Businesses that invest in influencer marketing, whether through funding the campaign to get exposure to a new audience or by sending the influencers free products, should be careful when selecting the right influencers for these campaigns. Businesses invest time, value, and money in these types of collaborations and should have some type of insurance that they are being marketed to real people and not fake accounts or bots.

One of the main concerns of professionals working with influencers is finding out whether their audience is legitimate. Fortunately, there are several ways that businesses can see irregularities and other trends to see whether the audience isn’t actually there.

Several useful websites allow people to look at an account’s follower growth throughout time, and examining this growth is one way to determine whether the audience is legitimate. Influencers generally have steady growth, with a line that’s steadily climbing over time.

Accounts that show sudden big spikes in followers are usually a giveaway for these illegitimate followers. However, this should still be looked at on a case by case basis. That’s because sometimes, influencers can suddenly go viral and see rapid growth, whether it’s because of a popular giveaway or because of a TV debut. But if there were no such events, that means those followers aren’t necessarily real people.

Accounts that have a high engagement rate mean that the influencer in question has a strong connection to their audience. However, sometimes that isn’t always the case, and can signal that the account has purchased that engagement – and yes, just like followers, it’s possible to purchase and sell engagement such as likes or comments.

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To distinguish, businesses should know the average engagement rate for the social media platform and the follower range they plan to work with and compare those numbers to the influencer’s numbers. Similarly, a very low engagement rate with a high follower count signals that the followers are likely not real people, as they aren’t liking or commenting on posts.

Another way to decide whether an influencer’s audience is legitimate before deciding to pursue an influencer campaign is by looking at the followers and the following ratio. If both of the numbers are close together, these people might be using the “follow-unfollow” strategy to gain many followers by following accounts and having them return the favor, only to unfollow them later on. However, these people don’t really care about the influencer’s content, and therefore, do nothing for the engagement.

Similarly, the number of comments and likes can also be evaluated. This can be distinguished by looking at similar accounts and calculating their engagement rate, and comparing several accounts to each other to find common ground and similar numbers, and rule out any potential audiences that don’t actually have real people in them.

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Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 175 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, and a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, was named to PR Week's "40 under Forty" list, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations" is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.