The new era of influencer fraud—red flags to watch for

by | Jan 20, 2020 | Analysis, Public Relations

The world of influencer marketing has exploded in recent years, with countless businesses turning to both macro- and micro-influencers to help take their brand awareness to the next level. As the industry has grown, however, it has also attracted scores of individuals looking to cash in on the popularity of influencers without actually adding any value to their clients.

Influencer fraud is on the rise

Given that influencer marketing is still a relatively new form of online advertising, small businesses and brands are often unable to tell the difference between “real” influencers—those who can demonstrate real and effective engagement with their followers—and users who artificially inflate their social media presence in a bid to score a free holiday.

Influencer fraud comes in many forms, but the most common strategy deployed by fraudsters is the purchase of followers

Indeed, many users who seek to make money from their social media presence will see this artificial increase in follower numbers as an “investment” in their social media future. Moreover, fraudulent influencers not only purchase followers, but they are also known to pay for online bots to comment and like their content—content which could itself be stolen from online, public stock photo galleries. They might also seek to grow their follower base through superficial strategies, like following and unfollowing users to falsely boost their apparent impact.

In contrast to this method, an authentic macro- or micro-influencer will have invested their time and hard work into organically building communities on their social media channels. This often takes place through the publishing of relevant content for target audiences. They will also have personally engaged with their followers on an individual level in order to strengthen and grow their communities.

Influencer fraud is a more common occurrence than many realize

According to one anti-fraud study, more than half of all Instagram posts tagged with #sponsored or #ad included fake engagements. Of the roughly 118,000 comments analysed by the researchers, a mere 20,000 were not made by bot followers.

Fortunately, there are several ways businesses can try to detect, and avoid partnering with, fraudulent influencers. While some firms may go as far as to employ an online fraud detection service, thriftier brands can focus on basic red flags when trying to spot a fraud.

For example, an influencer who suddenly enjoys a spike in followers from 5,000 to 500,000 in a short period of time will most likely have spent some money growing that count. At the same time, assessing engagement levels can also help to determine cases of fraud; an Instagram account with 70,000 followers that only receives 100 “likes” is not fostering genuine engagement. Looking back through prior posts can be a great way to determine how organic a user’s growth has been.

Influencer fraud is causing brands to be more cautious in approaching and agreeing to work with online influencers. As in any industry, education and a healthy sense of skepticism are key assets to navigating this new world of fraudsters.

Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and Chairman of 5W Public Relations: 5WPR is one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.


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