Influencer marketing is big. The industry as a whole is valued at over $1 billion and about a third of marketers had budgets of $500,000 or more in 2017, according to the State of the Creator Economy. There’s a lot of money in influencer marketing and it seems like some people are stooping pretty low to get their hands on some of that cash. Influencer fraud has become a problem in the industry, with fake accounts popping up, and even worse, brands falling for those fake, so-called influencers.
Here’s everything you need to protect yourself from Influencer Fraud:
What Is Influencer Fraud?
Genuine influencers build their following naturally. Maybe they got started by creating a blog or by posting videos on YouTube. People found their blog posts or videos, liked what they saw and started following the influencer. In some cases, influencers on Instagram or Twitter managed to build up their following by creating eye-catching posts or funny and interesting Tweets.
Fraudulent influencers cut out the organic growth. They’re likely to buy followers, usually for pretty cheap. They might not have much interesting or original about them. In fact, the things they post might have been stolen from genuine influencers or purchased from stock photo sites.
Influencer fraud occurs when these faker influencers connect with brands and promise to work on a campaign with them. The brand might agree to pay the so-called influencer based on the number of followers the account has, because the brand doesn’t realize those followers are bought.
Since robots and fakes can’t engage or you know, buy things, brands that work with fraudulent influencers end up wasting their time and money.
5 Signs of Influencer Fraud
Influencer fraud is both annoying and costly. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, though. If you know what to look for, it’s not too difficult to spot influencer fraud. It’s like knowing how to spot the difference between a real Chanel bag and a fake one someone’s trying to hawk on the street.
Once you spot the things that make an influencer fake, you can’t un-see them. Here are a few very common signs of influencer fraud:
Sudden increase in followers.
Is overnight success a real thing? It is if you’re a scam influencer account. One way to tell that an influencer is a faker, or at least that an influencer’s following is less than genuine is to pay attention to how quickly that influencer got those followers. There are tools that let you see the total number of followers someone has, plus how many followers that person gains or loses each day. A sudden jump in following usually signals that an influencer paid for those followers.
Many followers, but no (or very little) engagement.
Another sign that an influencer isn’t really an influencer is if he or she hundreds of thousands of followers, but pretty much no comments or likes. The median engagement rate on Instagram is about 3.5 percent. That means if an influencer has 100,000 followers, about 3,500 should like or comment on each post.
Comments on posts that make no sense.
Some fake influencers are hip to the fact that buying followers isn’t enough to have influence. So they also buy comments. One way to know that comments are fake or from bots or fake users is to look at their content. If an “influencer” has posted about a “vacation” he or she recently took, but the comments are all about weight loss pills, well, you just know that those aren’t from followers who are genuinely engaged with that influencer.
Comments/Likes from the same people, over and over.
The change in Instagram’s algorithm threw some influencers for a loop. They saw a drop in engagement rates and panicked. In response, groups of like-minded Instagrammers created pods, or groups of influencers who all agree to likes or comment on each other’s posts. That might seem relatively harmless, but it is a form of a fake engagement and a form of fraud.
The tricky thing about being a fake influencer is that there’s no real life to live. Fake influencers aren’t going on vacation or cooking in their kitchens or raising kids. One very easy way to spot a fake influencer is to do an image search using one of his or her photos. Does that photo appear elsewhere online, like maybe in a stock photo repository? If so, you can bet your pennies the influencer isn’t real.
How to Protect Your Brand From Influencer Fraud
The best way to protect your brand from engaging with a fake influencer and from becoming a victim of influencer fraud is to vet and verify influencers before you agree to work with them. What’s the influencer’s story, does he or she have a long history of posting on social media or on a blog or vlog? Or did he or she seeming come from nowhere?
Using an influencer marketing platform can help understand who an influencer is and where their following came from. For example, an influencer platform will show you how many followers an influencer has. But it will also display how many followers he or she has gained or lost recently. The platform can also show you how well an influencer engages with his or her audience, if at all.
More importantly, influencer platforms include a verification process. That way you can be sure the influencer posts get published exactly how you wanted them to be. The influencers on the platform don’t get paid unless everything goes according to plan.