Fake social media influencers became a real headache for marketers. Widespread and difficult to identify at first sight, fake influencers keep deceiving brands and costing them millions of dollars in wasteful investments.
Want to avoid getting scammed?
Discover how to always pair up with the right influencers and generate incredible results from your influencer marketing campaigns.
Its global market size grew from just over $1B in 2017 to $1.6B in 2018, and is expected to reach a whopping $2.4B in 2019.
This means that between just 2017 and 2019, companies will have increased their spending on social media influencers by around 250%.
Sounds impressive, right?
In fact, a sizeable share of companies' marketing budgets goes towards so-called fake social media influencers who, in a nutshell, are people buying fake followers to appear famous. Fake influencers are also notorious for building fake interests - something we'll discuss in more detail later.
Unfortunately for businesses, fake influencers are rampant across the industry. Unilever's CMO Keith Weed claimed that an estimate of 40% of influencers have bought fake followers at some point.
This means that companies collaborating with influencers are likely losing money on users with fake following. And if you're investing in influencer marketing, you're at risk of being scammed, too.
So, how can you stay away from fake influencers?
The first step is learning who they are and where they come from.
The Rise of Fake Influencers: Who, Where, and How
Fake influencers are people or fake accounts who built a large following using purchased followers or bots.
Even though buying followers might sound like a pricey and complicated process, it's actually cheaper and easier than you think.
For example, you can use the BuzzDayz website to buy 15,000 Instagram followers with a single click for as little as $55.
Using services such as BuzzDayz and Stormlikes, you can achieve your goal for just $134.90.
Knowing that an average charge for an influencer post on Instagram is $1,000 per each 100,000 followers, you'll be able to make around $300 for a sponsored post.
Now, you might be wondering how long this fraud has been going on.
It's been taking place since the first services selling fake followers and likes appeared, which is a good couple of years.
For a long time, though, the issue of buying followers and engagements was kept off the record.
A bigger discussion around fake social media influencers broke out in the summer of 2018, when Unilever announced they were cracking down on working with influencers with fake following and bots.
The conversation around fake influencers happened just about time, as the problem has clearly spiraled out of control.
According to research by an anti-fraud company Sway Ops, a single day's worth of Instagram posts tagged using the hashtags #sponsored or #ad contains over 50% fake interactions.
In addition, more than 15% of influencers who sign on to create sponsored content never actually put together a post.
How is this possible? And how come brands still fall for fake influencers?
How Fake Influencers Make Up Fake Interests
But there's one more trick up fake influencers' sleeve that they use to deceit brands - making up fake interests.
Fake social media influencers are great at building compelling profiles around particular interests. They know exactly how to create appealing bios using relevant hashtags, and post high-quality visuals touching on popular topics, such as fashion, beauty, or travel.
Just take a look at this Instagram profile of a travel influencer Amanda Smith:
In reality, though, it's completely fake.
The Wanderingggirl Instagram profile was set up by an influencer marketing agency Mediakix in an effort to demonstrate how easy it is to become a fake influencer.
As you can see, the profile looks neat and put together. This is largely due to the use of free stock images, which is a common practice among fake influencers.
This practice enables fake influencers to get brands' attention and strike lucrative deals - like the ones earned by Wanderingggirl whose worth totalled over $1,000.
But that's not all.
There's one more way how fake influencers use fake interests to decept brands.
So, to artificially inflate their interactions volume, fake influencers post content that's unrelated to their usual area of interests, but that helps them boost their engagement rate.
How does it work in practice?
An influencer might post content around the topic of skateboarding that doesn't resonate with their audience. So, to earn more interactions, the influencer occasionally publishes posts about a newly released computer game which is a hot topic on social media.
As a result, the influencer's overall interactions volume goes up, making brands think he or she is a really popular skateboarding influencer.
Many influencers post fake sponsored content using characteristic hashtags, such as #ad, and tagging brands, even though they've never made any business deals with the brands they're promoting.
Influencers claim they follow this practice to increase their value as potential business partners. They believe that a large portfolio of commercial involvements helps them land more campaigns which, naturally, translates to more money.
Let's take a look at some tactics.
How to Spot Fake Social Media Influencers
It will help you use your budget on the right influencers, meet your influencer campaign objectives, and deliver ROI.
Here are seven proven tactics on how to spot fake influencers:
1. Measure the influencer's engagement volume in relation to their audience size
If an influencer has a large audience, but only few interactions, there's a chance he or she has fake followers.
2. Check the influencer's strength of interests
To make sure you're pairing up with a legit influencer that's the right fit, look into their strength of interests. In other words, check which interests they're getting the majority of their engagement on.
They're not receiving interactions consistently on topics that matter to you, meaning they won't be effective for your business.
If you want to make the most of influencer marketing, always choose influencers who are generating interactions on relevant interests.
3. Look into the influencer's posting consistency
Authentic influencers publish content on a regular basis to engage and grow their audience. That's why the lack of posting consistency on the influencer's profile is a major red flag showing they're either unprofessional or fake.
4. Check the influencer's follower growth over time
Fake influencers, on the other hand, are characterized by unusual changes in their audience size. They can experience huge follower surges or dips after purchasing a bulk of fake followers or using mass follow apps.
5. See if the influencer engages in conversations with their followers
If an influencer stays silent and doesn't ever respond to their audience, it's a warning sign showing they might be fake.
6. Make sure the influencer has a Business profile on Instagram
An Instagram Business profile allows influencers to monitor their key metrics, such as profile visits and engagement, and present them to brands interested in collaboration.
In any case, an influencer not monitoring their own performance is untrustworthy and it is likely that he or she is fake.
7. Research the influencer on Google
Just type in the name of the influencer into the search bar, and see what kind of results pop up. Can you see their sponsored posts, articles describing their involvement in advertising campaigns or interviews? These are all signs that the influencer is likely authentic.
PRO TIP: For a quick overview of brands that have previously worked with the influencer, use Socialbakers Influencers. You will be able to see all the companies who have mentioned the influencer on social media as well as brands mentioned by the influencer.
One: the influencer might not show up in the search results if they're not famous or followed enough.
Two: always verify any information about the campaigns the influencer took part in. This is critical, as previous commercial involvement doesn't rule out the possibility that an influencer is fake. There are brands who wasted lots of money on influencers with fake followers.
In short, Google can give you tons of information about the influencer. But it's always better to also look at the metrics mentioned above to verify your findings.
How to Find Authentic Influencers for Your Business
How do you approach finding authentic influencers for your business?
Use a tool that will allow you to discover influencers, track their performance metrics, and check if they engage their audience on topics that are relevant to your business.
With Socialbakers influencer marketing platform, you have access to a vast database of influencer profiles that you can search by audience size, interests, location, age, and gender.
For example, let's say you're a restaurateur looking to work with food influencers using a popular hashtag #freshfood.
By typing the hashtag into the search bar, you'll get an instant overview of influencers tagging their content with #freshfood.
As you already know, these metrics are especially important to understand whether the influencer is authentic or not. There are two criteria that will help you immediately spot fake social media influencers: their number of interactions per 1,000 followers and number of posts.
Imagine that during your influencer search, you found a profile that looks like this:
Now, imagine you found the following profile:
The number of interactions and posts appears on point. But, being the thoughtful marketer you are, you want to double-check if the influencer is 100% legit.
And that's where social media analytics comes into play.
Analytics allows you to track the influencer's performance metrics more in-depth. For instance, you can monitor their follower growth, posting frequency, evolution of interactions, sponsored content or most successful posts - all of which will paint a more complete picture of the influencer's activity and effectiveness.
Last but not least, make sure that the influencer is generating interactions on content around interests that matter to you. This way, you'll be able to choose your influencer with confidence and know they're for sure going to be successful with your audiences.
So, don't let fake social media influencers stop you from achieving this goal!
By applying the tactics discussed in this article - such as looking into the influencer's performance metrics - you will be able to easily spot the fakes, and always collaborate with genuine influencers that will bring tangible results to your business.
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