If you’re a retail brand that works with (or wants to work with) influencers as part of your marketing activity, you won’t have failed to notice a recent increase in stories and buzz around ‘fake’ influencers; those individuals that charge brands to create social media content for them, but don’t actually have a large genuine organic following of relevant (or in some cases, real) people to actually ‘influence’ in the first place.
With money to be made from posting images, videos and Instagram Stories for people with a large and engaged social following, it’s no surprise that some people game the system to try and earn more money and get more high-value gifted products through being an influencer. But how are retail brands able to tell the real from the fake?
It starts with understanding how they are doing it. There are a few different ways in which people can bump up their follower count and generate ‘brand-friendly’ activity in a way that isn’t genuine and organic, which we’ll cover in this blog post.
Retail brands use influencers, primarily, to help increase brand awareness and potentially lead to sales, but this won’t happen if the majority of the accounts that ‘see’ the influencer’s partnership posts aren’t real people or are totally irrelevant and are not actually the target market at all. ROI takes a hit whilst the fake influencers can laugh all the way to the bank!
Common Instagram fakery tactics
This is probably the oldest influencer fakery tactic in the book. People running Instagram accounts that have under £10k followers can’t command the bigger fees or high-value gifted products from retail brands because they don’t have access to the ‘swipe-up’ feature on Instagram Stories that allows them to link to a third-party website (e.g. the brand product page). Buying generic followers isn’t expensive. At the time of writing, you can purchase 5,000 followers on Instagram for around £30.
Buying an existing Instagram account that already has a huge following
A fairly common, but usually more expensive, tactic for an influencer that wants to suddenly launch themselves onto the scene is to buy an existing Instagram account, with an established following of several thousand people. Then simply delete any previous posts, change the handle and they are ready to go with their own content, and a ready-built audience. Once they do start posting, some of their followers will inevitably unfollow, but it can still leave a significant fake audience in place to put in front of brands they want to partner with. You can currently buy an existing Instagram account with around 100k followers for well under £1k. This larger outlay could potentially be ‘earned’ back with just a couple of mid-range influencer campaigns.
Back in the early days of social media, following someone’s account manually, in the hope that they’d get the notification and follow you back, was standard; so, it’s understandable that it wasn’t long before someone automated the process. Who has time to be clicking that follow button themselves these days? Instagram bots do this same thing, but on a huge scale. You can set them up to follow people with specific things in their bio (or avoid them), or people using particular hashtags and then automatically unfollow them after a period of time to keep the account’s ratio of followers to followed accounts looking better. Bots are also cheap as chips to use. You can buy a month’s worth of ‘high-quality’ bot activity for around £8 currently.
Engagement bots and groups/pods
In a similar way to follow/unfollow bots, you can also purchase a bot that likes and comments on other people’s posts, to encourage them to visit and follow yours.
You can also join Instagram Engagement Groups, sometimes called pods, which are essentially an engagement farm. All of the members in the group agree to like and/or comment on each other’s posts reciprocally. This results in ‘fake’ engagement on the influencer’s own posts, making it look like their audience is more engaged with their content than is actually the case. Engagement rate is a metric often used by marketers who are looking for influencers to work with in brand partnerships.
Fake brand campaigns
Now that influencers are meant to make it clear that they are working with a brand in a paid partnership (usually with hashtag use of #ad, #gifted or similar), you might think that it makes it pretty obvious who is and isn’t working on a brand campaign. However, there is nothing stopping aspiring influencers from buying their own products from the brand and joining in with other influencers who are actually working in partnership, using all of the same hashtags, to make it look like they are too.
Because one thing that many retail brands do, when they are choosing influencers to potentially work with, is to see who worked with their competitors or relevant aspirational brands and perhaps use some of the same people.
How to find the fake influencers
Determining the real influencers, who work hard for brands and get results that matter, from the fakes, who will deliver no real ROI and are not a good use for your marketing budget, isn’t always straightforward.
Whilst Instagram itself routinely does ban and remove bot-created accounts (mainly the fake followers that people buy), the technology used by those to get around the rules generally evolves faster. So unfortunately, when you’re looking for influencers to work with, what you see isn’t always what you get.
There are a range of third-party tools that can help track any account’s follower growth over time, so you can see if there are any unusual spikes that would indicate growth is not organic. You can also manually check the posts and engagement to look at the quality of the comments. It’s usually fairly easy to see bot spam comments when you compare them to actual real people. So, there are ways to cut through the noise and find out who is genuine and not, but it’s a fairly time-consuming process.
At Hit Search, we only work with bloggers and influencers on behalf of our clients who pass our rigorous testing process. We won’t recommend people for brands to work with unless we have done our homework! To ensure that brands see a genuine return from these types of partnerships, in a way that truly benefits the business, it’s essential that influencers have an organic, relevant and highly engaged following.
For more information about influencer marketing or indeed info on any of our digital marketing services, feel free to get in touch today on 0800 011 9715 or visit Fashion Digital Marketing.