How to Spot Influencer Fraud & Their Fake Followers

We have all at some point come across an Instagram post flashing a designer watch by now or were met with surprise when we saw our favorite celebrity streaming live from Nike headquarters. What we are witnessing right now is the prime of the influencer marketing realm. As influencer marketing soars to the top of the charts as one of the fastest growing industries on the global market, many have caught on to the “hype” that surrounds being an influencer. However, influencer marketing is no free pass to what the outside perceives as benefits such as free products and exposure to large brands as the job does come with its own dangers, with influencer fraud being its biggest threat.

Costly and damaging to one’s reputation, the phenomenon around influencer fraud seemed to have emerged overnight but has already shown just how much harm it can bring to the influencer marketing campaign process. In fact, a report by Cheq, a cybersecurity firm, projected that influencer fraud would ultimately cost brands $1.3 billion in 2019 alone; with the continuing rise of the industry, we can only expect this number to rise as more latch onto the profit opportunities from brand partnerships. Influencer fraud can interfere with your brand’s campaign in more than just one way by harming your image notoriety and depleting your finances going into advertising. This guide will hopefully familiarize you with the potential dangers that come with working with fake influencers and how to spot influencer fraud from afar.

Fake Influencers & Their Fake Followers

Influencer fraud takes shape when various influencers find a way to quickly amass a following and secure a platform for themselves through the purchase of followers. Nano-influencers, or lowest tier of influencers with less than 1,000 followers and a smaller reach are actually more prone to find themselves delving in influencer fraud. A Points North Group study found that up to 20% of low and mid-level influencers’ followers could be fraudulent, bringing to light the rampant nature of this problem. Some of these nano-influencers recognize the profit opportunities for themselves if they acquire a higher following; the general rule of thumb in influencer marketing is that the larger platforms are allowed higher asking rates and therefore can profit much more off a single post or partnership than influencers with smaller platforms would. They seek out ways to quickly increase their following and get brands to notice them and often do this through monetary purchases of followers.

However, other methods used to increase a following or engagement are social media tactics like the hashtags “follow for follow” and “comment for comment” usually prevalent on Instagram and set up mutual agreements between small influencers to boost each other’s profiles.

Thus, from the outside and to the public, fake influencers appear to be any other active user on social media: they post photos documenting day to day life of themselves and others and seem to gauge the interest of many that can be seen in their comments and likes. However, at the end of the day, they don't have a significant impact over a genuine crowd.

Why Influencer Fraud is Costly to Your Business

Influencer fraud can be greatly destructive to your brand’s image and campaign. First and foremost is the financial drainage that counterfeit influencers almost always cause -- with no critical outcome. Though well-established brands may have the opportunity to collect themselves and financially recuperate after suffering influencer fraud, smaller brands are another matter. Startup businesses have limited funds to begin with, and it could speak to a significant hit to their showcasing and brand’s financial plan.

As brands’ advertising groups go through painstaking hours attempting to build up a key influencer showcasing effort, organizing with fake influencers is ultimately a great loss of critical time and drainage of ROI. Investing a great deal into a partnership with the influencer only to find out they had no substantial platform would produce little ROI and might even set the brand back for the future, depending on their standing within their industry. On a bigger scale, however, influencer misrepresentation can likewise harm your brand’s image and break the trust that is so critical to a successful influencer marketing campaign. Normally, counterfeit influencers aren't very notable for their validity. On the off chance that individuals learn you collaborated with a record that ends up being phony, they may question your validity which will only further harm the trajectory of your brand’s reach moving forward.

3 Ways to Spot Influencer Fraud & Fake Followers

Now that you understand what we mean by fake influencers are and what kind of damage they can bring to your business, let’s get to the most important part. Here’s how you differentiate fake influencers from genuine ones:

1. Disproportionate follower-to-engagement ratio

Since bots and fake accounts make up a majority of a fraudulent influencer’s follower base, these individuals would typically have an unusually low engagement rate considering their massive follower count.

Red flags associated with an unusual or disproportionate follower-to-engagement ratio include an excessively high engagement rate spurred by low-quality false engagement – read on to find out more about how this could manifest in a social media post. Below is an example of an influencer in the cosmetic industry with over 6K followers yet has disproprotionately low engagement across her posts (very few likes, little to no comments). It is also possible that there could be consistently identical engagement rates across posts due to buying a certain type of engagement on each post.

2. Irrelevant, generic, or spam comments

Some applications that fake influencers use automatically generate comments from fake profiles to boost the engagement of their post, making it seem as if they are gauging real interest from their audience with their content. You will notice, however, that most of these comments are very generic and almost never address the content or topic of the post itself. A major red flag is if the comments are all unrelated to the topic it covers: some examples include emoji-only responses or short "love it" and "fabulous!" generally generic types of comments, which are all likely to not be real.

However, it is also important to remember that though it is most common for these comments to be generated by bots (making it possible to manually detect fraud through the profiles), engagement pods or mutual engagement boost from other small influencers is possible and even emerging as a popular tactic for fake influencers. You will notice that some comments come from other influencers themselves, and will therefore appear to be very real as they will tie back to the post and sound personal.

3. Sharp or unnatural increase in follower count

Another, and probably the biggest definite indication of influencer fraud is an unexpected and unnatural spike in supporter or follower count. The spike likely came about because of the bot or fake accounts that fed into their profile after the influencer made a purchase for followers. What you should search for is an unexpected spike followed by a continuous or extraordinary drop in follower count, all of which are significant indicators of influencer fraud and fake followers. In comparison, real influencers would encounter a consistent growth rate in followers with a couple of minor deviations from time to time.

Authentic Influencer Follower Growth (top) vs. Fake Influencer Follower Growth (bottom)

How to Spot Fake Followers Using Data & Technology

When keeping on the lookout for these red flags, LIFO is able to help you thoroughly analyze for influencer fraud.

  1. LIFO provides the latest statistics about every influencer (ex: average likes, comments, engagement, audience demographic) and summarizes the data for you

  2. LIFO also calculates an overall real follower percentage with machine learning algorithms, based on a large number of signals


Now that you are familiar with the common red flags associated with influencer fraud and how fake followers play a role in this phenomenon, moving forward with your brand’s campaign is only a matter of keeping an eye out for these warning signs. As the growth of the influencer marketing industry shows no sign of stopping anytime soon, it is fair to expect that influencer fraud will continue to be a common issue that ought to be discussed more across vendors' social circles. Having these key factors to look out for will have you and your brand's campaign all set as you embark onto the next stages of your business.

Influencer fraud detection is a tedious task and often requires an intensive process to comb through all analytics and data surrounding the influencers' profiles. Lifo, however, can help! Lifo leverages advanced AI and technology to help you run influencer campaigns at scale – searching, collaborating and tracking, so that you can grow your brand and business rapidly and effortlessly.

Learn more about our solution by requesting a quick demo today!

We're excited to have you on board with us!

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