Video Essentials

Fake Influencers Are Ruining Marketing, Here’s How to Spot Them

There’s huge money in influencer marketing, and wherever there’s huge money there’s going to be fraud. A presentation at VidCon 2018 explained how rampant the problem of fake influencers is, and how to spot these cheating accounts.

Fake Influencers

Evan Asano of MediaKix at VidCon 2018

The problem of fake influencers is really an Instagram problem, explained Evan Asano, CEO and founder of influencer marketing agency MediaKix. Faking it is more expensive on YouTube since the company has better detection algorithms, so more sophisticated bots are needed to fool them.

The problem with fake influencers is so serious that Unilever announced at Cannes one week ago that “urgent action” is needed to fight influencer fraud, and it won’t work with influencers who buy followers.

There are currently tens of thousands of creators in the space, and marketers spend $2 billion to $5 billion per year on influencer marketing. “The market just keeps exploding,” Asano said. Instagram influencer marketing is now worth $1 billion per year, he estimates, which will grow to $2.4 billion in 2019. That means tens of millions of dollars are likely going to accounts with fake followers. The New York Times reported that 16.4 percent of the followers on Instagram’s top 20 accounts were fraudulent.

To get inside the problem of fakes, MediaKix ran an experiment where it created two Instagram accounts using only free online stock photos, then bought followers. It paid between $3 and $8 per thousand followers, and bought fake comments an likes for every photo. One account had 50,000 followers and the other had 30,000. Within two weeks those accounts got 4 paid marketing offers of over $500 each.

Fake followers are sometimes easy to spot, Asano said: They have no profile photo, few posted pictures, and a limited number of followers. The photos seem random. However, some fake accounts are more sophisticated, with realistic identities (perhaps stolen) and real-looking activity.

Can marketers weed out these fakes? “It’s very difficult to do at scale,” Asano said. “I don’t believe there are strong algorithms or companies that have the right software to do this.” After all, if that software existed Facebook would certainly own and use it.

Through his research, Asano found several traits common to legitimate influencers:

  • A likes-to-follower count (engagement rate) of 2 percent or better
  • Multiple comments per photo
  • A consistent number of comments per photo
  • Quality comments on photos
  • Followed by a high number of accounts that also look legitimate

To vet influencers, marketers should ask for screenshots showing recent story opens, a stat that shows how many followers opened recent stories. Each should be viewed by a meaningful percentage of followers.

When checking for fakes, marketers should do the work by hand, Asano advised, or work with experienced companies like Dovetale and Sylo. Only work with accounts with 200,000 or more followers and hire an experienced influencer marketing agency.


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