Influencers with fake followers are nothing new

0.jpgCo-founder and CEO of HooZu, Nathan Ruff (left), bemoans the lack of standards when it comes to influencer engagement

Unilever hit the headlines recently with its declaration of war against dodgy influencers. At the recent Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, its Chief Marketing Officer made an impassioned declaration that Unilever would be taking urgent action to clean up the influencer ecosystem and crack down on influencers with paid or fake followers.
 
But hang on. I'm confused as to how a $155-billion-dollar business got taken in by influencers with fake followers in the first place. Bots are hardly a new problem.
 
The fact is, there are plenty of ways to verify the authenticity of an influencer. This kind of due diligence should be standard practice for anyone who works in this space. There are many tools and processes available to weed out the rent-a-crowd influencers.
And there are a lot of them. It's easier than ever for an "influencer" to buy followers and use algorithms to generate fake engagement. Various services online proudly claim that they can boost your social following. One service guarantees you 5,000 Instagram followers for only forty US dollars. And, with the pay-off being thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars' worth of marketing spend, it's a worthwhile investment for someone who's half savvy with a computer.

The ease with which you can buy followers, likes and engagement means the old method of checking an influencer's worth simply doesn't cut it anymore. It's lazy. Instagram is currently in an arm's race with 'fake influencers', utilising various algorithms to detect huge spikes in traffic and followers. But it's still getting gamed by those who adapt their techniques and tactics for generating fake engagement.

At HooZu, it has taken us four years of insights, AI tech, tools and processes to master an efficient and safe influencer model that ensures client success. We now have a 6-stage checklist that we run through for each influencer to ensure they're the right talent. Anyone who doesn't pass all six stages doesn't get a look in for campaigns that we're working on.
 
It looks a little something like this:

Stage 1: We qualify brand advocates based on their audience, not their "name"
Stage 2: We quantify that they have the correct customer match to what the brand is targeting
Stage 3: We audit and ensure the content they produce is safe and in line with brand guidelines
Stage 4: We use various tech/tools to confirm the audience's quality, including where the followers are located. We eliminate the influencer if their followers aren't local
Stage 5: We use AI tech to audit past performance and track any sudden spikes in engagements, which can indicate that they've bought likes/views. We also check where the engagement is coming from. Questionable countries raise red flags
Stage 6: We cross-check and review against social channel data, then provide detailed battle cards displaying all the evidence and audience data about our recommendations. This is taken from five different data led platforms

Of course, vetting the influencer's authenticity and audience relevance is really only the start of the process. Keeping both the influencer and overall campaign accountable to certain deliverables and KPIs is essential for providing safety and ROI to the brands that we work with. I hear horror stories all the time about brands who've had bad experiences with influencers that didn't deliver on the content they promised, making it doubly difficult to pitch them a social campaign the next time around.   

That means legally contracting brand advocates to set outcomes and deliverables is an essential element of any influencer campaign, as is tracking and reporting to performance metrics to ensure the campaign is meeting its KPIs.

When executed correctly, influencer campaigns are a powerful way to reach consumers and deliver marketing messages in clever ways. But it's too easy to game the system, and anyone who works with influencers needs to be smart about how they choose and engage with them to maximise the brand's return on investment. While the Unilever CMO's comments were hardly revelatory, he was right about one thing. "We need to take urgent action now to rebuild trust before it's gone forever." Hear, hear.

2 Comments

bodge said:

good article mate

Influencer said:

I am your God. Shut up and give me money.

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