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Influencer marketing fraud; how to differentiate “real” from “fake”?

Influencer Marketing has never been better, this so fast-growing sector was estimated to be a business worth in excess of $1bn in 2017 and is predicted to continue growing exponentially. An ANA survey has found that 75% of marketers currently work with influencers and 43% plan to increase their spending for next year. Within those who are not currently working with influencers, 27% plan to do so within the next 12 months.

However, a big problem still stands in the way of full Influencer Marketing success: Influencers are getting more expensive, budgets are going through the roof (Some brands are willing to spend as much as £80,000 for a single social media mention from an influencer with over a million followers) but there is still no standardised measurement to judge effectiveness. Whilst most brands, influencers, marketers and PR’s are using similar metrics to evaluate success; there is not always hard data to prove it and numbers can be overstated.

With that much money involved and no ultimate truth as to what success really looks like, less-scrupulous influencers can easily earn some very good cash with few to no repercussions from brands.

The easiest way to do so is by buying followers, engagement, comments, views, etc… The problem has become so big that Unilever’s CMO Keith Weed called for “urgent action” to clean up the influencer marketing ecosystem, saying that he will immediately stop working with any influencer found to be buying followers and prioritise partners who are actively trying to improve transparency.

Research has found that the daily 2,000 Instagram posts using #ad or #sponsored contained over 50% fake engagement and that bots are responsible for over 40% of comments on said posts.

How to find out who’s cheating?

Same as there is no hard data to measure success, there are no automatic ways to find out who’s been cheating. However, a few signs can help find the “real” from the “fake” but it is a very long, laborious, manual job:

  • Instagram average engagement rate for influencers varies between 5 to 15% (likes and comments compared to the number of followers). More or a lot less than that seems suspicious.
  • The following history of an influencer can reveal the truth: an influencer gaining over 20,000 followers overnight can mean they were bought (unless the influencers gained huge exposure overnight such as TV appearance, a PR stunt, another bigger influencer mentioning them, etc.)
  • The engagement on posts: are the people leaving comments relevant to the influencer? Are the comments in the language of the influencer (whilst it is not a problem to have a UK influencer with 40% of their followers being foreign, do you want to only advertise to 60% of this influencer)? Are people all leaving the exact same comment on all the posts?
  • Instagram Pods: to guarantee authentic likes and comments, a lot of Influencers are gathering together in private DM groups where they notify each other as soon as they post, having a guaranteed 200 – 500 likes and comments on each post. This might seem like “real” engagement, but are the people really engaged in the content?

Those are just a few ways to help you find frauds but takes a long time and can not always be true.

All Response Media viewpoint

As an agency who is fairly new to influencer marketing, we stay as transparent as possible on every campaign. We get our clients involved and ask for their feedback at every step of every campaign. Each influencer is manually selected by our team and then approved by our client before any conversation happening. Each success metrics are being discussed and approved before any activity and a full post-campaign analysis is being sent with every measurable success.

Whilst we still are probably facing some Influencer fraud, we always thrive to build a relationship with each and every influencer we work with in order to have the most engaging and truest content possible for our clients.