Influencer Marketing: Fraud Prevention 101

5 min read

An Influencer Making An Ad For A Product

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.

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 in 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 their 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

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.

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.

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 $450 they provide 50,000 followers and 50,000 likes. They let fake influencers choose how their phantom followers appear. The site says that it is “100% Instagram safe.”

Avoid hiring anyone with a sudden spike in followers.

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.

More Clues to Identify Influencer Fraud

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 company that specializes in social influencers marketing vetting and also vets influencers.

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.

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.

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