Influencer Marketing: Fraud Prevention 101

Topics: Social Media
By Gavin Write
Influencer In Red Dress Filming Fraud Prevention Video

If you could earn $6.50 for every $1 spent would you do it? According to a poll of marketing professionals conducted by Tomoson, that’s a typical ROI through the right influencers.

There is plenty of positive data buzzing around about the advantages of influencer marketing and why a brand marketer should consider using it. As an additional resource, check out how to use brand ambassadors on social media.

But, you should know there is a dark side to influencers, namely fraud. You need to know how to prevent hiring a fake influencer. Considering working with a marketing consultant to determine how to approach developing the best program.

A Brief Overview of Influencer Marketing

An influencer is someone who has a considerable number of active followers on social media. They’re well-known, influential, trusted, and admired by thousands of loyal followers. They have the power to create trends, influence perceptions and the buying decisions of others.

And, they don’t even have to be human. All kinds of animals have made money for their owners and marketers as influencers.

Influencer marketing focuses on those who can help a company extend its target reach to entirely new audiences as well as their own.

However, this type of marketing will only work if the influencer is legitimate, relevant to the product and their audience.

The Market Is Well Over $1 Billion And Growing

Ever wonder if your business should join the influencer marketing campaign fad?

While baby boomers soak up TV ads, Gen-X and Millennials rarely trust promotions beyond blogs and social media on their smartphones. Influencer marketing is vital to reaching these buyers especially with the decline of traditional marketing and media:

  • 86% of viewers don't trust traditional advertising any longer - Instagram

  • 47% of online consumers use ad blockers – Digital News Report

  • Less than 1 in 5 Traditional TV ad campaigns generate a positive ROI (90% skip ads with DVR)– Instagram

The future of influencer marketing is bright. With the decline of tv and print media, influencers with massive followings can help brands reach a broader audience.

People love word-of-mouth. According to a study by McKinsey, word-of-mouth generates twice the amount of sales compared to paid advertising.

The right influencer can add value:

  • “88% of customers trust online reviews by strangers as much as they would recommendations from friends.” – BrightLocal

  • “Nearly 40% of Twitter users say they’ve purchased as a direct result of a Tweet from an influencer.” – Twitter

By partnering with popular influencers on social media, brands can exponentially increase their reach by tapping into the influencer’s audience.

With Popularity Comes Challenges

Influenbcer Giving An Autograph To A Girl At An Event

Influencer marketing is a digital gold rush. It’s attracting big money and all kinds of people including unscrupulous influencers. There is a lot at stake.

With more than $90 million a month spent on influencer programs on Instagram alone, it’s beginning to attract the wrong kind of attention. Many people started buying fake followers or even fully-functioning Instagram accounts just to gain access to influencer perks. This is one of the reasons why your marketing department should take extra time checking the legitimacy of chosen influencers before offering a campaign to protect the company from influencer marketing fraud.

Bots, Pods, and Other Frauds

Influencers with a large following, real or fake can earn a lot of money. If they can manipulate the numbers, they can make even more.

Unfortunately, no one is immune to influencer scams, but there are ways to identify potentially problematic accounts. In some cases, there can be obvious red flags that point at fake followers and likes, but more often than not, you need to do some digging to really see if the influencer is legit or if they are a scammer.

Before you spend money on anyone, you need to know if they’re genuine. Here are a few things to look for to spot fraud:

Inflated Followers is a Red Flag for Influencer Fraud

There is a whole new industry building up to support “Insta-Fakers.”

Take for example. Anyone can purchase packages of “followers” to inflate their numbers. For $279.99 they provide up to 25,000 “real high-quality followers” or 25,000 “premium followers” for $299.95. Unlike old school follower inflators, the company claims that all the followers will be gained organically and that there will be no bots with fake names. The platform also offers packages for likes, and even story views. Unless you monitor someone’s account on a daily basis, you won’t even notice that they’ve used the service!

Avoid hiring anyone with a sudden spike in followers. This usually is a clear sign that something unusual is happening. If you are unsure about the way in which to track counts over time, contact us and we can help you along. Otherwise, you can use tools online that track behavior and monitor the likes and velocity over time. Similar to SEO software that tracks blogs, pages, and links over time, there are similar tools to help you track influencers.

The market is designed to incentivize influencers to make themselves look bigger. Similar to performance-enhancing drugs, when one influencer uses it, others have to do the same thing to keep up.

Gil Eyal, HYPR CEO

But bots aren’t the only way to inflate the numbers.

Watch Out for Pods on Instagram

Another way to “increase engagement” on Instagram is with pods. Pods are secretive groups of Instagrammers who join forces to “like” each other’s posts. By supporting each other artificially, it’s like a never-ending chain letter. If one quits, the numbers level off and begin to decrease, because there is little organic growth. They do little to increase sales.

Brands very often fall into this influencer fraud trap and collaborate with pod members. This usually results in very ineffective promotional posts that gain a significant amount of likes and comments and generate little to no conversions.

More Clues to Identify Influencer Fraud

People Using Social Media On Smartphones

These are some other ways to spot fraud before hiring anyone.

  • A significant spike in followers in less than 24 hours usually indicates the influencer has purchased them.

  • A typical engagement of likes to comments is around 2%. On Instagram, it’s closer to 3.5%. An influencer with a large following but low engagement may be padding the numbers.

  • When comments are unrelated to the post, it usually means it was a paid audience.

  • Seeing the same people commenting over and over.

  • Stock photos or originals? If an influencer uses stock photos or photos that appear elsewhere, chances are they may be fake.

  • The account has little content except for self-promotion, yet many followers.

  • An abnormal number of retweets and likes for each post.

Marketers are catching up to the ways of unscrupulous influencers and are using other software and common sense to weed them out. To be more thorough, you should consider hiring a social media influencer marketing agency.

Protect Your Brand from Influencer Fraud

When hiring an influencer, you need to do your due diligence. Start by looking at the metrics we talked about earlier.

  • Look at followers versus engagement. If he or she has 100,000 followers, you should see around 3,500 likes or relevant comments per post. And, it shouldn’t happen overnight.

  • Make sure the influencer and followers are the right audiences for your product.

  • Verify an influencer’s numbers with third-party data. Quantcast, GroupHigh, and Alexa are tools you can use to check someone’s level of influence.

  • Check the influencer’s background and history, see if their posts are consistent with your brand values.

Instagram can be a great tool for expanding solidifying your brand image and fostering better relationships with your customers. However, you shouldn’t let the excitement over potential growth opportunities take over your judgment. Influencers are smart and know how to use the platform to their advantage. If you want to avoid Instagram scams and fully leverage your social media strategy, you should be very selective with your partnerships.

Using third-party companies who specialize in vetting influencers is a fast way to find the right influencer for your brand.

When in Doubt, Throw ‘Em Out

This adage applies to old food and influencers with questionable metrics.

According to data from anti-fraud company Sway Ops, “A single day’s worth of posts tagged #sponsored or #ad on Instagram contained over 50 percent fake engagements.”

You can’t afford to hire a fraudulent influencer. Bots and fake followers don’t spend money and fraudulent influencers can damage your business reputation.

There are plenty of red flags if you look for them. Don’t be mesmerized by high follower numbers. Always verify.

To discover more ways to market on social media, contact a marketing agency that can help you discover the best practices for your influencer marketing campaigns.

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