Social media influencers are the new celebrities, and the power that comes with that is enormous. The integrity of the influencer marketing industry is contingent upon honesty and transparency. Still, influencer fraud is a looming reality in today’s market and brands are becoming apprehensive.
Morgan Kaye, vice president of community and support at Activate by Bloglovin,’ an influencer marketing network, detailed how brands can take precautions to protect themselves against falsified influencers and provided tips on how to choose the best ambassadors for ad campaigns.
WWD: Marketing agency Mediakix recently conducted an experiment that highlighted the dangers of influencer ad fraud. Can you tell us about it and why its findings were important?
Morgan Kaye: Mediakix created a couple of fake influencer Instagram accounts, purchased followers and engagement, and managed to secure a few small, paid sponsored content partnerships with brands. It seems they found that some brands were eager to work with the falsified influencer because of their engagement, reminding brands it is far more important to vet an influencer and their following thoroughly to ensure they are not only a fit for the brand, but will deliver real impressions.
WWD: What steps can brands take to safeguard themselves against fraudulent influencers?
M.K.: The first thing they have to do is get a sense of the influencer’s history and authenticity of their content — are all of the products or services they have worked with in the past similar or on-brand for the specific influencer? Do they have any specific types of products they prefer to use, or specific stores where they like to shop?
Next, it is crucial that brands do a thorough scan of the level and quality of engagement. Are the influencers having real conversations with their followers? If a lot of comments seem superficial or are prevalent across a lot of an influencer’s content, it could be a sign of a fraudulent following.
Working with third parties like Bloglovin’ that help educate their community of influencers on the importance of an organic following is imperative. We are consistently advocating and rewarding influencers with real growth in return for their honest advocacy. We have honest conversations with them about fraudulent followers and traffic, which in turn benefit both them and the brands they are working with.
At Bloglovin’ we employ audience level analytics and real-time content analytics with all of our influencers. With the audience level analytics, we can effectively see the true make-up of an influencer’s following, allowing us to garner a larger impact for brands looking to launch in a specific market, but also allowing us another check-and-balance to ensure that we are working with brands that have a true and engaged following.
Our real-time content analytics allow us to see how followers are engaging with content. When an influencer puts up a post, we can not only monitor for useful measurement insights like interaction time and engagement, but we can also pick up on any unnatural engagement like bursts of likes or comments coming from Instagram bots, for example.
WWD: How can brands best select brand ambassadors for campaigns?
M.K.: The most important step is first and foremost understanding what type of influencer is going to create the best results for whatever your ROI might be. Influencers have different strengths on different platforms.
Brands need to therefore identify where their target audiences are and select an influencer accordingly. If you are a fashion retailer, you may want to concentrate your efforts on a long-form blog post with Instagram amplification. If you are a beauty brand, then a YouTube tutorial is key.
This is where Bloglovin’s use of audience level analytics is great for brands because it allows us to determine the absolute best influencer for a specific campaign. For example, if a brand is launching a product or hosting an event in New York, we would be able to pinpoint that the influencer(s) they targeted have a larger following from West Coast residents, revealing they may not be the most beneficial fit.
Secondly, brands should align their budgets with the number of influencers and the size of said influencers to ensure they are maximizing potential brand awareness and financial return. It goes without saying that selected influencers should be aesthetically aligned with the brand.
Influencer’s audiences are savvy — the more organic and authentic a post can remain, the better results the brand will receive. Lastly, once a pool of influencers has been narrowed down, transparency is everything. Communicate as much information as possible throughout the selection process to ensure everyone is on the same page and prepared to launch a successful campaign.
The last, definitive step is ensuring that the influencer can successfully represent a brand and its products.
WWD: With proper vetting, a brand should hopefully be able to take the appropriate steps to prevent against fraudulent social media influencers. But what if it is too late?
M.K.: If a brand is put in a position where they are reacting to a fraudulent influencer or suspected falsified engagement, a conversation must be had with the influencer to discuss the suspicions or the influencer must be dropped altogether.
Ultimately, the purpose of an influencer campaign is to connect a brand with an interested audience through an influencer. If that influencer has not disclosed the accurate scope of their following or engagement, or the influencer is completely fraudulent, it certainly implies a total breach of compliance.
Undoubtedly, legal action could be taken depending on the nature of the contracts and especially if a significant amount of money has been lost. It is certainly an unfortunate situation, but like any exchange of services, fraudulent activity cannot be brushed aside.
In these conflict/resolution type situations, it is also particularly helpful to be working via a third party that can help mediate the situation — or help avoid it altogether. If a brand has not already worked with a reputable third party or agency, they would do well to consider one, as well as explore more in-depth vetting processes for future campaigns.
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