Founder and CEO of Heepsy, an influencer marketing software which makes it easy to find and choose the right influencers for your campaigns.
Influencers are an investment. Even if you only pay them in free products, you’re still investing value, not to mention valuable time, into these collaborations. Like any good investment, you should take out a bit of insurance, and, in this case, you want to ensure you’re actually marketing to real people.
According to a 2019 survey of 162 professionals by MediaKix, spotting fake influencers is the No. 1 concern respondents had when running influencer campaigns. Thankfully, it’s possible to detect trends and irregularities that can reveal potentially fraudulent practices used to puff up less-than-stellar profiles. You just need to know where to look.
Based on my experience in the influencer marketing industry, these are the best practices you need to keep in mind in order to avoid collaborating with influencers who have fake followers:
1. Check for sporadic follower growth.
Examine an influencer’s follower growth over time. Healthy growth should look like a hill — a steady climb over time. Growth that shows sudden spikes might be showing you something more.
If you see extreme bumps in followers, first analyze the profile for any legitimate reasons for such rapid growth. Maybe the influencer went viral or debuted in a new TV series, for example. Or, perhaps they hosted a giveaway, which generally requires participants to follow their account.
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In the absence of events like these, spikes might indicate bought followers. While this isn’t always the case, keep in mind that growth due to good, old-fashioned content creation doesn’t usually happen overnight.
2. Look for extremely high or low engagement.
A high engagement rate is a good thing because it shows that an influencer has a connection with their audience. But an extremely high engagement rate can be a sign that the influencer has purchased likes or comments. Yes: These, as well as followers, can be bought and sold.
It’s important to know the average engagement for the social network and follower range you’re working with and compare against that. For example, if most influencers with around 120,000 followers on Instagram have a 2.5% engagement rate, and the one you’re analyzing has 30%, something might be up.
Likewise, extremely low engagement can show that the influencer bought fake followers. These bots add to the follower count of a profile, but they don’t bring real interest. They’re not likely to like or comment on an influencer’s post, which will send their engagement rate down.
3. Apply the golden ratios of influencer authenticity.
Let’s look at two ratios that can help you see through influencer fraud. First up is the followers-to-following ratio. If the number of followers an influencer has is close to the number of people they’re following, they may be using the follow-unfollow strategy.
With this tactic, the influencer follows random accounts, waits for them to return the favor and then later unfollows them. Why is this a bad thing? These followers likely don’t actually care about the influencer’s content, which does nothing to boost engagement.
If using Instagram, another ratio to evaluate is comments and likes. As I mentioned above, some influencers buy fake likes, but not fake comments. If you see a low comments-to-likes ratio, it could be a sign of this.
4. Analyze audience authenticity, and follow your gut.
If you’re using influencer marketing software, the analytics can suggest which percentage of an influencer’s followers look suspicious of behavior typically found in bots.
If you’re analyzing directly on social media, then you need to take a look at an influencer’s followers and get a sense of if they’re real people. If you’re not sure if a profile is a bot, ask yourself these questions:
• Do they look like a real person? In my experience, bots often don’t have profile pictures or biographies, and their handles might sound nonsensical.
• Do they have content? Bots typically have little to no content, or their profiles’ content is oriented around advertising.
• Do their comments seem natural? Check if their comments make sense linguistically and thematically. Bots’ comments usually don’t sound natural and might be completely unrelated to the post.
If there’s anything I want you to take away from this article, it’s this: Influencers are a marketing investment and should be treated as such. You wouldn’t buy a new car based on the outside alone, right? You’d want to see the inside, make sure things are working and make sure that it works for you.
It’s the same with influencers. Sure, the first impression counts. But in order to achieve good returns on investment on your campaigns, you need to dig deeper and look behind the scenes. Make sure the influencers you choose are genuine, connected to your target audience and able to help you work toward achieving your campaign goals.