Celebrity endorsements are hardly novel: Brooke Shields hawked Calvin Klein jeans in the '80s, Bing Crosby crooned about StarKist tuna decades before that, and still today, the Kardashians push dozens of brands at a time.
However, social media's role in influencer marketing has changed the playing field. Consumers no longer trust their favorite celebrities' recommendations as much as they do their favorite YouTubers'. And brands are taking note. According to the State of Influencer Marketing 2017 report, the tactic exploded in growth last year, with almost 90 percent of marketers implementing influencer campaigns and spending between $25,000 and $50,000 to do so.
What marketers hope is to build positive word of mouth around their brand. What they don’t expect is to encounter the dark side of this seemingly simple process: fake accounts.
Fakery at the Social Level
According to Imperva Incapsula's 2016 Bot Traffic Report, bots make up 52 percent of internet traffic today. It's estimated that 83 million accounts on Facebook aren’t attached to real people. The same goes for up to 48 million Twitter accounts and eight percent of Instagram accounts.
Partnering with an influencer can be an effective way to build loyalty and woo prospects, but if that influencer's following is largely comprised of bots, it waters down the authenticity and engagement that brands try so hard to achieve.
In reality, many influencers are using bots to artificially inflate their reach — and it's fairly easy for them to do. Furthermore, these bots are surprisingly hard to discern from real people; they can blend in among real followers better than you may think. However, every magician risks being unmasked. If you know what you’re looking for, you can spot fraudulent influencers on any social site.
All you have to do is monitor a potential influencer's profile to pinpoint the warning signs, such as:
1. Little to no engagement
When a so-called influencer has 25,000 followers but those "followers" are radio silent on her posts, that's a red flag. Were they bought, are they bots, or do they simply not care? Regardless, if they never make a peep, those followers aren’t likely to care about your product or service either. Should you partner up with an influencer who has little to no engagement, it's unlikely you'll garner good return on investment from the campaign.
2. Sudden bursts of followers
Yesterday, your target influencer had 10,000 Twitter followers. Today, she has 12,500. Did her popularity rise overnight? Unless one of her posts went viral while you were asleep, she probably just purchased those additional followers. True, organic followings rise steadily, not in erratic spurts.
3. Same-old, same-old commenters
Do the exact same commenters always like, share, or retweet an influencer’s content? They’re either the only ones engaged or they’ve been paid to participate. Steer clear of this type of influencer marketing because it has no influence whatsoever.
Monitoring and Owning Influencer Marketing
At the end of the day, the only type of influencer relationship your brand should be engaging in is an authentic one — period.
Experts in influencer marketing know that only ethical influencers deserve your consideration. Others will erode your brand image as well as your bank account. Plus, they make it practically impossible to get a good handle on true consumer give-and-take because they skew your data.
Rather than taking chances, your company needs an influencer engagement partner and strategy that keeps your brand safe. Yes, it takes time to build rapport with genuine influencers, but when you’ve earned their trust — and they've earned yours — you can expect higher returns on your investment than other types of paid advertising. And that is well worth the effort.