Influencers, the term coined during the millennial generation, where the word “viral” is an ideal to which everyone online aspires, are at the forefront of what is now a multimillion-dollar industry.
An influencer is an individual with an online presence and “brand” that has an enormous amount of brand equity, with hundreds of thousands to millions of followers. A single post from them could expose a brand to this immense online audience, exponentially boosting its clientele and sales.
But with this incredible power comes the rise of fraudsters, fake influencers who present themselves to brands, flaunting a large social following, a portfolio of previous marketing collaborations and successes, promising to do the same for companies. But in reality, these scam artists are only looking to take advantage of brands that don’t want to miss out on the influencer train, and are looking to boost their profits without spending a ton on marketing. These fraudsters are the bad apples of the industry that the digitally savvy company should look out for.
What damage can a fraud influencer do to a brand?
Say a company hires an influencer to promote a service or a product. They select a person from Instagram who seems to have a considerable number of followers, and make an offer for the influencer to make a post or a video promoting their product. The influencer accepts the deal, makes a post, and the company pays for the service.
But as it turns out, the influencer doesn’t actually have that many followers. A large percentage of them are “bought” followers; purchased from follower farms outsourced in places like China and India, giving the user an appearance of having more followers than they actually do, with many followers made up mostly of dummy accounts. The result is very little meaningful engagement on posts, and the brand has paid for nothing, as they get none of the exposure and engagement with their product or services that they expected.
In addition, should legitimate consumers discover this type of partnership between a brand and a fake influencer, the idea of a company using “bot” followers, even indirectly, would tarnish their brand integrity. Customers will be inclined to distrust a company that pays for bots, even if it was a fraudulent influencer they paid for, and not the bots. It would make the company appear to be using underhanded tactics, undermining trust between customer and company.
Identifying a fraudster
Influencer marketing is incredibly lucrative; influencers, depending on the number of their followers and engagement, as well as previous collaborations, could be paid anywhere between five to six digits per post, particularly the macro-influencers that have millions of followers. Famous streamers, beauty gurus, Instagrammers, and YouTubers make a hefty paycheck with each sponsored post. Unsurprisingly, fraudsters are looking to take their own piece of the pie by pretending to be one of them.
While many companies are making the effort to crackdown against fake influencers and digital marketing scams, it’s not easy to spot the bad eggs. One method to help you do so is to carefully scrutinize the follower list of an influencer you’re looking to work with. It might seem daunting, given the sheer number of them, but if a fake influencer actually has a lot of “bot” followers, user engagement in their posts will be a lot lower than their follower count. There are tons of online marketing tools that give you access to a users’ audience data, which should give you a clear picture of their audience quality.
A simpler method is to check for a “verified” badge. Seen as a mark of pride and achievement for many influencers, a blue checkmark next to their username denotes a user that has been thoroughly vetted by the social media platform as a legitimate influencer. You can also check them through social media tracking tools that allows you to see their follower count and brand growth in real time. Legitimate users have good engagement, an excellent rating, and a steady organic rise in their follower count.
Avoiding these fraud influencers for your brand’s protection
Your company’s marketing team should be vigilant against fake influencers seeking to take advantage of a marketing industry becoming more and more reliant on them. One of the best ways to make sure you’re getting the real deal or the most bang for your marketing buck is to seek out influencers that are among the top of their fields in terms of social media presence. While it’s true that they may cost more than the average influencer, you’ll nevertheless be able to get the most for your spend without having to worry if they’re legitimate or not. You can also follow e-commerce giants online to see how they do their work, and find influencers that have similar ethics and practices.
Of course, there’s always the option of doing your own PR work without having to book an influencer. It seems difficult, but it can be done with the proper practices. There’s no need to pay for an influencer if you can use the same social media practices and techniques they do to develop brand reputation and grow a following.
At the end of the day, don’t be fooled by the initial numbers. Anyone with over a thousand followers calls themselves an influencer these days. Make sure you refer to the experts, and choose influencers who are legitimate, who know what they are doing, and have genuine engagement. And if that doesn’t seem feasible, do it yourself for a far more organic growth for your company.