Illusion of many

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In the digital economy, as brands race to engage with influencers to enhance their consumer outreach, they are likely dealing with a heavy influx of fake followers of their esteemed influencers.

A report by Points North Group that measures influencer marketing reveals that up to 20% influencer followers are likely fraud. Brands that top the list with most fake followers amongst their paid influencers are Ritz-Carlton with 78%, L’Occitane with 39% and Pampers with 32%, among others.

Experts say this issue of fakes is rampant. “It is a widespread and well-practised habit across the influencer network. I have come across multiple influencers using fake followers,” says Sahil Siddiqui, AVP, creative strategy, WATConsult, a digital and social media agency.

Influencer marketing is crucial to brands today. Pranay Swarup, CEO and co-founder of influencer marketing firm Chtrbox, says one of the largest advantages influencers offer brands is the ability to humanise their content and tell stories from a person’s perspective. “It allows for branded content creation in various styles, tonalities, languages, use-cases. Influencers come with their unique distribution strengths and can get the word out faster than push mechanisms.”

But fake followers can wreck havoc. “Most brand-influencer relations are monetary. The money is real. Any relation where the money is real but the product is not is called a fraud,” says Siddiqui. Estimates show that of the roughly 15% digital marketing budget, around 5% is spent purely on influencer marketing by brands.

One of the multiple ways in which fakes damage a brand is by manipulating the choice of a consumer and influencing them without being authentic, says Sahil Chopra, CEO and founder, iCubesWire, a digital marketing firm.

“With the growing egg accounts, it is difficult to evaluate beforehand where a certain influencer will prove beneficial for the brand. It is imperative to realise that the visibility of content via good engagement is more necessary than gaining followers. An influencer might have a huge following, but if they are not real-time people engaging with the brand, it stands useless in the long run. Thus, money and time which the brand gives the influencer get wasted,” says Chopra. By using an influencer with fake followers, the brand reaches a dummy audience, points out Swarup. “Moreover, the brand will not get quality content that conveys the brand story well.”

How best can brands identify and weed out influencers with fake followers? Palki Malhotra, vice president, Plixxo, an influencer marketing platform, says the issue can be identified by gaging the engagement on the influencer’s posts. ”The follower count has little to no relevance if the influencer’s audience is not engaging with their content. Brands can also request insights on their posts.”

Swarup says even good influencers on an average have a 2-8% follower base made up of bots, which end up following profiles organically. “However for influencers that buy followers, bots range from 20-70%,” says Swarup, adding that many fake follower profiles originate from Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia and Russia. “If an influencer stands out by having a high percentage of followers from these countries without good reason (like personal/professional connections with these countries), it is likely that they have been purchasing their followers.”

Experts say another method of identifying fakes is to look for spikes in the growth of influencer followers and evaluate if there’s been any authentic reason for the sudden spikes. ”Similarly, a new profile that has suddenly got a lot of followers, but has limited posts or accounts that have a high following to follower ratio. Our deep data analysis can help identify influencers most relevant to a brand. We can refer to engagement rates, social media value, sentiment analysis, check for rival brands mentioned, etc.,” says Swarup.


20% – Influencer followers are likely fraud, says a report by Points North Group

2-8% – Follower base made up of bots, which end up following profiles organically

  • For influencers that buy followers, bots range from 20-70%
  • Fakes damage a brand by manipulating choice of consumer
  • Money and time which the brand gives the influencer get wasted

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