The Times recently reported that influencer marketing fraud costs sponsors, on average, £1 billion each year. This waste is attributed to social creators with inauthentic audiences. Brands are pouring their marketing funds into influencer collaborations which are broadcast to bot accounts, rather than receptive, engaged social audiences.
For anyone close to the influencer marketing industry, fake followers are old news. They are the unfortunate but inevitable hangers on that come with large social followings. Respectable influencers will regularly and ruthlessly delete them, knowing what a negative impact silent and inactive followers can have on the performance of their posts and their reputation. Manually checking new followers and gauging their authenticity is necessary admin for a social content creator – and the only way to keep the value in their followings.
On the other hand, some influencers still intentionally buy fake followers to enhance their follower count. It’s something that content and influencer marketing platforms – and Instagram themselves – have been cracking down on for years. The fact that someone has slapped a valuation on its impact has brought it back to focus.
Looking beyond reach
The practice of buying fake followers originated with brands’ obsession with reach. The bigger audience an influencer had, the more interest they got and higher fees they received. Attempts to ‘game the system’ were made by smaller influencers trying to get a crack at the big brand endorsement deals.
It didn’t take long for the wheels to come off this half-baked plan. As marketers realized engagement (likes and comments) was actually more valuable than reach, influencers realized that high volumes of silent and inactive followers were in fact causing their engagement rates to plummet. Fake followers can’t mimic the same engagement as a loyal and genuine following, built up over years of posting.
Despite this, some marketers remain hopelessly devoted to reach. I have no doubt that those still ploughing their budgets into influencers with large followings, without doing due diligence on whether they are actually real, are losing money.
Luckily there are no shortage of amazing influencers to partner with. There are just as many creative, professional and authentic influencers that will deliver results, as there are wannabes with falsely inflated followings. A considered selection process is key.
Focussing on solid ROI
A genuine following should be the minimum requirement for brands partnering with influencers.
Advanced analytics can now tell a brand where an influencer’s following is based and how old they are, so marketers can target their customers with precision. Relevancy is essential for an effective campaign. The focus shouldn’t be how many people see the posts, but rather how many of the right people see the posts.
Brands should also be aiming higher when it comes to the results of an influencer marketing collaboration. Reach and engagement should come as standard, a natural byproduct of a campaign that achieves solid return on investment, sales uplift or app downloads. These are far more valuable metrics to focus on and diverts attention away from the size of an influencers following.
The end of Instagram likes?
As the influencer marketing industry matures, Instagram is moving the goal posts too. Their recent trial to hide likes from public view caused a stir in the marketing press. While it’s only being tested in a selected number of countries, many asked whether it was ‘the end for influencer marketing’. But I believe it will make for a more authentic practice.
Firstly, it will force agencies and campaigns that have pinned their success on empty vanity metrics, such as likes, to up their game. Visible engagement can not and should not be used to justify an influencer campaign. Let’s look at the real, transparent return on investment.
I think it will also place a renewed focus on quality and individuality. Creators will no longer feel constrained by pressure to chase likes and will be free to make content that feels more authentic. Content that’s braver and doesn’t follow a tried and tested aesthetic. This renaissance in creativity is likely to spark a surge in engagement across the board. Weary social users – increasingly feeling as if they have seen it all before – crave this authenticity. They want to see something new.
Keeping the industry authentic
Brand ambassadors have been – and will always be – an effective marketing tactic. Thankfully software is becoming much more sophisticated and adept in spotting fraudulent accounts. But to preserve the power of the channel, all parties involved must uphold their responsibility to keep the industry clean. Just as influencers monitor their followings, brands must be just as diligent with their choice of partners. Do your background checks. Make sure that their engagement rate correlates with their following, or enlist the help of a platform.
With more conversion functions from Instagram – like shoppable tags and ‘swipe up to buy’ – the potential for influencer marketing is huge. Prioritize authenticity, practice due diligence and you can be sure your efforts will be rewarded.