There is no doubt about it — influencer marketing is the real deal. Whether you're talking about a Fortune 500 company or an emerging brand, word of mouth is still the single most powerful form of advertising in existence, and influencers put this on steroids. However, this channel is not without its risks.
In addition to a lack of trust and transparency, there's also an apparent rise in fraud. Influencers who don't deliver on promised posts, free samples that never make it to customers' hands, and other forms of deception are increasing.
We can't afford fraud in the influencer marketing space. All you want to do is build a profitable business by working with creators. How do you deal with fraud or prevent it before it happens?
In this guide, we'll share ways to sidestep frauds and save you from falling into their traps.
What is Influencer Fraud?
If you’re here, you already know that influencers are people with large followings who have been able to generate trust and credibility in the eyes of their followers. Other brands may also have worked with them before to reach their audience.
However, the rise of influencer marketing has also led to a rise in influencer fraud. The most common type of influencer fraud involves fake accounts that are made to look like real people or companies with large followings. These fake accounts will then post endorsements for products or services without disclosing any connection between themselves and the brand behind the product or service being endorsed.
And the cases of influencer fraud aren’t as rare as one would think.
According to a recent study, a majority of Instagram mega-influencers with more than one million followers worldwide were involved in fraudulent activities to inflate their engagement and follower figures in 2019 and 2020.
Be especially wary of bigger influencers. Large accounts don't directly mean trust. Studies done in 2019-20 show that over 65% of mega-influencers were involved in some kind fradulent activity.
Types of Fraud in Influencer Marketing.
- Fake Engagement: Some influencers might purchase fake engagement from third-party companies to boost their numbers and make themselves look more influential than they really are. This can lead to a decrease in trustworthiness among your followers, which can have a negative impact on your brand’s image.
- Fake Likes and Comments: Another common practice among influencers is to buy likes and comments from fake accounts to make their posts look more popular than they actually are.
- Fake followers and Unethical Bots: Another common type of fraud is influencers buying fake followers or bots to inflate their engagement rates. These types of influencers won’t give you any real value and will only waste your time and money.
- Ghost Accounts: Ghost accounts are profiles that have been created by scammers with the purpose of stealing money from brands without ever delivering anything in return. These fake profiles often impersonate celebrities or popular bloggers so that they can gain access to brand sponsorships.
Tips to Prevent Fraud in Influencer Marketing
1. Identify fraudulent influencers based on their audience demographic.
The first step to identifying fraudulent influencers is to look at their audience demographics.
This is a great way to see if an influencer’s followers are real and not just bots.
Influencers with fake followers are usually easy to spot because they have an unnatural distribution of gender, age, and location. For example, if 90% of their followers are female and the majority of them are under 25 years old, this could be a sign that their account has been bought and paid for by someone else.
Next, if an influencer has a very high percentage of followers from another country, there’s a good chance that those followers are not real people. This is because real people don’t follow accounts in languages they do not understand and are more likely to follow accounts from within their own country or region.
In other words, if you see someone with a lot of followers from Russia, Bangladesh, or Brazil, and they have few followers from countries like Germany or the UK, there’s a good chance those followers are bots or fake accounts generated by software programs called “bots” that automatically create fake profiles on social media sites.
While it seems like an uphill task, using tools such as Upfluence will help you analyze your influencer’s audience demographics, including gender, age, and location.
Lindsey Tague, a thought leadership strategist and copywriter, suggests,
“Always ask influencers for detailed stats on their account and followers. Nowadays, there are plenty of programs that analyze fake followers. The obvious would be to have contracts signed with clear expectations.”
2. Check if a suspicious account is run by a bot.
If you’re on the lookout for influencers to partner with, you might want to consider these signs of fake accounts.
How do you know if an influencer account is run by a bot? There's no easy way to tell, but there are signs to look out for.
Many fake accounts have a very low number of followers, which means there aren’t many people to follow them back. In some cases, there are no followers at all.
Another major sign that an account is run by a bot is the account’s creation date is recent. An account that has been created early and is inactive but then shows a sudden rise in activity may also indicate that a bot runs the account.
You also need to ascertain whether the user profile has info about a real person instead of hashtags, emojis, or URLs.
In case someone is impersonating a celebrity, a politician, or even a popular influencer in their niche, you can check for the verified tick on social media.
Here’s an example of a suspicious account:
Of course, this is an extreme example. But we're trying to prove a point. If so many people can fall for a fake account of a world leader, imagine how many fake normal influencers exist.
Here are some more tips on how to spot fake influencer accounts:
- Check the follower count. A high number of followers can be a sign that an account is run by a bot.
- Check the engagement rate. If it's too high, it could be a sign that the account is being boosted by bots.
- Check how real their engagement looks. If the comments are nothing but emojis or generic one liners, you can safely guess that the creator is using some kind of bots to boost their engagement rate.
- Look at their content. If it's all about one or two topics with little variation, this can also be a sign of automation. You must also look for variety, are they posting reels, posts, videos, and stories? That means they're real. Ghost accounts usually only do posts.
- Another red flag could be a username with random sequences of numbers.
- Look at the comments under their posts — do they seem like real people commenting on their content? Or do they seem like bots or fake profiles trying to get likes from other fake accounts?
- Check their bio and profile picture. Are they real? Do they have friends or family? A lot of bots use stock images or fake photos as profile pictures. If it's a selfie, check if it shows the face of a real person. If it's a stock image, find out if it's licensed for commercial use and who owns it.
- Check how often the account posts new content. If the account posts multiple times per day (or even per hour), that's another sign that something is wrong.
- Look at their hashtags. Ghost accounts will often use exact match hashtags (e.g., #influencermarketing) to increase their visibility on social media platforms, they also use the same hashtags each time as they're programmed to do that.
3. Look for inconsistencies in an influencer’s profile.
The best way to verify the authenticity of an influencer is to look at their profile and see if there are any inconsistencies. For example, if someone has over 1 million followers but only posts once every few months, and all of those posts are about products they sell on Amazon, then you can be sure that they aren’t an authentic influencer.
An influencer who doesn’t post much or who posts inconsistently indicates that he/she is fake. Also, watch out for fake influencers with thousands of followers on their profiles and very few posts.
Have a look at this fake Instagram account, for instance:
Most importantly, check for sudden spikes in followers. If there is a sudden spike in followers in an influencer’s profile (e.g., from 5,000 to 25,000), this could be another indication that those accounts are not real people but bots instead.
This can happen when Instagram users purchase fake followers from third-party sites like Fiverr or Instagramzoomerz12345678910 (you get the picture).
You can use Influencer Marketing Hub’s free tool to analyze the follower growth of any Instagram account.
For instance, I evaluated the growth rate of this Instagram handle @yoli_and_otis:
Other than this, look for these possible signs:
- There are no real photos from their life in their feed or on their story. Their content might be stolen from another source or purchased from stock sites like Shutterstock or Unsplash, which sell photos at low prices.
- Make sure that the influencer is following users who are relevant to their niche and not just random people who happen to follow them back. If they’re following irrelevant accounts, it could mean that they bought fake followers from third-party providers.
- Check out their background information, like where they studied or worked previously, which will give you an idea of how long they have been active online and how much experience they have working with other brands.
4. Use a third-party platform to scout influencers
One of the best ways to prevent Influencer fraud is through third-party platforms that vet influencers and prevent them from using these tactics. You can then upload these to your SARAL Influencer Relationships Manager to build and maintain long-term relationships with them.
Here are some of the best platforms for finding authentic influencers:
You can use these platforms to search for influencers who match the demographic profile you want (for example, young adults in the United States) and then filter by engagement rates (for example, more than 50% of followers should be interacting with each post). You can also search by topics related to your business area (for example, fashion or technology).
However, it’s still a good idea to do your due diligence even while using these third-party platforms.
“At our agency, if we come in contact with someone who says they exclusively represent a creator, we often will confirm that with the creator themselves. We've had more folks than we like to admit present themselves as the exclusive rep for someone…only to find out they had parted ways or had a falling out.”
Over to You!
Social media is becoming increasingly important. With so many potential customers being available through the power of social media, it's no wonder that businesses are investing in influencer marketing even more so than ever before.
With that in mind, it's vital to make sure you're doing everything you can to protect your brand and money by avoiding some fraudsters that have cropped up over the last few years when it comes to influencer marketing.
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