Ep. 3: Influencer Fraud

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Episode 3 of THE LifeStyled COMPANY podcast is all about Influencer Fraud. Kristen goes in depth about what it is and why it cost her company $15,000, how to look for it and how you can handle it in a way that's beneficial for both you and your business.

Tune in now to listen to the full story about LCo’s experience with Influencer Fraud. It’s a goodie - and we’re not just saying that!

Influencer Marketing

Social media marketing, and specifically influencer marketing, is a relatively new industry historically, and is growing everyday. Influencer marketing is essentially when a brand partners with an influencer to provide a product or service in exchange for social media promotion at an amount that monetarily matches the level of said product or service provided. There are different tiers of “influencer status,” we’ll call it - you have “Micro-Influencer” (<35,000 followers), “Mid-Level Influencer” (35,000 - 100,000 followers), and then you have the Kardashian’s of the world who are off the charts. As an influencer, whatever tier you fall into usually dictates your rate per post, Instagram story, etc.

There are pros and cons of working with each different tier, but it’s important for brands to not only look at who the influencer is as a person and their unique value proposition, but also at their engagement. If someone has 100,000 followers and a 2% engagement rate, that means that 2,000 of their followers are actually engaging on their posts (liking, commenting, saving). This might seem low, but by market standards it’s actually really high! The more followers you have, the lower your engagement rate will be because Instagram values accounts like that differently than say, your mom who has 200 followers. It’s also harder to engage from a percentage standpoint with more people in the pool.

Because of social media, businesses have the power to get right onto people’s phones without requiring them to pick up a magazine, read a newspaper, listen to the radio or open an email. All of these things now kind of seem archaic, but for so long before the age of social media, they were the only ways for brands to advertise to potential consumers. Now, it’s easy for a brand to partner with an influencer as a means of advertising.

It’s beneficial for brands and influencers to partner together when they have a like aesthetic because it’s likely that each entity’s audience/followers and their interests will also be similar. As a business, you’d be reaching a different but engaged audience that will likely respond well to your whatever it is you do or sell.

Influencer fraud

While there are a lot of quality partnerships, there are just as many that are not so great. When you Google “Influencer Fraud,” there are articles that come up, but no real definition which says two things: the climate of Influencer Fraud is changing everyday, and it’s a relatively new concept in the world of marketing and social media.

Kristen’s defines “Influencer Fraud” as this: When someone manipulates their engagement on a social platform that they use for influence, representing yourself as something that you’re not. When committing influencer fraud, the influencer changes and manipulates their engagement in a way so that the number of likes, comments, and saves boosts real numbers to make it seem like they’re getting way more attention and engagement than they actually are.

You may be thinking, “why is this such a big deal?” It has become a big deal, and will continue to be a big deal, especially in the last two years because influencer marketing, while new-ish, will be around a $10 BILLION industry by the end of 2019. TEN. BILLION WITH A CAPITAL “B.” It is where a huge percentage of companies put a ton of their marketing dollars and if those numbers are being manipulated, it’s really bad in a lot of ways, but most importantly from an ethics standpoint.

So now that you know what Influencer Fraud is by definition, let’s dive into what it is as a verb and what red flags to look for. Many influencers who engage in “fraudulent” activity are either buying followers, likes or comments, which are all run by “bots.” There are a few different types of bots:

  1. Bots completely generated on the computer. These bots are a type of algorithm that “hacks” (for lack of a better term) the Instagram system to “create” followers or likes, but really it’s totally fake and just a manipulation of numbers.

  2. There are also bots that are actually real, live human beings who run multiple accounts. These “bots” will toggle back and forth between their own fake accounts to like and comment on the Instagram users that pay them to do so. Some users even pay these people upwards of $2/like or comment. Yes, they’re getting engagement, but they paid for it and it’s totally inauthentic engagement.

Can you see why this is a HUGE problem for businesses? There are businesses out there throwing their marketing and advertising budget at people that they think have an influence in hopes of a boost in brand awareness and sales, just to be cheated out of that money. Again, not every influencer does this, but there are some out there that do. Be proactive and do your research if you’re going to be tapping into Influencer Marketing!

Do Your research

  1. Check the last 12 posts. Is the like to comment ratio consistent? Are there 3000 likes and 7 comments? That’s not normal. There is no way that if you got 3000 someone’s to double tap or hit the heart button, that only 7 of them are taking to step further to comment.

    If you want to take it a step further and calculate the influencer’s engagement rate on a specific post. Take the number of likes and comments on a particular post, divide that by their total following, then multiple by 100. This will give you their engagement rate as a percentage. If you can do this on at least the last 12 posts, that will give you a good understanding of where their engagement falls as a whole. It’s okay if it’s all over the place! There is no rhyme or reason to the Instagram algorithm.

  2. Audit THIER OWN engagement with their following. Are they responding? If they are, are they only responding to comments that aren’t spammy? What do the comments looks like when they do get comments?

  3. If you’re on the receiving end of influencer marketing, ask for a media kit (aka press kit, one sheet, etc). Their media kit should be 1-2 pages and lightly focus on numbers, but not be overrun with ratios, graphs, etc. You want to know their total following, their engagement rate, and possibly their average follower growth per week. Otherwise, the media kit should tell about the influencer, their interests, etc.