According to new research from cybersecurity firm Cheq, the rise of influencer fraud now has a price tag: a whopping $1.3 billion. As per the brand protection agency, at least 15% of all influencers’ followers have been found to be fake.
For those with deep ties to the influencer marketing industry, the scourge of fake followers may be nothing new; for many firms still finding their feet in the digital marketing sphere, this news has been a call for strategy reassessments across the board.
While social media platforms need to do more to prevent the as-yet unstemmed flow in online personas creating fake accounts to artificially inflate their fanbase on channels like Instagram, communication companies have a shared responsibility to crack down on the practice.
Indeed, the responsibility cannot rest with the major social media giants alone; savvy communication agencies should be vetting influencers using a range of strategies to ensure they are truly relevant and sure to deliver the results promised.
The pressure on influencers to have millions of followers has led to large-scale buying of followers the world over. The obvious shortcoming of this plan of attack, however, is that followers bought are not followers earned; they will never engage with an influencers’ content like a human would. Bought followers do not guarantee proportional likes or comments on content posted online.
The issue, then, is a compounded one. In order to maintain an attractive engagement percentage by marketers’ standards, influencers are now beginning to buy their likes and comments in bulk. And thus continues a cycle of buying fake followers, delivering fake results, locking down work with major brands, and generating revenue.
All of this, then, begs the question: are influencers actually delivering any real impact for brands? When it comes to artificially boosted influencers, the answer is a resounding no. Once an influencer or brand has bought a fake following, marketing insight will be forever skewed. Campaign measurements once this line has been crossed are useless.
The rise of influencer marketing has seen the costs associated with hiring an influencer increase dramatically, but the realm of digital marketing seems no closer to determining how to actually calculate the value of an influencer. When going down the route of influencer marketing, this is a question you will have to answer for yourself: what are you really getting for your money? If it is just a list of posts and stories, look elsewhere.
Indeed, no savvy communications agency should be working with an influencer without first seeing their data and determining explicit KPIs. While withholding page analytics was once acceptable practice, new tools to investigate followers’ demographics are now readily available. There is simply no excuse not to look deeper into an influencers’ claim to fame.
Nonetheless, as long as consumers are reading content on social platforms and seeking the recommendations of users they admire and trust, the flame of influencer marketing burns bright. Still, a culture of naive trust has given way to data-driven skepticism, and communications pros must evolve accordingly.
Ronn Torossian is the CEO and Founder of 5W Public Relations