Using micro-influencers and macro-influencers to help your business achieve new levels of growth or take your brand awareness to a new level is a tried and true marketing strategy. There is a reason why influencer advertising is expected to grow to a 6.5 billion dollar industry by the end of 2019. Unfortunately, where there is money to be made, there will inevitably be people who seek to take advantage of the market. Because influencer marketing is a relatively new form of advertising, many smaller businesses and brands will often not be able to distinguish between “real” influencers who command a dedicated and engaged group of followers from those who artificially inflate their social media presence and influence in an attempt to make an easy buck.

What is influencer fraud?

Influencer fraud can occur in many ways but one of the most common strategies is when supposed influencers decide to purchase followers. Everything has a price, and many people who are seeking to make some cash from their social media accounts will “invest” in artificially increasing their number of followers. An authentic macro influencer will have invested their time and sweat in organically building their followers on their social media channels through publishing targeted content that provides their audiences with relevant and entertaining information related to their specific niche. They will also individually and personally engage with their followers in order to maintain and strengthen their network and sense of community.A fraudulent influencer, on the other hand, will attempt to avoid the hard work that comes with building a solid social media reputation through the “purchasing” of followers. What’s worse is that many times, fraudulent influencers will even use bots to generate comments on their posts. One online anti-fraud company actually found that in one day of total Instagram posts that were tagged with #sponsored or #ad, over half included fake engagements. In the study, of the roughly 118,000 comments analysed by the team, only about 20,000 were not made by bot followers.Fraudulent influencers, then, “purchase” their followers and pay for artificial intelligence bots to comment and like their content which is often stolen or taken from free, public stock photo images. They also often attempt to theatrically “grow” their follower base through strategies focused on following and then un-following to falsely boost their supposed level of impact. One striking example of influencer fraud detailed in a recent article in the New York Times looks at how some fraudulent influencers “impersonate” real influencers in order to get free merchandise from major brands. Jeanne Grey is a recognised Instagram macro influencer who regularly posts about fashion and beauty under the name @TheGreyLayers. Earlier this year, she learned that another Instagram user (@TheSpicyCocktail) who turned out to be a fraudulent influencer, was impersonating and copying her content in order to get free merchandise from brands. 

How to protect your marketing investment against influencer fraud?

While influencer fraud is a serious and widespread menace that can jeopardize your online marketing campaigns, there are fortunately several different ways that businesses and brands can “detect” fraudulent influencers and thus protect their marketing investments and campaigns. While your company could pay an online fraud detection service to “investigate” the influencers you are considering working with, a basic analysis can be done by virtually any marketing team to detect fraudulent influencer activity. For example, an influencer who suddenly sees his or her following spike from 5,000 to 500,000 overnight, will most likely have purchased that increase in followers. You can look back through prior posts to get an idea of their past following. Also, analysing the engagement levels of an influencer’s followers can also help you detect fraud. An Instagram account that has 70,000 followers but only gets 150 “likes” on a given post should immediately throw up a red flag.Another way to identify influencer fraud is through learning how to spot unauthentic and illegitimate comments made by bots on a post. Generic, “spammy” comments are a sure sign of fraudulent accounts. For example, if a supposed influencer posted a picture of a new line of perfume and one of the comments reads: “that looks great,” chances are that the comment was generated by a bot.

Finding authentic influencers

Fraud within the influencer marketing industry has caused companies to be more cautious in the influencers that they choose to work with, and allowed them to come up with more effective ways to measure the influence. By following some of the suggestions outlined above, your brand should be able to identify authentic influencers that can help you improve your customer base. 
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