plenty of Instagram accounts steal real user’s photos, videos, name, age, address, city and other demographic details. Some of them even successfully convince brands, by buying followers with these photos, to advertise with them.
So, how does it work?
Some of these accounts buy followers that it can gain up to 15000 in a day. To give an illusion that the engagement rate is high, these “influencers” can also buy comments, likes and any source of engagement. These fake likes and comments aren’t new to the fraud industry. Facebook has shown the advent of this concept with business accounts which purchase fake accounts, likes, and comments to develop an image of a successful page. But with Facebook, that’s where it stopped. Here, the so-called influencers deceive these brands into paying them under the pretense of influencing a bunch of people.
The victim cry
In the past year of top scams, fake online endorsements have made it to the “Top 10 Scams of the year” sneakily settling into the 10th place along with the usual popular ones like Employment and dating scams, fake lottery and income tax fraud calls.
With all the initial research a brand has to do to give a nod for influencer marketing, identifying the right influencer is at the top of the difficulty ladder.
According to Adage, these are the victim companies with the most fake followers. Ritz Carlton tops the list with a whopping 78 percent and even popular brands like Pampers and Magnum seem to fallen for this scam with a fake follower count of 32 percent and 20 percent respectively.
How to spot them
To overcome this ruse, we have come up with a quick list of to-go for the brands, when in doubt.
- Suspicious sudden follower spike
We are not talking about a number of 100 – 200 followers rise. Do note that this can also happen organically when an account appears as a suggested user in Instagram’s algorithm. We are talking huge numbers like anywhere between 5000 – 15000 users. This should make your suspicious alarm bell in your head ring vigorously.
- “Influencers” following a huge number of accounts
Ever noticed some of these accounts from another country which follow you? You may not have any mutual interests, but they follow you for one reason. In the hopes that you will follow them back! This is a timesaver for you when you notice that the accounts follow a higher number than their follower count. Usually, with authentic influencers, they follow approximately one-third of their follower count. This number doesn’t have to be adhered to strictly, but would be good from a reference standpoint.
- Are the comments actually comments?
Nice! Lovely pic! Great pic should be some of the comments on an original post, but this cannot be all that you can find on someone’s post. An original account should technically have personalized comments and due to the upward number of trolls, not always positive.
- Be wary of the quality of the followers
There are multiple ways to check the quality of the followers. One would be the geographical match to the influencer account. While some popular celebrities and influencers have following world-wide, their major following will use the language which the account usually communicates with. For eg, it is cheaper to get fake followers from South America or Asia, so do note language and geography.
Do scroll through the follower list and see if there are a lot of empty accounts with no photos, no posts and just high numbers in the following list.
- Posts vs follower count
Here’s another giant red flag! A normal influencer will have posts with good content, stories and have a high number of engagement with the followers. If the account contains no or very less posts but has a humongous follower count, you turn to the other direction and run as fast as you possibly can. Or just report the account.
What should you be looking for to get real influencers?
Now that we know how to spot the crooks, there is also a go-to list for detecting if the influencer is real.
Steady follower growth:
Unlike the fraud accounts, a genuine influencer should be showing a steady growth in the follower count. The numbers tend to slightly fluctuate based on the day’s posts by the account, but any ridiculous highs and lows should be a no-no. Instagram constantly sweeps its accounts to looks for bots, so the temporary massive growth of such accounts can fall. So, if you see an account which has lost 3000 followers, you know it can’t be real. Even if the account is real, would you want to advertise with someone who has lost 3000 followers in a day?
A verified account:
This is a privileged tactic, but if an account has a verified badge, then look no further. The account is usually followed by this blue tick sign.
You may not necessarily like the content the account is posting, but the quality should be good enough that you develop a basic understanding of why he/she would get so many followers. This is a technique that comes with an experience of looking at many accounts. A little bit of comparison here and there with trusted accounts would help.
Reflecting on the industry
While such topics are avoided by agencies and marketers, since it brings down the trust and integrity of the industry, we believe even tough topics have to be addressed so that the awareness spreads and brands realize the original ROI.
Awareness will be the biggest weapon in such cases and we can do anything to spread it around so that honest bloggers and influencers aren’t affected by such cases.
How do the platforms handle them?
Platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter do a regular sweep of their list looking for bots and fake accounts, but there is only so much that can be done with automation. For eg, Instagram’s new algorithm helps it to purge fake accounts by removing any account with suspicious behavior. It is time for the industry to realize that “With great power comes great responsibility”.
We always want to know what your opinions and thoughts are. Have you had accounts following only for you to follow them back? Notice any account with hardly any posts but a good follower count? Let us know here in the comments and we will help you figure out if they are genuine or not. You can also reach out to us on Greenroom’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.