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Survey reveals 98% of content creators admitted to having spotted follower fraud among online influencers

When it comes to influencer marketing and collaborating with bloggers, vloggers and the like, the purpose of the partnership is to naturally tap into their audience with your products or services and ensure the engagement and reach of your brand is as far-spread as possible. But what happens when an influencer has a less than authentic following?

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This year we launched the Influencer Marketing Survey 2019, targeting influencers and content creators with the aim of getting their feedback on the use of follower buying services, how apparent it is within the industry and whether content creators perceive brand and PR agencies to be aware of this procedure.

The results obtained were interesting, to say the least. Out of the 100 UK-based content creators surveyed, the majority were forth-coming with their opinion on bot farms, fake engagement and how in-house PR teams and marketing agencies are reacting to those faking their way to the top.

The aim of the survey was to gain a greater understanding of what we already suspected. Bot use is apparent and many influencers are cheating their way onto brand campaigns and to the top of the funnel in regards to the volume of brand partnerships they’re securing. Yet, the transparency of this black-hat form of growth is yet to be determined from the perspective of industry professionals, in-house PR, blogger outreach and influencer marketing teams as well as digital marketing agencies who are all regularly sourcing and securing fraudulent influencers to work on branded campaigns.

Understanding the influencer mind-set

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The participating influencer’s surveyed span a variety of niche’s from fashion to beauty, parenting, lifestyle, men’s grooming, food, travel and books. We’re strong advocates for the inclusivity within the influencer and blogger community and wanted to get a variety of responses from content creators who use a variety of different platforms, as well as Instagram.

We surveyed a variety of influencers to ensure an even set of results from content creators, who have shared personal content and reviews, as well as collaborated on branded partnerships across a varying length of time. The majority of respondents have been operating as an influencer or blogger for one – three years, with 33.7% falling into this category. 30.7% of respondents have had their blog or YouTube channel, as well as a corresponding Instagram account for six+ years, whilst 31.7% have been sharing content for three – six years. Just 4% have been posting content and working on brand campaigns for less than 12 months.

A whopping 65.3% predominately post on Instagram, viewing the platform as their main channel, above their blog or any other social channel. Twitter came in second with 25.7% of influencers declaring the news-sharing site as their main focus.

The rise in buying fake Instagram followers

Learning that Instagram is frequently viewed as an influencer’s main channel and source of income was no real surprise. However, understanding the mind-set and attitudes of those guilty of having using bots and apps to fake a genuine follower count, was interesting.

2% of those surveyed admitted to having bought followers or faked their levels of engagement, whilst 9.9% admitted to having considered it, in a bid to progress their career and secure a larger quantity of brand partnerships and paid collaborations.

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Furthermore, a whopping 98% of respondents admitted to having spotted an individual’s Instagram follower count rise in an unnatural manner or over a short period of time, alluding to using bots to grow quickly or having bought a mass number of fake account followers. In relation to this figure, just 2% claim to be unaware of this practice.

Are brands and PR agencies spotting fraudulent followers?

Whilst it’s apparent that influencers and content creators can readily spot an inflated Instagram account that has used bots to grow, can the same be said for in-house PR, influencer marketing and blogger outreach teams?

Here at Hit Search, we pride ourselves on under-going rigorous checks on new and existing influencers from historical brand partnerships, prior to collaborating on a campaign; we wonder if the same can be said for our counterparts. There are so many social media tools that are readily available, allowing us to thoroughly check how genuine an influencer’s follower count is, how genuine the number of likes and comments are and if the creator in question will deliver the level of ROI anticipated from their following and follower numbers.

Taking follower metrics at face value is no longer the overarching data used to determine the value of an influencer. However, the data from our survey revealed that 51.5% don’t think in-house brand teams or marketing agencies can tell when an influencer has bought followers.

Whilst the stats are very close with 48.5% thinking it’s apparent and decision-makers b savvy to the use of bots; PR teams and the influencers they select to participate in gifted and paid campaigns are being perceived as truthful and relevant, from the content creator within the industry.

But by expanding on this a little and delving into the level of awareness that influencer marketers have; a huge 64.4% believe that in-house brand teams, in particular, are aware of the use of bots, but frequently ignore the number of fake followers that contribute towards an influencers follower count and proceed to collaborate regardless.

A smaller portion of respondents, 17.8% think PR and marketing agencies are far savvier to the practice of buying followers than brands, and checking the authenticity of follower’s stats is becoming common practice. 15.8% believe that brands are slowly wising up and starting to incorporate more rigorous checks into the strategy when selected influencers for campaigns.

Whilst the use of bot buying and fake followers is currently active and taking place frequently within the UK influencer industry, the secondary tactic is the purchasing of fake likes and comment pods on individual Instagram posts.

Whilst some brands and PR specialists may overlook the total follower count, post engagement is a true metric of the relevance and impact an influencer can have on a campaign. So, we wanted to gain further understanding from our sample audience on the weight they believe this carries within the decision-making process when selecting content creators for campaigns.

As expected, 54.5% believe Instagram engagement, such as likes and comments, to be very important, with 38.6% deeming engagement data somewhat important and 6.9% stating it’s not very important at all, with the true emphasis being on the overarching follower count.

So, what has this taught us?

The learnings from the survey are as we suspected; Instagram users using bots to grow their following is still very much happening with the ease of purchasing fake followers is still an issue within the industry. Whilst content creators are aware and disagree with this strategy for growth, it appears there are learnings by industry professionals, in reference to in-house brand teams, who are perceived to be ignorant to the issue, whilst PR and marketing agencies are wising up slowly.

The use of bots is well underway but is still being ignored by those involved in the decision-making process when selecting influencers for campaigns. It’s also apparent that the tools to check and clarify are not being utilised. From the viewpoint of the content creator, fraudulent influencers are being selected to work on gifted and paid campaigns, time and time again, because they appear to meet the required follower count.

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