54% of marketers see influencer fraud as the number one challenge to a successful influencer marketing campaign.
HBO’s Fake Famous has put influencer marketing into mainstream media but also highlights some of its pitfalls. Former New York Times and current Vanity Fair contributor Nick Bilton casts three influencer hopefuls and buys them robot followers, and eventually, robot engagement in the form of likes and comments. In addition, professionally manipulated photos help to complete the illusionary persona of these influencers. Shortly thereafter, brands begin to gain respect for these influencers and ship them free products, however two of the three influencers quit for moral reasons but the one that stays continues onto influencer fame.
While the story has a Hollywood twist and ending, we have to be reminded that brands are not simple saps that have unlimited bags of money and resources. Bilton notes that many brands have been bilked due to fake followers and fake engagement and that many influencer tools have measured his made influencers as within the “top 1%” many brands and agencies obviously recognize these challenges with influencer fraud and play a constant game of whack a mole.
For example, many faux influencers have recognized these challenges as many of Bilton’s bought comments are simplistic like “🔥🔥🔥” or “hot” or “⭐️⭐️⭐️”. Enter the comment pod. Comment pods are when a group of social media users agrees to like and comment on each other’s posts, in an effort to drive more engagement and make the content appear higher in others feeds. This bypasses the simple and generic bot comments and ensures that each post will have quality comments from an esteemed user. A few other “black hat” tricks include: the link farm which are pages upon pages which simply hyperlink to the page to which one is trying to rank better, keyword stuffing which is placing certain keywords in white font on white background or in small unreadable font, or placing ad units inside invisible or nesting iFrames. (All of these tricks will most likely get you banned from ad networks, search engines, or influencer networks).
Brands and agencies thus up their game by using the vetting tools as a first pass.
Then they look at growth rate of followers (a fast growth rate is a red flag for purchased followers), quality of comments (do the comments have anything to do with the post? Or just a “🔥🔥🔥”), quality of followers (why do all of the followers have no followers and seem like they entered the platform last week?) and so on. Welcome to the new world of influencer vetting. It will become the next offshoot industry to come from the influencer marketing ecosystem.
Will rampant influencer fraud inherent within influencer marketing hurt the business?
Absolutely not. In fact, the ability to measure digital marketing is light years ahead of where we were when measuring traditional marketing. Brands know that not everyone watching the Super Bowl will see their ad, yet they continue to pay big dollars to purchase the ad space. Brands know that not everyone following your favorite influencer will see their post, is a real human, or even cares about the post yet they will continue to do so. Why? Because it is still the most cost effective way to reach an audience.
Thus as an influencer what can you do to combat influencer fraud?
Be transparent in your statistics and be as above board as possible. Disclose your partnerships to your audience and share as much data with your brand partners as possible. Because while robots can follow, like, and comment today, it will be a while before robots can buy products and when that time comes, will brands necessarily care who is buying?