The success of influencer marketing has also given rise to a new wave of pretenders.
However, the success of influencer marketing has also given rise to a new wave of pretenders, who have seen there’s money and profile to be gained, and are willing to go to elaborate means to sneak into the party.
Spotting influencer fraud
When we talk about people trying to crash the influencer marketing party, what we’re really talking about is influencer fraud, which is a growing issue in an industry worth over $1 billion.
Ask most marketers in the know and they’ll talk about influencers using bots or manual follow on / follow off techniques to increase their audience, or generating fake engagement using online tools and programmes. The last few years have also witnessed a rise in Instagram ‘pods’. These are groups of up to 50 Instagrammers that work with each other to comment and like each other’s posts. Depending on who you speak to, this could either be a show of support among a group of like-minded influencers, or an attempt to hack Instagram by driving up engagement on certain posts. There remains no real industry consensus on which tactics constitute influencer fraud and which do not.
So why does it matter?
Making a huge pool of creators available to marketers is a powerful thing. The authentic tone, creativity and visuals make for fantastic marketing collateral. Combine this with a low cost per engagement (when compared to social advertising) and it’s clear to see why many marketers are taking interest. However, if this engagement is driven by bots, or the audience is fake or boosted fraudulently, the value to brands is quickly undermined. Influencer fraud risks undermining one of the core strengths of influencer marketing as a whole - that brands can use it to tap into authentic, engaged audiences for their campaigns. It’s an industry issue which therefore needs to be tackled head-on.
Before I go on to talk about ways of detecting influencer fraud, it’s perhaps a good time to look at who’s behind it - and why.
Who is committing it and why?
Given the value of the industry and the opportunities available for those with a strong following, there will always be those that try to game the system. In particular, the popularity of brands working with smaller, niche or micro-influencers has made influencer status seem much more achievable to many. And while most will work hard on their social content to build an authentic, genuine following, there will always be the impatient minority that use bots or other techniques to try and break into the influencer space.
But this isn’t just about small accounts trying to pose as large ones. I’ve also seen legitimate influencers who already have thousands of followers try to fraudulently boost their following in a bid to increase their earning potential. As a general rule of thumb, the greater the size of an influencer’s audience, the greater the payment from brands, and this can lead some influencers astray. In the past, I’ve even seen cases of agents advising their influencer clients to try bots, as a means to further their career. So, if you’re an influencer reading this, please take my advice and steer clear of bots. If you agent says differently, you might want to steer clear of them as well.
There are no doubt some users committing influencer fraud aren’t fully aware that fake followers and engagement carry negative consequences, but from my experience they are very much in the minority.
So, we’ve heard what influencer fraud is, who is committing it and why it’s an issue. Now comes the really crucial part - what can be done about it?
Facing down influencer fraud
First things first, we should acknowledge the truth that we’ll probably never eradicate influencer fraud completely. However, there are ways for brands to tackle it and greatly reduce the risk, the most obvious of which is strict influencer vetting.
Brands who identify their own influencers will need to stringently evaluate each one, looking for signs of influencer fraud, or get their platform to do it for them.
There is almost no way to spot influencer fraud using automated checks or systems alone, so to get the best results the approach has to include a manual review also. This should include looking for any suspicious activity, such as excessively high (or low) engagement rates, which might suggest the account is using bots, or unusual spikes in follower growth. It’s also worth paying attention to hashtag use, number of posts and overall content quality, all of which can bear the hallmarks of influencer fraud.
Going one step further, I’d also recommend manual checks on an influencer’s following number, as previously this has been an easy way for suspicious activity to be missed. The audience should grow at a relatively consistent manner. If you notice significant spikes in the following number, it could be a sign that the account is relying on follow-backs to boost its audience.
Regularly re-evaluating and reviewing influencers is also vital to ensure that every influencer you work with is of the highest quality. With Takumi, all influencers submitting content for the first time have their profiles and feeds re-reviewed, while all active influencers are assessed on an ongoing basis as they submit posts. Of course this can take longer if doing it yourself, but it’s an important quality control process.
If you are working with an influencer marketing platform, ask them about their processes for monitoring and dealing with influencer fraud. The current stance for some is that this type of fraud is inevitable, and there’s nothing that can really be done to stop it, but that’s simply not the case. Identifying fraudulent influencers has always been a major focus for Takumi. We are strong believers that authenticity and honesty are critical to successful influencer marketing, and as a result our vetting process for all accounts is extensive. Don’t take no for an answer.
So there you have it. While the rise of influencer fraud is a significant development for marketers, it’s ultimately one we expected. And more importantly, one we can combat. The really interesting thing now is how brands and the industry responds.
Don’t let the fraudsters crash the party, the authenticity and success of your campaigns are at stake.
Mats Stigzelius is the CEO & co-founder of Takumi, a leading managed service platform for influencer campaigns.
About Mats Stigzelius
Mats is the CEO & co-founder of Takumi, Partner at Rainmaking and founder of Rainmaking Loft. Mats was previously a strategy consultant at McKinsey and a VP in a private equity firm and has a Masters in Aerospace Engineering from Manchester University.
Takumi is an industry leading Influencer Marketing platform that makes it effortless for brands to work at scale on Instagram campaigns. Founded by Mats Stigzelius, Solberg Audunsson and Gummi Eggertsson in 2015, the company has become the most active dedicated Instagram Influencer platform, creating 20,000+ pieces of content, completing 1750+ campaigns and working with 600+ brands. As experts in the field, Takumi provides a fully managed service which results in original branded images on Instagram and high-quality creative that can be repurposed across other marketing channels.