Opinion

The Six Red Flags of Influencer Fraud

Influencer fraud is still rife and although social networks need to do more to stamp it out, here are six telltale signs of influencers that fake it until they make it.

To the untrained eye, it can be difficult to spot influencer fraud, which is unfortunately still a major issue in the influencer marketing space. With influencer marketing continually growing and changing metrics being used to measure and judge an influencers success, it is becoming harder to spot when influencers are authentic or whether they are cutting corners with both brands and the followers they are meant to be influencing. Every brand should be responsible for how it works with influencers, but not every company has the marketing resources and budgets to manage it, so there still needs to be scalable solutions.

However, if you pay close enough attention, there are a number of red flags to watch out for. The next time you are suspicious of an influencer “faking it until they make it,” consider these six telltale signs:

    1. Low reach or views compared to others of their size: On average, the typical reach (Instagram defines reach as total accounts who have viewed a piece of content) for an account on Instagram is 20% to 25% of the overall following. Evaluating an influencer’s reach can help you determine if they purchased followers or engagements.
    1. Too many non-engaged comments: Not only can you purchase followers but you can also purchase likes and comments to inflate engagement levels. An easy way to spot fake comments is to look out for comments that have no substance but lots of emojis or many comments from the same person.
    1. The same number of likes and comments on every photo: Authentic accounts have a variety of engagement. Engagement varies based on the type of content, as well as the time of day and day of the week that the content was posted. Reach and impressions will also fluctuate, and it is uncommon to receive the same amount of likes and comments on every photo.
    1. High following with super low engagement (consistently below 1%): There are certain engagement rate averages accepted as the industry standard across various influencer tiers throughout Instagram, which generally become lower as follower levels get higher.

      Overall, these rates fall within the 0.9%-3% range. While there are some exceptions, generally if an influencer’s engagement rate consistently falls below that (or even below 0.5%), it raises a red flag. Of course, engagements can be purchased but as a general rule, a higher engagement rate signifies a more active following.

  1. Large, sudden increases in following or large sudden decreases in following:
    There are tools available that help track an influencer’s audience health. One way of spotting fake followers is to look at an account’s follower growth over time to ensure that the increase is a steady stream. If the graph shows a drastic jump in following, that indicates that the influencer likely purchased followers or participated in a loop giveaway.If the follower growth is unsteady overtime, that likely means that that person was participating in the follow, unfollow method, which is exactly as it sounds. You follow an account in hopes that they follow you back and after a few days, unfollow them.

    An influencer might even quickly lose and then regain their following, buying the number of followers needed to “top off” after their bots were cleared out. We have seen talent double their following overnight, and this is simply implausible for someone with a significant existing following.

  2. Sudden spike in engagements on an image: A typical feed photo usually reaches peak engagement within 24 hours of posting. Of course, there will be some residual traffic coming in from profile views as well. However, we have seen photos triple in the number of likes and comments after 48-72 hours, which is not organic and usually means that engagement was purchased.

In 2019, the industry needs to become more educated on the signs of influencer fraud and take action to prevent hopefuls from cheating their way into ‘influence’ and earning money from branded campaigns.

Brands should heavily vet influencers prior to casting them into their programs to ensure their audience is real, authentic and engaged. If an influencer is deceiving a brand into working with them, it is not only a waste of budget but it can tarnish a brand image. As an industry, we need to stop honoring these people. Managers should stop representing them and casting agents should avoid casting them.

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