What is influencer fraud and how can you protect your brand?

Influencer marketing may be at the heart of future marketing trends, with over 90% of marketers noting its effectiveness, but working with creators online can still have its challenges. One of those challenges is influencer fraud, or when an influencer artificially inflates the number of followers that they have by either purchasing fake followers or using “bots” to generate more followers. The major issue with influencer fraud is that it causes brands to waste money on campaigns that don’t generate sales as the so called “influencer” is marketing their product to an audience of fake followers. This can be a very frustrating situation for brands, especially as influencers are more likely to want to close a fixed rate for their campaign up front and based on the number of their followers. 

But, there’s still hope! Because once you read this post, you’ll learn a few tips for protecting your brand from this increasingly common and frustrating trend.

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1. Ask for evidence of their follower base

If your brand works with influencers on a regular basis, it’s highly recommended to invest in a subscription to an influencer marketing data platform, like IMAI’s. Using an influencer marketing platform, you can get a close and intimate look at the influencer, including a better understanding of their audience and how likely it is that they have fake followers. At IMAI, our platform specifically gives you an estimate of the number of ghost or fake followers that an influencer has using our Instagram Fake Followers Check and Audit as well as an approximation of their influence on your campaign.

But, even if you don’t have a subscription to one of these must-have platforms, you can ask the influencer for proof of their high engagement rate like a screenshot of their story views and other data on click-through rates and general follower engagement. If an influencer has a large base of fake followers, all of these numbers will be low.

Photo by Jefferson Santos on Unsplash

2. Look at the data

Again, using an influencer marketing data platform like IMAI’s makes it possible to get a drill down into figures that could help you determine whether your approaching influencer fraud. Some of those figures include:

  • The engagement rate: Look a healthy engagement rate of between 3-5%, if not more, to rule out fake followers. If you’re working with a mega influencer, the engagement rate may be lower due to the sheer number of their followers, but in genereal, for micro and nano influencers, you should be looking for an engagement rate of at least 3% if you want your campaign to be effective.
  • Sudden fluctuations in the number of followers: Influencers that are buying followers will usually increase their number of followers overnight. Usually, growth of influencers is gradual, so if you see a sudden spike or drop in the number of followers, that could be an influencer fraud red flag.
  • Missing profile details: With so many influencers out there, profile details are now more important than ever and are a great space for influencers to express themselves to their followers. If the influencer you are considering working with doesn’t have a profile or a bio, you might be concerned that it’s a bot, in which case you should steer clear. 
  • Check out a few followers: If you click through to a few of their followers and see empty accounts, you can be pretty sure that influencer fraud is awry!

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3. Do some reverse Google Image searching

Now this a great tip and a real hack of the veterans in the influencer marketing industry. If you want to verify the accountability of an influencer, just check out a few of their posts in a Google Image search. That way, you’ll be able to tell if they have stolen any of the images and reposted them to their account. You’ll be surprised how many profiles are actually just stolen images from other people’s profiles!

4. Interview your potential influencer

A lot of marketers see an impressive number of followers on an influencer’s profile and want to rush to work with them before the competition gets there first. While designing influencer campaigns is definitely exciting, we recommend taking a minute to ask the influencer a few key questions about other brands that they may have worked with or even previous references. While influencers have the ball in their court when it comes to social commerce, they are doing this as their job so like in any other job, interview them before you commit. 

Influencer fraud is still a new concept, but it’s happening more often and will likely immerse the sector soon unless new safeguards are put in place by the major social platforms to prevent it. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to be aware of influencer fraud so that your brand doesn’t waste its resources and maintains good influencer marketing rapport.