Ed Brew
Ed Brew 3 April 2019

Uncovering the Dark Side of Influencer Marketing

With significant quantities of money now flying around, a small group of people have resorted to fraudulent activity in the hope of attaining a lucrative deal. This article will help to explain how you, as a marketer, can make sure you aren't scammed.

Social media has become an essential part of marketing strategy, with almost every brand utilising digital platforms to advertise their products and services. The influencer marketing industry has experienced rapid growth, and it's now possible to make influencing a full-time career.

The last decade has seen traditional marketing change substantially, with more and more emphasis placed on digital channels as the number one method of communicating with potential customers. The biggest change in how consumers engage with brands’ content has been seen with the rise of social media. It’s estimated there are 800 million monthly active users on Instagram alone and so it’s no surprise that many businesses are looking to social media to advertise their products and services.

In tandem with this, a whole new industry has evolved – influencers. Social media has given anybody with an account the ability to create their own brand, grow significant followings online and be paid for sponsorship deals with brands. With self-made British gaming influencer DanTDM estimated to have a net worth of £15million, being a full-time influencer is now a very attractive career option.

Lifting the lid on influencer fraud

The success of self-made influencers has inspired a huge number of people to try and break into the industry. However, this has led to intense competition for followers, attention, engagement and sponsorship deals; especially in the crowded sectors of fashion and beauty. As such, a number of creators have resorted to underhand tactics or blatant lies to try and stand out from the competition – known as influencer fraud. For example, some influencers have artificially boosted their follower numbers by paying for bots to follow their accounts, or have used a bot to follow other users en masse, drawing attention to their account, only to then unfollow them all soon after. This is not “growth hacking”, it is acting in bad faith, as those who follow you from this method are not naturally engaged with your content, meaning an account that does this may gain good follower numbers, but will have weak engagement and diluted influence. Others have gone as far as to fake paid partnership deals with big brands to try and create a big buzz around their channel in the hope other brands will notice them and offer equivalent genuine deals. Luckily, if you know what you’re looking for, these tactics can be spotted, reducing your risk.

It’s estimated that influencer marketing is now worth more than $1.5 billion worldwide. Further, the Association of National Advertisers also found that 75 percent of marketers currently work with influencers. With this level of money being spent, influencer fraud presents a serious problem for both brands and influencers. It affects genuine influencers too, who risk not only their reputation being tarnished by negative associations with the industry, but also the opportunity to get paid sponsorship deals if they are being given to those with fake followings instead. For brands, the goal of reaching genuine customers to sell a product is obviously significantly diminished if an influencer’s followers are diluted with bot accounts; making it almost impossible to show strong ROI on campaigns.

As such a young industry, there is currently no standardised way to measure the success of influencer campaigns. This only adds fuel to the fire, creating more opportunities for those influencers lacking a moral compass to win big paid sponsorship deals with little, if any, consequences. Despite the best efforts of brands, it isn’t always possible to avoid fraudulent accounts, however, there are a number of red flags to watch out for when working with influencers.

Red flags to watch out for

Reputation is everything for influencers; it’s no lie that you’re only as good as your last piece of original content or brand partnership. This is why working with platforms can be an essential part of validating the influencers you work with. Using Post For Rent for example, you can see the audience credibility score for each influencer, giving you context on how legitimate their audience is at a glance. That context is so important as you can also see reviews from previous campaigns, telling you if they delivered or not, which is data you ordinarily would not be able to access. That kind of peace of mind is priceless when navigating the minefield of influencers at both micro and macro levels.

Other big red flags include the previously mentioned technique of an influencer regularly following and then unfollowing lots of accounts. Also, staying with followers, if there are big spikes in follower numbers that don’t match to an attributable source of traffic such as a specific piece of content, it’s likely they will have paid for bot followers. As such, any dedicated and engaged audience they have will be diluted with bots, and so working with them won’t provide real ROI as a significant amount of their audience won’t be interested in buying your products.

The easiest way to fall foul of a red flag is to not do proper due diligence before starting an influencer campaign. Though the majority of influencers are genuine, there are creators who actively engage in influencer fraud, particularly in the micro influencer sector. However, using trusted platforms who are experienced in identifying these “bad actors” and ensuring all influencers are properly vetted before agreeing to work with them will lead to a successful campaign.

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