Dealing with fake influencers

Rising fraud has led to the loss of ad dollars and compromised brand safety

Influencer marketing — using people with a huge following on social media — is becoming very popular in today’s digital world. But brands are waking up to the pitfalls now. Fake influencers — people who have bought followers — are not only leading to lost ad dollars but also compromising brand safety.

A new study has noted that India has the third largest number of fake influencers on social media platform Instagram, reportedly hosting 16 million dubious accounts. The US leads, with 49 million fake influencers, and Brazil is at the second spot, with 27 million fake influencers.

A joint study undertaken by A Good Company, a Swedish e-commerce firm, and data analytics company HypeAuditor studied millions of Instagram accounts across 82 countries and noticed the anomaly.

Though the resultant cost to the Indian advertising industry, in terms of lost dollars, is still being tabulated, Arun Gupta, CEO and Founder of MoMagic Technologies, which develops software solutions for mobile and internet, says a major impact is brand safety.

“Brands tend to choose influencers with certain expectations about their quality of followers. If the quality of followers is not meeting the brand’s expectations, it hurts the brand’s image. Campaign effectiveness is another obvious issue and a big concern,” he says.

Fake followers

Though influencer marketing spend is on the rise and forecast to touch $10 billion by 2022, up from a mere $2 billion in 2017, according to an Influencer Marketing report by Business Insider Intelligence, brands may be losing a substantial chunk of money to fraud. A global study by cyber security company Cheq has reported that at least 15 per cent of the spend by advertisers on influencer marketing is lost to fraud.

“The fact that social influencers have fake followers is not new since getting bots as followers isn’t a new issue but, indeed, the number is flabbergasting,” says Rishi Sharma, AVP & Head, Digital Marketing, Liva, P&F Business, Grasim Industries.

Liva has routinely collaborated with bloggers and influencers to showcase how consumers can experiment with their wardrobe and keep up with the latest trends.

Will a growing follower fraud stop brands from using influencers? Unlikely.

As Sai Sangeeta Israni, GM Marketing at Spykar Lifestyles, says, “As brands move beyond paid advertising, influencers have been a hotbed for fashion brands to be seen in the right crowd.”

Sameer Makani, Co-founder and Managing Director, Makani Creatives, an advertising and marketing agency, says influencer marketing has proven to be a powerful and successful tool to reach consumers’ mind. “Influencer marketing across channels not only provides a better ROI than traditional marketing but the customer retention rate is also higher.”

Commenting on India’s 16 million fake Instagram accounts, Makani says it is very difficult to identify an influencer that deceives brands and costs them a huge amount. “Brands generally have associations with group influencers and they don’t really rely on just one or two influencers. Moreover, consumers are more savvy today than they were a decade ago and are able to recognise that influencer recommendations are mostly sponsored.”

Checks and balances

Everybody wants to be an influencer today, says Ashish Patkar, Founder and CEO of Monk Media Network, a digital marketing agency. But Patkar says, “In a world where brands are trying to create micro relationships with consumers through influencers, a fake influencer is akin to putting up your hoarding in the corner of a dark alley frequented only by dubious characters.”

While brands say they will continue to use influencers, many are putting checks in place now. Surendra Pal, Head Of Retail at real estate major Kalpataru, says the influencer market has undergone a sea change over the last five years.

He says brands need to use varied key performance metrics to ascertain their authenticity. “To have an influencer on board for any brand is like having a product advocate which can possibly be helpful to the brand in terms of influencing increase in targeted reach, if not sales. However, before investing in or on-boarding influencers, it is very crucial to have a strong hold on the expected ROI that a brand wishes to generate,” he says.

Additionally, Pal maintains, setting campaign KPIs can help and be a more transparent method of adjudging the influencer’s reach. “If sale is the objective of the campaign, the best strategy is to have a coupon code to the content which will help the brand in tracking how many sales and visits to the store were aided through the influencer.”

Though influencers are artificially boosting ‘vanity metrics’ that marketers often use while selecting influencers, Liva’s Sharma says “As brands, we deploy certain checks to ensure the followers are genuine — primarily basic engagement per post.”

Running a basic engagement per post is a good check that every brand should have when it comes to collaborating with an influencer, he insists. Additionally, one can also ask the influencer to share insights on the post after the campaign has been completed to analyse the response.

This, he adds, should be communicated in advance to the influencer to ensure they have authentic followers.

Fraud is inevitable, marketers argue, especially in the grand scheme of digital marketing, and brands are tapping into the wide network of nano-influencers with smaller followings for a larger reach.

Spotting fraud

Makani says, today, marketers have various social media tools at their disposal, which helps in identifying an authentic influencer. “An overview on the influencer’s key performance metrics allows marketers to spot a fraud and restrain brands from investing in the influencer. A higher number of followers does not necessarily mean that the influencer has a high engagement ratio. As a result (of the fake accounts), brands are now actively looking at micro influencers as they have 6.7x more engagement and have a higher impact on their followers, providing better conversion rates as compared to other types of influencers,” says Makani.

Overall, this discovery (fraud) has pushed brands to re-engineer their influencer marketing model to create an organic and authentic reach, he adds.

Spykar’s Israni says, “Earlier, the number of followers and likes the influencer had were hard-coded as the investment criteria. However, due to the rise of faux influencers, engagement became the next benchmark.”

Now with the platform changing its algorithm, it has, in fact, turned out to be a blessing in disguise, she continues. “The quality of interaction and comments by fans are going to be key in separating the real influencers from the fake.”

Published on August 09, 2019

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