Faking friends and influencing people

As consumers continue to take advantage of the opportunities to access new products via social media, influencers and celebrities have become a marketing juggernaut. Brands pay them vast amounts to endorse their products.

Fake followers: The big social media con
Fake followers: The big social media con

But has it all gone wrong after the Unilever discovery that approximately 20% of mid-level influencers’ followers are fake?

As influencer costs reached new levels, Unilever started to monitor follower quality to get some clarity on what they suspected was going on. After all, influencers are only as valuable as their followers.

Why does it matter?

“Unilever uses followers to figure out how much to pay someone,” Paul Kahn of Upfluence, an influencer marketing company, told The Hustle. “So when people claim to have 50% more followers than they actually do — and Unilever pays them millions — it’s a real problem.”

To add to the dilemma, a New York Times investigation also revealed that 15% of Twitter users were bots and that “paid followers” often ended up being fake profiles.

It started off so well

It’s likely the reason many people open and run a social media account, whether Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. is to gain recognition for what they do are or trying to achieve.

So whether that’s to become a social influencer and potentially earn large paybacks from brands, promote a blog or book, or to raise awareness of a product or business, the ultimate aim, for most, is to improve their reach.

But what became apparent to the brands paying the rewards to social influencers is that engagement, and people taking action when exposed to a product or service is what drives sales. It’s not about the number of people who may or may not look at what you’re posting, just because they follow you.

Digiday shared some interesting statistics last year shedding light on the scale of the problem within influencer marketing:

  • Over 50% of posts containing #ad or #sponsored were found to be fake in one day alone!
  • Bot accounts were responsible for 97,065 comments out of 118,007

Why shouldn’t you buy fake followers?

Apart from the obvious (that it’s cheating!), a large following doesn’t provide anything other than a large number in the corner of your screen. That large number used to indicate credibility. It suggested you must be either incredibly interesting or very important. Not anymore!

Now it can impact massively on your integrity and consumers’ trust in you. And people are getting found out. It may not be immediately obvious that followers have been bought, but increasing from 50 to 50,000 followers or likes in a couple of days is bound to get people suspicious. And that’s when integrity and reputations are at risk.

Ineffective campaign partners

Fake engagement and the need to continue that cycle to keep the numbers up added to the risk of account deletion, making the collaboration between such influencers and brands a bad idea from the start.

As influencer marketing techniques continue to improve and data-driven analytics tools are increasingly used, it will become easier for marketers to filter out the genuine from fake accounts.

A tool is allowing easier identification of fake accounts.

The ability to detect fake likes and followers have (or should!) become an important part of any credible marketer’s procedure before hiring influencers.

The Fake Followers Check check from Status people analyses Twitter followers to see how many are fake. And you can use this tool on accounts other than your own too.

Numbers aren’t everything.

In IT, marketing and social media data are important; it’s the metric we all turn to prove our success or failure. But numbers aren’t everything.

There is little to gain for a brand which is paying a social influencer handsomely if they are reaching thousands of people, few of whom share their tastes, morals, ideals. They simply wouldn’t be interested in what he/she is endorsing because they are not connected through mutual interests. So it can’t work effectively as a revenue stream for the company.

What’s more important to look at is:

  • How many people engage with you on a regular basis
  • How many Twitter lists people have added you to
  • How many leads and sales social media is driving
  • How much traffic to your website is your social media campaign driving

How to grow your followers without faking it

There are many ways to grow followers without risks. Buying is still an option – but only if you’re paying for Facebook or Twitter advertising to boost your followers!

But even more effective is providing value to people as this will grow your followers in the right way. By appealing and connecting to the right people you more likely to engage and encourage them to follow you.

Many are getting it right

A brand who really is getting the influencer relationship right is Audible. Linking to popular vlogger Jack Douglas. Jack integrated Audible content into his regular JackAsk series where he answers any question fans ask and created a hilarious acronym of Audible to illustrate his point.

The combination of humour, regular content, sponsorship and advertising is a winning formula. The audience is likely to try out his recommendations as they already feel they know and trust him.

They even provide links for free books that can be shared by their influencers, creating more engagement and providing an effective metric for monitoring success.