One of the greatest challenges we face in influencer marketing is wading our way through the pools of bullsh*t fake influencers. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame this on the influencer (well not 100% anyway). As brands and marketers, we have pretty much screwed ourselves by putting a major emphasis on reach. The bigger an influencers reach, the more they can leverage that reach in order to benefit financially or otherwise. So why wouldn’t they try everything they can to grow that reach with dubious methods, purchasing followers or otherwise?
On the other hand, this is effectively daylight robbery. Fake influencers that grow robot follower armies know full well that they are leading businesses to invest financially or otherwise based on value that that they aren’t actually delivering. In few other industries would this go relatively unchallenged. For example, if a business was selling verified mailing lists that turned out to be 80% fake they would end up in court or bankrupt pretty damn quickly. So why would we put up with it in influencer marketing?
Those with the skills and knowhow just pass over these fake influencers, the little scally-wags, in search of the real deal. Yet with many brands still engaging them, we are going to see an ever-increasing trend for IM-adverse brands. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how much influencer marketing pros know the tool is great. If brands think that influencers are the next worst thing to the ‘we have heard you have had an accident’ scam-bots, they will never work with them again.
Ok, ok…enough of the rant. How can brands actually limit the risk of working with fake influencers?
Unfortunately, there is no way to 100% guarantee that an influencer isn’t using bots to boost their attractiveness. However, taking an informed approach will drastically limit the potential that you will fall prey to dirty tactics.
Recognise follower trends
There are a number of tools online that will let you tap into the details of influencers on most platforms and assess their statistics. This is to say you can view graphical representations of aspects such as engagement rates and follower growth. These are very useful in assessing potential foul-play when it comes to fake influencers.
One thing to always look for is a sudden spike or dip in follower count. Let’s take for example an account that on the 5th April had 5k followers. Suddenly, as if by magic, on the 8th April they now have 15k followers. Personally, I like to stroke my beard when I spot these sorts of anomalies and consider how very interesting that spike is.
Of course, this is not a guaranteed indicator of fake followers. In some cases, the individual has appeared or been mentioned in mainstream media or by another mah-ho-sive influencer, leading to a rapid rise in ‘popularity’. However, typical audience growth bubbles along at a steady rate, with a few small dips and rises along the way. A sudden spike should spark suspicion and lead to further investigation.
SIDE NOTE: In recent times bot farmers (yeah I made that term up) are trying to by-pass this way to spot fakers by slowly drip feeding new followers over a longer period of time. So, even if you don’t see a spike, you still need to follow the advice below.
Apply common sense to catch fake influencers
We all have it, but in a data-driven marketing space, we seem to rarely apply it – yep, we are talking about common sense.
Applying common sense can go a long way to spotting fake influencers. Let’s take for example an ‘influencer’ that has 10k followers, but upon browsing their feed you see they are only getting a handful of comments, shares, likes etc. At this point, your common senses should be tingling…is this guy legit?
But to be sure, we need to dig a little deeper. There are plenty of providers out there that offer likes and comments inline with your fake audience. Those scammers are savvy to our methods and are always trying to catch us out! But what those comment bots fail to do (at the moment) is add much or any context. If you take a browse through the comments and they are all ‘great pic’ and ‘love your style’, you are probably seeing fake. On the other hand, if the comments are specific ‘I LOVE that hat, where did you get it from?’ or ‘nice tattoo of a snail riding a unicorn you magnificent beast’…these are more likely to be genuine.
Take this one step further and look for conversations. It is pretty difficult to have a real and meaningful conversation with a bot (trust me I have tried). If your target influencer is chatting away about niche specific subjects and their audience are replying, this is a sure way to spot real influence.
Spark a conversation
A real quick way to work out if anybody is full of shit is to actually talk to them. It is all very well taking a look at their content and their conversation that they have time to refine, edit and have someone look over etc…but get them on the phone or meet them for a coffee and you get a much better idea of who they are, what their expertise is and whether they are genuine or not.
Obviously, this isn’t always possible, influencers (fake and real) multiple requests every day for collaborations. If they had a call for every opportunity that came through the door they wouldn’t have a minute to create content. But if you can get a little face-time with them, it is well worth the effort. This is not only a great way to ensure they aren’t talking out of their ass, but it is a great way to see if they align with your tone and values as a brand.
“Acting on our gut feelings is the most important step we should take in any decision.” – Simon Sinek
It’s only fair
At this point I feel it is only fair to point a few things out:
- Just because an influencer has a few fake followers doesn’t mean they have purchased them. Unless you carefully curate your own social media followers, I bet there are a few dubious accounts following you. I can only assume that these accounts follow lots of non-paying accounts in an attempt to look real and avoid being deleted.
- Equally, if an influencer gets a tonne of comments from bots, this doesn’t mean that they have ‘paid’ for them. In fact, it is actually more likely that the account posting the comment is using a bot to try and draw traffic to their profile.
These are the two reasons why working with an influencer marketing professional or agency is such a good idea. Their experience in spotting fake influencers has supercharged their gut feeling to avoid them like the plague.