How to spot influencers with fake followers, subscribers, likes, views

Tanya Sardana
January 25, 2021 5:20 AM

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Hello again, everyone! Hope you've been enjoying our content so far. 

In today's episode, we're going to dive into the world of influencer marketing, specifically overcoming fake followers when you work with influencers.

It's no secret that influencer marketing has been one of the fastest growing industries for the past several years. In fact, Influencer Marketing Hub surveyed 800 marketing agencies, brands and other relevant professionals, and found that influencer spending was expected to top $6.5 billion by the end of 2019. 

Here's the reality though -- a report from an economist and professor at the University of Baltimore found that influencer fraud costs advertisers $1.3 billion in one year alone. That's 20% of influencer marketing spend gone... vanished. 

Unilever was one of the first big brands to call out these shady practices back in 2018, and they firmly took a stand that they would not work with influencers who buy their followers.

While many influencers may say they don't purchase followers themselves, influencer fraud goes beyond hitting the "buy" button. Things like Instagram Pods, like-for-like groups, and engagement threads still contribute to the problem. If you're not familiar with any of these activities, here's the TLDR: influencers exchange likes or follows with other influencers in order to boost their numbers. 

Many influencers don't see this as fraud because they believe the boost in engagement will help their content get seen by their organic followers, but the reality is this activity is inflating numbers. Charlie Terry, Director at CEEK Marketing, calls Instagram pods "essentially fake engagement". Hootsuite even mentioned in October 2018 that Instagram pod results look suspicious, especially if your follower numbers don’t explain the high level of likes or comments.

So now that we've talked about how prevalent fraud is in the influencer marketing industry, let's talk about some of the ways you can overcome it. 

1. Ask influencers to send a screenshot of their Instagram audience demographics. If you notice that a large number of their followers come from a different country, there's a good chance they could have bot followers. Dovetale has specifically called out Turkey, Brazil, and China as countries worth looking out for.

2. Look for suspicious activity when reviewing influencers. While tech tools are great, nothing can beat having a human eye looking at each profile to determine if it's the right fit. When it comes to influencer fraud, you'll want to look for the same people commenting over and over again on the posts (these are signs of Pod activity), comments that are only emojis (which is most likely bot activity), and follower profiles with no pictures or long usernames. Obviously if an influencer has thousands of followers, it's going to be difficult to manually go through everything, so we recommend starting with the comments and looking for suspicious activity there. Also, you can go through the influencer's feed and see if there was a sudden uptick in their engagements. For example, if an influencer was averaging 100 likes per post and 10 comments and two days later they're averaging 500 likes per post and 100 comments, there's something fishy about that. It's true that they could have been featured by a big account or went viral, but those cases are few and far between. It's better to be cautious with these influencers than to take the risk of hiring them and reaching a fake audience.

3. Do a trial campaign to see how they do with conversions. Offer the option to pay a small production fee for creating content, and then incentivize them as purchases are made from their post. For example, you could offer them $3 for each app install they drive, or 10% of each product purchase, and so on. This method is growing in popularity because it helps measure their RoAS. We'll talk about how we do this at FLYSHOT in a later video.

As an advertiser, we'd love to know if influencer fraud concerns you, or if you've experienced it firsthand. Let us know in the comments below!

And if you're a mobile advertiser who is looking for a partner to help combat influencer fraud and drive high RoAS from authentic ones, check us out by visiting our website in the description below. We'd love to help!

Stay tuned for more videos and be sure to subscribe to our channel! See you guys next time.