Like all avenues of business, social media is unfortunately subject to fraud. And as influencer marketing is bigger than ever, influencer fraud is a hot topic in the minds of marketers. Thankfully, there are ways to easily spot influencers who have pumped up their profiles through illicit means. The truth is out there, and it’s in the data. You just need to know what to look for.
White collar crime is sadly a recurring topic in the cultural consciousness. Embezzlement, Ponzi schemes, and off-shore bank accounts are frequent themes both in cinema and the news. Fiction or nonfiction, fraud has always existed, but thankfully in our digital world, it’s harder to cover up.
As social media and influencer marketing has exploded in recent years into a multi-billion dollar industry, it’s only natural that fraud would somehow weasel its way in. People have learned how to manipulate their profile statistics to make them more attractive to marketing companies. But, just as data can be manipulated, it can also be analyzed to reveal falsifications.
What to Watch Out For
The best way to spot influencer fraud is by looking at an influencer’s performance-driven metrics. This data can be collected and analyzed manually from social media, or it can be accessed using an influencer marketing search engine, like Heepsy. Whatever the case, below are the statistics you need to consider in order to avoid choosing a fraudulent influencer for your next campaign.
Follower Growth Rate
Follower growth rate is the increase (or decrease) of followers to an account over time. You could acquire this data by checking an influencer’s profile daily for increases or decreases, but a much more efficient way to collect this analysis is through influencer marketing software.
The best influencers grow their follower base through a steady commitment to quality content creation. It may take them years to earn their followers, but here the old adage really is true: slow and steady wins the race.
If you see a sudden spike in followers, something’s up. First, check out if the influencer is hosting a giveaway. Giveaways often require a follow and a like/comment, and people love the chance to win free stuff. So that could explain a sudden jump in growth.
But, if the influencer hasn’t recently hosted a giveaway, a spike in followers may be because they were purchased. Yes, followers can be bought and sold. What can’t money buy these days?
Follower to Following Ratio
In addition to buying them, another fraudulent strategy to accumulate followers is the follow/unfollow method. The influencer follows a bunch of accounts just to get a “follow back”. Then, later, the influencer can unfollow the other accounts.
If the ratio is close to 1:1, it could be an indication that the influencer is using this tactic. And while this strategy may work to increase followers, it does nothing to build engagement. These followers aren’t genuinely interested in what the influencer has to say. They’re just trying to use good social media manners.
When followers trust an influencer’s content and voice, they’re more likely to like a post or comment on it. This is engagement rate: the level of interaction a profile has compared to its number of followers. Good engagement is good for your brand. If followers trust an influencer, they’re more likely to trust the products and services that person promotes.
So what’s the average engagement rate? Well, it varies. Youtube and Instagram are not the same beast, and nano and mega influencers don’t belong to the same tribe. The 2020 benchmarks for engagement vary across the different social networks and influencer tiers.
If an influencer has used one of the above-mentioned methods to gain followers inorganically, they’ll probably have a very low engagement rate. On the flip side, if you see an influencer with a very high engagement rate, they may have purchased fake likes or comments. So before you contact anyone for a collaboration, check how their engagement stacks up.
Likes and Comments
Some influencers buy fake likes, but not fake comments, so you could look at that ratio to get a sense of if those values are organic or purchased. Influencer marketing software can also generate the average likes/comments ratio for an influencer tier, giving you a better perspective of how a specific influencer measures up to their peers.
Also, take a look at the comments on an influencer’s posts. Are they relevant to the post? Does the language sound natural? Do multiple comments come from the same account? What are the names of the profiles commenting?
If comments look suspicious, they may be coming from bots. Check out the profiles and look for the warning signs:
- No profile picture
- Unnatural names, like nonsensical combinations of letters, words or numbers
- No uploaded content, or minimal content designed to advertise
- Very low amount of followers compared to following
- No, or extremely vague, biography or personal information
What to Do if You Encounter Influencer Fraud
If you think you’ve encountered influencer fraud, you can report it. Social networks like Instagram, Youtube and TikTok address fake engagement, automated comments and the like in their community guidelines. Even though influencer fraud is relatively harmless compared to other issues that take place online, social networks realize it’s a problem.
And thankfully, there’s no shortage of real influencers looking for collaborations. So do your due diligence with the metrics above, and you’re bound to find a hard-working, creative individual who can open new roads for your product or brand.