Influencer marketing is booming, with brands embracing the power of social media to promote their products and services, increase brand awareness, and build up trust. However, like any other partnership, this one also has some risks and drawbacks, influencer fraud being one of them.
Wannabe influencers and even prominent online personalities purchase followers and fake or trade engagement via “pods” (communities of real users) or “bots” (pieces of software). There is also the chance that influencers could be posting fake ads in order to scam their way into getting real sponsored posts. Working with such fraudulent influencers can be extremely damaging to a company’s campaign and reputation, costing precious resources without delivering any results.
Once an isolated trend, fake follower activity is now a growing problem in the digital landscape. As per a recent study by cybersecurity company Cheq and the University of Baltimore, influencer fraud will cost advertisers $1.3 billion in 2019, a figure that could grow to $1.5 billion by 2020. Beyond the direct economic losses associated with fraudulent influencers, the industry is also affected by the mass erosion of trust amongst consumers.
Fortunately, there are ways to identify quality influencers and take advantage of social media without the risk of wasting money and marketing efforts on bad actors. Let’s take a look at the most important quantitative metrics to consider when choosing a social media personality to collaborate with.
Actual audience reach
Audience reach indicates the number of users who see an influencer’s content. It is not the same as the number of followers, however. For example, an influencer with 100,000 followers can reach the same number of people as someone with 50,000 followers. Therefore, the size of the following should not be the main criteria when selecting an influencer. You should always look at the actual impact of the person. If, for instance, less than 30% of followers view his or her posts, you might want to consider a different influencer.
How do you get this kind of information? Every influencer with an Instagram business account has access to reach statistics for their posts. When negotiating their participation in your marketing campaign, ask them to show you these data via a screenshot. More often than not, however, influencers will be reluctant to share their analytics with you. In this case, consider using a measurement tool or working with an influencer marketing agency.
Another quality check is the follower-to-engagement ratio. If an influencer generally receives less than 2% engagements versus followers, they are either not performing well or buying fake followers. You can use one of the specialized measurement tools or calculate the average engagement rate following these basic steps:
- Divide the number of engagements by the total post count within a specific period of time.
- Divide the resulting number by the total follower count.
- Multiply the result by 100 to obtain a percentage amount.
While the engagement rate says a lot about an influencer’s authenticity, it is not always a foolproof method either. Influencer engagements greater than 20% of followers could also be a red flag. While this may indicate an extremely loyal fanbase or incredibly good content, such a rate could also be a sign of fake engagements.
When in doubt, examine the quality of the comments. Are they relevant comments from actual people or mainly emojis and short exclamations versatile enough to fit any post, such as “nice,” “great pic,” or “amazing shot.”
Also, be wary of influencers whose posts get comments from the same group of people as they are likely part of engagement pods. While these communities consist of real people and are typically built around a mutual area of interest, they do not connect you to a genuine audience.
Follower growth rate
As mentioned above, follower counts are not that relevant given the growing use of fraudulent influencer marketing practices. Yet, a follower growth graph is an excellent way to root out fake followers.
In most cases, authentic influencers will experience a steady increase in followers with a few minor deviations every once in a while. If not the result of some viral content the influencer created, a sudden spike in growth rate is most likely a sign of a follower purchase.
Needless to say, targeting a specific part of the population is key to a successful marketing campaign regardless of the platform used.
When talking about social media, the audience demographics is an important metric to consider as it could also be an authenticity indicator of an influencer’s following. Do they have too many followers from Indonesia, Brazil, or Ukraine despite having no actual connection to these countries? Such users are likely bought, fake followers. Even if real, could they become your customers?
Researching the demographics of an influencer’s following is an important yet daunting task. Here, you can again resort to a specialized tool to determine the location, age, and gender of someone’s following.