Here’s how to steer clear of influencer fraud

Influencer marketing is one of the biggest buzzwords in the marketing sphere right now. But is the industry being tarnished by fraudsters? Here's how to spot them.
27 April 2018

The influencer marketing space is seeing an influx of fraudsters. Source: iStock

Influencer marketing is by no means a new strategy used by brands. In fact, it is as old as journalism itself, with freebies and attractive offerings often made to journalists by brands in order to gain favorable write-ups.

But since the rise of social media, we have seen the birth of a new type of influencer that brands are capitalizing on: the social-media star.

Businesses everywhere are leveraging these influencers as a platform to promote their brand to their masses of followers. They tend to specialize in a certain niche – such as fitness or travel – and as such, serve as an excellent platform in which to reach a targeted audience.

Today’s consumers are demanding more authenticity from brands, and are experiencing a shift from placing their trust in institutions to relying more on the opinions of peers to influence their decisions.

Many companies are leveraging the use of influencers to promote their products and service. Source: Shutterstock

Because of this shift, the influencer marketing trend is booming, with the industry valued at over US$1 billion.

But with the financial opportunity of the influencer marketing industry, follows the rise of influencer fraud. Unlike genuine influencers who build up their mass following naturally and organically – usually after gaining attraction from the content they post- these frauds buy their followers.

A recent investigative report by The New York Times on the “black market” of the social media world, describes the increasing growth of fraudulent accounts and fake interactions on social media platforms.

The report named “The Follower Factory” states how one company which sells Twitter followers and retweets claims to have over 200,000 customers including celebrities, athletes, and social media influencers.

These purchased followers tend to be inactive accounts or bots who cannot engage or make real purchases. As such, businesses that fall victim of these fraudulent influencers can inflict significant costs on both their time and their marketing budgets.

So, how do you ensure the influencers you are spending a chunk of your marketing budget on are genuine? Consider the following points when assessing the authenticity of an influencer:

Monitor their follower growth

A strong indicator of whether an influencer is genuine or is a fraudulent account is suspicious following patterns. A spike in followers over a short period of time, without a reasonable explanation, could suggest an account buying a bulk of followers.

As well as looking at suspicious growth patterns, it would be wise to look at the overall credibility of the influencers following. Bots can often be distinguished by their account names (i.e. follower4follower25) or by their lack of posts.

Assess the follower-to-engagement ratio

Another key way to distinguish the fraudsters from authentic influencers is by tracking their engagement. Often, fraudulent influencers will have a large following but a relatively low engagement rate in comparison.

For instance, if an influencer has over 10,000 followers but gets less than 50 likes on each post, this could signal someone who has a vast amount of inactive bot followers.

You should also observe engagement patterns to see if they look suspicious. Some obvious indicators include if an influencer gets 1,000 likes right after they post, and then completely no increase thereafter. Moreover, a post which includes completely unrelated or irrelevant comments is likely to signal a large following of bots.

The use of hashtags

An additional giveaway of influencer fraud is the type of hashtags used on a regular basis. It has been noticed that many fraudulent accounts use hashtags such as #like4like as a way of targeting engagement from spammers and bots.

Take a look at the influencers track record

Before recruiting an influencer for your brand campaign, it is wise to first assess their past performance on other campaigns. Explore whether the influencer created compelling content that received good engagement. This will give you a pretty good idea about their abilities before running the risk of hiring someone who does not have the credibility they say they do.