How Brands can Avoid Influencer Fraud
Updated: Apr 28
Working with fake influencers not only runs the risk of monetary losses, but can also damage a brand’s reputation.
In the previous article, we elaborated on how influencer marketing can be highly lucrative, especially when brands prequalify influencers before engaging them.
However, brands can also fall prey to influencer fraud (IF) if they are easily blindsided by extraordinary follower numbers and rates of engagement.
What is Influencer Fraud (IF)?
IF occurs when influencers pay for fake accounts to follow them, and/or use bots to boost engagement rates, to justify charging high fees. Campaigns run by such influencers tend to not reach the intended audience in the numbers they claim. If brands keep pumping money into the campaign, they can potentially drain their marketing budget, while reaping very low returns for their investment (ROI), if at all. The problem is so widespread, it cost companies US$1.3 billion in 2019, with 63% of brands admitting to dealing with IF in past campaigns.
Despite the prevalence of IF, many brands still consider follower counts and engagement rates key criteria for selecting influencers. However, studies show the more followers influencers have, the more likely they are to have been purchasing followers, as verified by HypeAuditor in their 2020 report, which showed that 66% of mega influencers and 48.2% of micro influencers engaged in fraudulent activity.
Engagement with such influencers can subject companies and brands who partner them to unwanted public scrutiny, or worse, a damaged reputation.
How brands can steer clear of fake influencers
We speak to Hyma Haridas, Account Director at Bridges M&C Malaysia, and Mr. Patrick Poh, Senior Digital Consumer Marketing Manager from Allergan Aesthetics for Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, on ways brands can spot and avoid fake influencers.
1. Manual checks: According to Hyma, companies with lean marketing teams would likely rarely have the bandwidth to examine the quality of influencers’ followings and engagements closely, so this is where agencies come in. She recommends looking out for these four red flags when investigating profiles:
An impressively large following but unusually low engagement. For example, 50,000 followers but an average of 10 engagements per post, may be an indication that the influencer might have paid to have fake accounts follow him or her.
Follower comments that are predominantly emojis may be a sign that bots have been deployed to populate the comments section.
Followers whose interests are incongruent with the influencer's profile or content, especially influencers whose main language is different to that of their followers. For example, an Indonesian influencer who communicates in Bahasa Indonesia but seems to have a suspiciously high number of Russian followers.
Profiles with missing parts – such as incomplete or no description, no profile photo, few or no posts – but who seem to follow a disproportionately high number of accounts ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand.
2. Free analytics tools:
While manual checks are useful, they can be time- consuming. This is where free analytics tools such as SocialBlade can help, says Poh.
“SocialBlade works by charting an influencer’s gain and loss of followers over time on a graph. If the graph shows a drastic drop in number of followers, I would consider the influencer’s following to be suspect, as this is likely due to a purge of fake accounts by Instagram and Facebook,” he explains.
3. Paid analytics tools
It is only a matter of time that unscrupulous programmers catch up with algorithms detecting influencer fraud, so Poh also relies on HypeAuditor, a paid service that generates in-depth reports of an influencer’s social media data, including engagement quality and audience demographics.
“HypeAuditor is an Instagram, YouTube, TikTok and Twitch account authentication platform. Using artificial intelligence (AI), it calculates how much engagement an influencer should have, based on his or her follower count. It also delivers detailed analytics on follower and engagement quality within minutes, shares important follower data, including their location, age, gender, and approximate income bracket; clueing us in on not only if followers are authentic, but if they also meet our target market,” says Poh.
How effective are analytics tools for sussing out influencers?
Poh, whose company’s campaigns have proven successful, strongly recommends paid platforms.
“In the beginning, we used SocialBlade because we believed it was effective at revealing fraudulent activity. However, it was not until we fell victim to IF, and with a well-known celebrity at that, that we moved to paid platforms to weed out fake influencers,” says Poh.
Nevertheless, despite the efficacy of analytics platforms’ in revealing IF, brands should still perform manual checks and not rely on these tools alone.
“From my experience, although an influencer may have a poor HypeAuditor report, brands and agencies should still perform eyeball checks – particularly of influencers they have shortlisted – as the AI might not have picked up discrepancies or factors that brands might consider compatible to their campaigns,” adds Poh.
Learn more about the top marketing analytics tools available
This article is the second of a two-part article.