Written by Aaron Chichioco
With the holidays coming in, many brands are eager to turn seasonal buyers into regular customers. For this reason, a lot of business plans include budgets for expansive influencer campaigns. However, while influencer campaigns are on the rise, so is the danger that the campaigns will fizzle out and will not get the traction that was expected of them. This frustrating result is often due to influencer marketing fraud- when an influencer’s followers and engagement counts are culled from fraudulent means, like using bots or buying followers.
Even big brands have fallen victim to influencer fraud- in fact, a recent The Drum article dubbed Unilever, eBay, Samsung, and L’Oreal among those who were cheated by their influencers.
It gets worse. Digiday cited data from anti-fraud company Sway Ops, which determined:
• A day’s worth of posts tagged #ad or #sponsored on Instagram contained more than 50% fake engagement
• Only 20,942 out of 118,007 comments are authentic – the rest were made by bot accounts
• Over 500 out of 2,000 sponsored posts daily has more than 40% of its total comments attributed to bots
Now you can imagine how big of a problem it is. If you are a brand that is spending millions of dollars in influencer campaigns, how sure are you that your investments will pay off?
Thankfully, there are a number of ways by which you can identify and avoid influencer scams.
1. Use Verification tools
A handy tool many brands use is Social Blade, a free ranking tool that shows the influencer’s data for the past 30 days. It ranks the influencer based on its database, shows the number of views, as well as the number of subscribers and engagement. What’s more, it also projects the influencer’s estimated monthly and yearly earnings. The best part about Social Blade is how it breaks down this data on a day-to-day basis. You can see the number of viewers, engagement, and followers they have per day, which gives you a concrete view to see if the influencer is buying likes or comments.
2. Search for spikes or lows in follower count
Many influencers who use bots saw their follower count falter when social media sites crack down on them. As such, pay close attention to their follower count. You don’t want to put money on an influencer who is losing thousands of followers, nor would you want to invest on an influencer whose audience is fake.
3. Check for Low engagement
The median engagement rate per post in Instagram is 3.5 percent. That means at least 3.5 percent of the influencer’s followers should be commenting or liking the post. In practical terms, this means that if the influencer has an inflated number of followers (for example, 200,000 followers) and a very low engagement rate (for example, only 200 people commented on the post), then that influencer is probably buying followers or buying bots.
4. Track the quality of posts
Authentic influencers pride themselves on their own voice. They produce content that their followers love, so they keep on producing high quality content. If the content just utilizes stock photos or random objects, then you can almost always bet that the influencer is buying followers as well.
5. Check the location of their followers
If many of their followers are coming from the same area, then the chances of the influencer being fake is very high. On the other hand, many bots do not disclose where they “live,” so you should be cautious if no location is displayed at all.
6. Audit the quality of their engagement
If you see the comments and likes coming from the same people, then the influencer may be engaging in an Instagram pod. On the other hand, if the comments are mostly gibberish or unrelated to the content (e.g. weight loss comments on a post about crystals), then bots may be included in the count.
While it may be difficult to weed out the real influencers from the fake ones, it only takes a little bit of your time and effort to see which ones are worth putting money into in order to achieve campaign objectives.
Aaron Chichioco is a digital PR / business columnist. He has a vast experience in overseeing daily operations of several online businesses since 2011. He is currently employed with grit.ph. You can follow Aaron on twitter at @Aaron_Chichioco