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The Dark Side of Influencer Marketing: Safeguarding Your Brand from Influencer Fraud

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Influencer fraud is a growing concern for businesses and brands that rely on influencer marketing to promote their products or services. With the rise of social media platforms and the proliferation of influencers, it has become increasingly difficult for brands to determine who is genuine and who is not. This is especially true for smaller brands who may not have the resources to conduct thorough background checks on potential influencers.

So in this blog, we will discuss what influencer fraud is, how it happens, and most importantly, how to protect your brand from it.

What is influencer fraud?

PC: Aurora

Influencer fraud is the practice of using fake or misleading tactics to inflate an influencer’s perceived popularity and influence. It can take many forms, including buying fake followers, using bots to generate fake engagement (likes, comments, and shares), and using paid services to artificially inflate an influencer’s reach.

Influencer fraud is a problem because it undermines the authenticity and credibility of influencer marketing. Brands and businesses rely on influencers to reach their target audience and build trust with potential customers.

However, if an influencer’s following or engagement is fake, it means that they are not genuinely reaching and influencing their audience. This can lead to a lack of return on investment for brands and businesses that use influencer marketing.

How does influencer fraud happen?

There are several ways in which influencer fraud can occur:

– Buying fake followers:

Some influencers or agencies buy fake followers to inflate their perceived popularity and influence. These fake followers can be bots or real people who are paid to follow the influencer.

Using bots to generate fake engagement:

Some influencers or agencies use bots to generate fake likes, comments, and shares on their content. This makes it appear as if the influencer has a large and engaged following when in reality, the engagement is fake.

Using paid services to inflate an influencer’s reach:

Some influencers or agencies use paid services to artificially inflate an influencer’s reach. This can include using paid promotion on social media platforms or paying for fake views on YouTube.

– Disclosing sponsored content:

Some influencers do not properly disclose sponsored content, which is required by law in many countries. This can lead to confusion for their audience and undermine trust in the influencer and the brands they promote.

How to protect your brand from influencer fraud

As mentioned before, influencer fraud refers to the practice of artificially inflating an influencer’s social media following or engagement through fake or paid accounts. This can be harmful to businesses and brands that rely on influencers to promote their products or services, as it can lead to inaccurate metrics, wasted advertising spend, and damage to the brand’s reputation.

Here are some steps businesses and brands can take to protect themselves from influencer fraud:

1- Verify the influencer audience:

One way to reduce the risk of influencer fraud is to verify the authenticity of an influencer audience. This can be done in two ways. One by checking the influencer’s social media accounts for signs of fake followers or engagement. For example, an influencer with a high number of followers, but low levels of engagement (likes, comments, and shares) may be using fake followers or buying engagement. It’s also a good idea to check the influencer’s followers to see if they are real, active users. 

Or the other way is by using tools. There are a number of tools available that can help you verify the authenticity of an influencer’s following. Some examples include Social Blade, Hypeauditor, and Followerwonk. These tools can provide information on an influencer’s followers, such as their location, activity, and engagement, which can help you determine if their following is genuine or if it includes a large number of fake or inactive accounts.

2- Look for red flags:

There are several red flags that can indicate an influencer may be engaging in fraud. These include a sudden or dramatic increase in followers, an unusually high number of likes or comments compared to the number of followers, and an unusually high percentage of engagement (e.g., more than 10% of followers liking or commenting on a post). Other red flags include a large number of followers from countries with known problems with influencer fraud, such as India and Indonesia, and a large number of inactive or fake accounts.

3. Negotiate terms in advance:

When working with influencers, it’s important to negotiate the terms of the partnership in advance. This includes the payment, the content to be shared, and the metrics that will be used to measure the success of the campaign. Additionally, be sure to include language in the contract that requires the influencer to disclose any paid or sponsored content, and specify that the brand has the right to terminate the partnership if it is discovered that the influencer has engaged in fraud.

4. Disclose partnerships clearly:

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that influencers disclose any material connections they have with brands they promote. This means that influencers must disclose if they received payment, a free product, or any other form of compensation in exchange for their promotion. So, it’s very important for businesses to ensure that their influencers are complying with FTC guidelines and disclosing their partnerships clearly.

For example- 

5. Monitor the campaign:

Once the campaign has launched, it’s important to monitor it closely to ensure that it is meeting the agreed-upon metrics. This includes monitoring the influencer’s social media accounts for any unusual activity, such as a sudden increase in followers or engagement or unusual comments, etc. So, if you notice any red flags, it’s important to address them immediately and consider terminating the partnership if necessary.

6. Conduct background checks:

For high-stakes partnerships, it may be worth conducting a background check on an influencer to verify their identity and ensure that they have a genuine following.

7. Use multiple influencers:

Working with multiple influencers can help mitigate the risk of influencer fraud. If one influencer is found to be engaged in fraudulent activity, it will not have as significant an impact on the overall success of the campaign.

8. Educate your team:

Make sure that your team is aware of the risks of influencer fraud and knows how to identify and avoid it. This may include providing training on how to use the tools mentioned above, as well as educating them on the red flags to look for when working with influencers.

Influencer fraud is a serious problem that can have serious consequences for businesses and brands. So, by taking the steps outlined above, you can help protect your brand from this type of fraud and ensure that you are working with genuine influencers who can help you effectively promote your products or services.

Some statistics on influencer fraud:

  • According to the statistics of Influencer Marketing Hub, 67% of Brands Are Concerned About Influencer Fraud.

(Source: Influencer Marketing Hub, 2021)

  • A study by Instagram analytics firm HypeAuditor found that almost half (45%) of the platform’s accounts are fake.

(Digital Information World, 2021)

  • In all, even though brands are still worried about influencer marketing fraud, the percentage of brands that report experiencing it went down from 68% in 2020 to 38% in 2021. (Influencer Marketing Hub, 2021)
  • 63% of marketers and brands have been victims of influencer fraud according to the statistics of Invespcro.

(Invespcro, 2019)

  • Also in 2020, according to PRWeek, over half of Instagram influencers (55%) were found to be engaging in fraudulent activities. 

(PRWeek, 2020)

(cnbc.com, 2017)

Example of an influencer fraud:

  • In 2022, Instagram influencer Caroline Calloway, a self-confessed scam queen made a self-confession about how she treated her followers as friends, but actually was exploiting her 850,000 followers for her own gain. 

(Source: India TV News)

Conclusion:

Influencer fraud is a growing problem that can damage the reputation and bottom line of a brand. It is important for companies to do their due diligence and thoroughly vet influencers before partnering with them. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Hence, by taking the necessary precautions and being proactive in protecting your brand, you can avoid the negative consequences of influencer fraud.

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