It is a sad reality that in every industry there will always be people who will try and game the system. Some of them even start out thinking that what they are doing is okay. But in the world of Influencer Marketing fake followers and fake engagement is a problem that brands shouldn’t have to pay for.
What are fake followers and fake engagement?
Fake followers are exactly what they sound like. They are fake accounts that have been set up with the intention of selling their ability to follow someone else’s account. Some brands and influencers have been found to purchase these in amounts of the 1000’s and even 10,000s. Every now and then social networking platforms, like Instagram, identify and delete these fake accounts. However, they are getting harder to identify.
Companies that trade in fake followers are hiring staff to upkeep these accounts so they look just like a regular account.
Fake engagement is even more of a problem. Companies have emerged that trade in ‘engagement.’ You might have even seen ‘engagement pods’ mentioned before as well. This isn’t a company but actually, influencers or users who engage with each others content. This makes it look like they are getting higher levels of engagement through trying to game the social algorithms to rank them higher in feeds. This one is a tricky one as some accounts justify this activity by saying that they are just trying to get a head start to appear to more of their followers. However, if a brand is assessing their quality as an influencer and likelihood of converting to customer activity, then this is engagement by people who are never going to be customers of the brand. It then becomes a fake indication of how the influencer is likely to perform.
There are some easy and not so easy ways to tell if an Influencer has fake followers. And they are data points you should definitely be assessed before you reach out to an Influencer.
5 ways to tell if an Influencer has fake followers
1. Engagement rate (easy to tell)
Engagement rate is simply the average number of engagements an influencer gets per post, divided by the number of followers.
Post 1 + Post 2 + Post 3 divided by 3 = average number of engagements.
An average number of engagements divided by the number of followers.
If an influencer has very low engagement with their audience (sub 1%) then it is likely that they have some amount of fake followers. At best, an audience that doesn’t care about their content is not one that you want to invest in as a brand.
2. Engagement type (hard to tell)
Engagement type is understanding the type of people that are engaging with an Influencer’s content. This is particularly important to identify fake engagement. If a significant portion of an Influencer’s engagement is coming from outside their followers, it is likely that they are signed up to an engagement app or engagement pod. These users that are engaging with their content, are very unlikely to turn into customers for a brand – so why would you want to pay for it?
3. Follower location (hard to tell)
Follower location is important to find out, not only to determine fake followers, but also to understand what portion of an Influencer’s followers are likely to be interested in your brand or product. If an Influencer is a Sydney-based food blogger and a significant portion of their followers are based in Asia… then you could assume they have been purchased and are fake. The red flag is that they are in a very unusual location when you consider the topic and location of the Influencer. Sometimes this is a little harder to tell with travel Influencers or Influencer’s who talk about universal topics using universal hashtags.
The key is to understand as a brand where you want to target? Do you only ship your product to one particular country? Or are you a physical retailer who needs to attract customers living in one particular location? If the Influencer’s followers are outside this, then fake or not, you shouldn’t be investing in them.
So how do you figure this out? Two ways. You can either contact each Influencer and ask for screenshots of their audience analytics.
4. Follower growth (easy to tell)
For Influencer accounts that have organic growth, there tends to be a fairly consistent trend line of follower growth. For accounts that have purchased followers, you can see the growth spikes very inconsistently and rapidly from day to day or week to week. Social Blade is a free tool that you can pump any Instagram, Twitter or YouTube URL into to check out their follower growth.
Comments on Influencer content are a great way to understand the quality of their engagement, the only caveat is that this is a manual process to determine!
With bots and fake engagement, a lot of comments these days show up as very generic statements. They are just emojis or generic statement that might work on any piece of content like – ‘love it’ ‘cool pic’ and ‘beautiful’.
On the flip-side, real, loyal followers take the time to make a comment about the image an influencer has created and share their own thoughts. These are the types of followers who might be a customer, that are worth investing in.
The rise of technology has simultaneously seen the ability to ‘fake’ influence, but also our ability to detect it. We would love to hear how you detect Fake Influencers.