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How do you spot a fake influencer?

Over the past few months influencers have been making headlines at an alarming rate. Things kicked off when influencer marketing became the unintentional star of the Fyre fest doc and later intensified when an expose two years in the making was released, which outed over 200 top UK-based influencers as having ‘fraudulent’ followings.

For some, the article that gave the most cause for concern was The New York Times piece citing a study by Captiv8 which reported that in 2018 brands spent upwards of £157 million on fake influencers. Countless articles on the topic of influencers have followed. 

As brands funnel more of their advertising budgets into influencers, there seems to be a never-ending pool of content creators eager to cash in.

Back when influencers were paid to post a pair of jeans or enjoy a free trip – the job of an influencer was hardly newsworthy. Now that influencers demand hefty sums (and rightly so) the topic has entered the mainstream. Not a day goes by without a colleague asking me, “You paid X how much?!” or without a friend sliding into my DMs to ask, “So how do I become an influencer and get freebies?"

With so many people eager for a piece of the pie, how can brands and agencies ensure the influencers they are working with are genuine, on-brand and most importantly influential?

Spotting a fake

Firstly, remember that with anything that can be monetised there will be those that try to cheat the system. A fluctuating follow to follower ratio, short repetitive comments and/or low engagement are some of the first clues which generally point to insta-fraud.

A thorough vetting of the likes and comments on a random selection of an influencer's posts before initial outreach is key.

Some influencers have taken things a step further, utilising monthly subscriptions to purchase masses of followers and likes from real accounts as opposed to robots. To the untrained eye, this may be harder to spot which is where sites like Social Blade or Phlanx come in handy. These tools are essential in a campaign manager's arsenal, giving you the ability to access real-time data on an influencer’s follower growth along with a grading of their ‘follower health’.

If an influencer has passed both a manual and systematic audit, it is important to request a follower/ engagement breakdown from them before agreeing terms, this will give you key insights into their following.

A sure-fire way to protect yourself from fraudulent activity is to add a clause into influencer contracts outlining the ramifications of misrepresenting engagement or audience size.

Brand right

The time we have to capture a consumer’s interest is growing increasingly short. With an infinite number of stories to tell – why has the majority of influencer content started to look the same? Look to engage influencers who are creating unique content and compelling captions through authentic brand/product placement. Some of the strongest work (and additional deliverables) come when a brand has placed their trust in a creative’s style, vision and expertise. They’ll know you’ve bought into what makes them unique and put in the extra effort to produce great work throughout a campaign. You’ll want to work with influencers who create the type of thumb-stopping content that will work on both the influencers and owned channels.

True influence

Often overlooked when discussing influencers is measuring just how 'influential' they are. Sure, they may have followers in the millions, but how many of those 'likes' will translate to sales? Consider how utilising influencers who are existing advocates of a brand will hold more clout with an audience. Having your brand or product appear multiple times over the course of a few weeks (in both #Ad and non-contracted posts) will work in your favour to drive purchasing suggestions to their highly-engaged core following.

This should come naturally to an influencer with an authentic following and eye-catching content. Take a browse through your influencer’s comments and replies to see if fans are asking genuine questions about the intended subject and gauge how the influencer is responding. A satisfied influencer who has been properly briefed and had enough time to test out the product will convey useful responses to inspire interest. Reach and engagement are great metrics for understanding influence, but consider building strong relationships with an influencer to unlock additional insights. Story replies, direct messages enquiring about a product and 'IRL conversations' won't be trackable, but certainly speak to how much impact a piece of content has if they share this information with you.

Finding the 'right' influencer for your campaign can be a long process, but it is time that is well worth investing.

Written by Tyler Kenny, community manager at PR agency Hill+Knowlton Strategies

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