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Fraud and Fake Followers: How to Separate Fact from Fiction in Influencer Marketing

When you use an influencer, you’re trusting them to deliver an authentic message about your brand to an audience of engaged fans. But what if those fans aren’t engaged? What if a high number of an influencer’s followers aren’t even real?

To the untrained eye, it can difficult to know if an influencer has as many genuine followers as they claim to. Even larger influencers who have grown their following through legitimate means can attract a proportion of fake accounts, which follow them automatically. Employing such influencers can lead to unrealistic expectations about what results you'll get, and a higher chance of overspending.

Influencer fraud has been a hot topic ever since Unilever’s CMO Keith Weed called for "urgent action" about it at this year’s Cannes Lions. He addressed the need to "make brands more aware of dishonest practises" and help improve transparency on social media platforms.

At Fanbytes, we’ve experienced a handful of attempts to defraud us by influencers. We know what to look out for, but people who are new to the industry may be at a higher risk of getting scammed. That’s why we wanted to demystify influencer fraudulence, so that you can have a better sense of how to protect yourself and benefit from what is otherwise an extremely effective form of marketing.

So, just how big is the problem?

It’s no secret that Instagram is rife with fake accounts. According to the anti-fraud company Sway Ops, in a day’s worth of posts tagged #sponsored or #ad, 50% of engagements will be made automatically by bots.

These statistics can make it intimidating to get started in influencer marketing. How can you ever know that an influencer is legitimate given the sheer quantity of fake accounts out there?

Despite the prevalence of fake accounts, the problem rarely gets in the way of running effective campaigns. That’s because, while views can be faked, the same can’t be said of conversions. If you have access to the data, you can tell from these conversions alone whether or not an influencer campaign has been effective. This is why we always look at below-the-surface metrics (conversion, ROI, etc.) when assessing an influencer’s performance.

It's only when your aim is brand exposure, and you’re therefore primarily measuring views and clicks, that you may need to do a bit more digging.

How can you identify fake followers on Instagram?

There are tools you can harness to measure the number of genuine users an influencer has. The website Deep Social allows you to carry out a detailed background check on an influencer, by giving you numerous statistics about their audience, and giving you an exact percentage about how many of a user's followers are fake.

It is also genuinely useful to do your own grassroots research. By personally investigating a handful of the influencer’s followers, you can quite soon tell whether an account is a bot or a real person, giving you a strong sense about how genuine their levels of engagement actually are.

How can you identify fake followers on Snapchat?

Identifying influencer fraud on Snapchat is a little difficult than it is on Instagram. This is largely due to the nature of the platform, because content disappears after 24 hours, and the public can't access a full list of influencers' .

That’s where we come in. At Fanbytes, we have established relationships with the influencers we use. This means that we know the levels of engagement each influencer typically gets, and moreover we have the data analytics in place to measure an influencer’s effectiveness alongside their view count.

Snapchat influencers are likely to have an Instagram account as well. This means you have another platform against which to assess their credibility. If they are totally legitimate on Instagram, you have little reason to doubt them.

When we’re taking on influencers for the first time, we rely on screenshots sent by the influencers to prove that their posts are generating the views they claim they are. We run all submitted screenshots through image forensics programmes, to check for manipulation.

Finally, we test each influencer to see how well their views convert into clicks, installs, purchases and other conversion metrics. Ultimately, if the numbers are good, then we'll know who has a legitimate following and who would make a great investment for the brands we work with.

Final Word: Does it matter?

Ultimately, we recommend brands pay closer attention to the ROI of each influencer they use, over their fake follower count.

If an influencer has a lot of fake followers, but they provide high-quality, cost effective content for your brand, then this is much more important than the proportion of a user's followers that are fake.

Even influencers who grow their following in an entirely organic way are likely to accrue a significant number of fake followers, especially as they become bigger. So it's impossible to avoid fake followers entirely.

Fraud comes into play if an influencer is significantly over-charging based on the results they get, and that is certainly something which we're sure to avoid.

Nut whether or not you should use an influencer is ultimately a simple business equation: if the influencer earns your brand more than you're paying them, then it's worth it.

Charlotte Gifford

Editor

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