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A Complete Guide to Spotting Fake Influencers in 2020

A cardboard camera sitting on a brown surface, showcasing the Complete Guide to Spotting Fake Influencers in 2020.

While social media is a positive tool for many, it can be difficult to sort truth from lies. As social media aggregators work hard to manage fake news, another negative reality about social media is that fake influencers occasionally dupe marketers.

Fake influencers cost brands extra time and money. More importantly, they will not be able to deliver the results that you expect. Thankfully, spotting fake influencers is something you can learn to do.

Some social media power users have the unique gift of creating compelling content, and as a result, they have earned their “influencer” title. By contrast, fake influencers did no such thing.

With the time and money your brand spends on influencer marketing, the last thing you need is to waste those resources on fake influencers.

So how do you spot a fake influencer? Let’s find out.

What Are Fake Influencers?

Fake influencers give the appearance of a large following, but in reality, their audience is much smaller.

Curating an online community requires trust and authenticity. Fake influencers think that they can jumpstart their influencer career by buying followers and likes. But they are wrong. 

Brands need to think about what makes influencers so powerful as marketers. The value that influencers deliver results from the level of trust between themselves and their audience. Authenticity builds this trust. Fake influencers bypass this authenticity completely.

The “Buy More Followers” Scam

With the rise of influencer marketing as a legitimate industry, some companies offer aspiring influencers the opportunity to pose as real influencers.

But buying followers is not a victimless scam. The New York Times exposed one marketing firm for using such tactics, making an example of what the Times labeled a “shadowy global marketplace for social media fraud.” 

In more severe scams, agencies promising thousands of new followers may be guilty of social identity theft. With social identity theft, scammers use existing social profile information to duplicate real people online and pose as new followers.

Fake influencers don’t merely buy their counterfeit followers for the initial “like.” They may also hire scammers to post comments, share posts, and create user-generated content during a paid influencer campaign.

Instagram Removing Likes

In 2019, Instagram took a bold step to hide like and follower metrics from non-account holders. One reason for doing so was to subvert the efforts of fake influencers and showcase more authentic engagement, such as post comments and shares.

The general public showed some initial concern, but the benefits instantly outweighed the positives. Influencers and marketers alike were able to find one another more easily. 

Instagram also added more analytics capabilities for influencers on their Creator Account. Influencers are still able to see their own likes and access metrics to help them grow their audience.

TikTok Creating More Ways to Engage

Social media channels are not just making it harder for fake influencers to succeed; they are also adding more engagement features. One clear example is the rise of TikTok.

The founders of TikTok had influencers in mind when they built their vertical video social platform. To incentivize authentic engagement, they created video responses, duets, and challenges for their users.

As social media adds ways for followers to engage posts with more meaningful user-generated content, fake influencers are slowly losing their popularity and effectiveness.

Why Should You Be Wary of Fake Influencers?

Fake influencers do two things:

  • They fail to produce any significant ROI.
  • They may even hurt your brand.

When a fake influencer promotes your brand to bots and duplicated social media profiles, engagement will be mediocre, at best. You will fail to reach your objectives. For obvious reasons, fake influencers cannot deliver many sales.

Because fake influencers “achieved” their status disingenuously, they have no problem deceiving you about expectations. They may even accept payment, knowing that they won’t be able to meet your campaign goals.

Additionally, fake influencers frequently send their “followers” your way. Increased web traffic and company page follower counts look good on the surface. But without realizing it, you could end up purchasing the same fake followers that deceitfully prop up your phony influencer.

You can tarnish your brand image by using a fake influencer and unintentionally amassing counterfeit followers for your own social media pages. If a customer were to do a little digging, they would quickly uncover your audience of fake profiles.

And while fake influencers may be deceiving some marketers, they are not convincing consumers. Potential customers that come across a fake influencer post know very quickly that the product/service promotion is just as fake as the influencer’s “following.”

How to Identify Fake Influencers?

If you know what to look for, fake influencers are easy to spot. Here are nine ways to identify those influencers and protect your influencer marketing program.

  1. Calculate the Engagement Rate.

Likes and followers are helpful metrics to have. But real engagement metrics include post comments, shares, hashtags, and other social media responses that require users to exert effort beyond one click.

When vetting influencers, you can manually calculate their engagement rate by dividing the number of meaningful post engagements by their follower count.

Engagement Rate = Post Engagements / Number of Followers

If you’re using an influencer automation tool like GRIN, the software will generate these engagement metrics for you.

  1. Check the Quality of Engagement.

If you look closely at post comments, you can quickly tell whether or not a comment is legitimate. For example, fake influencers paying a third party for false engagement will have a lot of short comments with very little substance.

“You can easily tell if they’re legitimate comments – not from bots or comment pods – by just going in and looking. If it’s all just raised hand emojis or hearts with love and non-conversational, that might be a red flag.” – Ethan Frame on 0 to 100 Getting Started With Influencer Marketing: Chapter Two: Finding Influencers

In some cases, manufactured comments demonstrate that the “person” who engages has a poor grasp of the native language. Other times, grammar and spelling errors are “over the top.”

Quality engagement will reflect authentic responses from members of the influencer’s audience.

  1. Note Newer Accounts that Have High Follower Counts.

Nurturing a following in the thousands takes time. If an influencer has only been active for a short period and still has an audience in the thousands, you may be dealing with a fake influencer.

Paid follower growth will have random, unnatural spikes. A spike like this can sometimes be credited to a prominent influencer mention. But just to be sure, you should look at their earned media value.

In the case of influencer marketing, earned media value (EMV) refers to user-generated content in response to quality influencer posts. Since fake influencers manufacture their follower counts, they will have low EMV.

  1. Check for Sudden Spikes in Engagement.

Similarly, you can spot a fake influencer if they went from low to suddenly high engagement in a matter of days or weeks. Additionally, some engagement rates are simply unrealistic.

For example, if someone has around 90 thousand followers, and they receive more than 10 thousand likes and comments per post, the engagement rate is unnatural. An authentic engagement rate for a celebrity influencer is generally between 1.5% to 3%.

Good influencers usually achieve high engagement from the beginning when they only have a handful of followers. More importantly, they’re able to sustain respectable engagement rates as they expand their audience. 

  1. Check the Ratio of Followers to Following.

Reciprocal engagement “favors” between fake influencers can show up in follower to following ratios.

Real influencers have a significant follower to following ratio. For every person they follow, they should have at least three people following them back. In many cases, the ratio may be even higher.

This 1:3+ ratio conveys authenticity. If an influencer’s follower to following ratio is 1:1, you might be dealing with a fake influencer. 

That said, some influencers are exceptions to the rule. Using the additional steps listed here, you should be able to identify if the less-than-1:3 ratio is a false signal.

  1. Review Post Content and Tone.

Sometimes you can spot fake influencers right away by reading their posts.

Does the person over-sell the product? Are some of the posts off-putting or even cringe-worthy?

Always in the spotlight, influencers learn quickly to use inclusive, positive, and lifestyle-specific language with their followers. When they promote a brand, they can do so naturally and in a way that excites members of their audience.

Trolling is another way that fake influencers manufacture engagement. When an individual regularly attacks other social media personalities (and causes), they may amass a sizable following of equally disparaging and immature users.

  1. Check the Locations of an Influencer’s Followers.

An American social media user with followers primarily in non-English-speaking parts of the world could indicate that you’re dealing with a fake influencer. Similarly, you can spot fake influencers by how many of their followers even list a location. 

Authentic influencers usually generate online communities targeting regions of the world or among those that share the same language(s). Most followers are generally upfront about their location in their social profiles.

  1. Use Search Engine Research.

Sometimes the easiest way to spot fake influencers is to Google them. Real influencers have a strong digital presence, to include guest blogs, backlinks, and third-party mentions. 

You should sift through the individual’s existing content on social media for posts tagged as #ad or #sponsored. Doing so will give you an idea of the brands they’ve collaborated with in the past.

Even if an influencer’s following on social media isn’t as big as you’d hoped, the quality of their online presence is an indicator of their authenticity.

  1. Invest in IRM software.

When it’s not apparent that an influencer is real or fake, performing “deep dive” research on those individuals can prove time-consuming.

As your influencer program grows, you will want to invest in influencer automation software. An IRM tool like GRIN can help you track engagement, sort/filter post comments, and measure the quality of an influencer’s online presence.

Finding the Right Influencers

After weeding out fake influencers, you’ll want to focus on those influencers that are the best match for your brand. Pay attention to their voice, values, and the camaraderie that they nurture with their online community.

In a recent 0-100 webinar (Chapter Two – Identify Influencers), Ethan Frame from MVMT Watches discussed his approach to finding the best influencers for his brand.

“When I get the question, ‘How do I find influencers?’ I’ll tell you right now that the best and most successful influencers we’ve found have always been just ‘going down the rabbit hole’ and finding people on Instagram or YouTube. Sometimes just doing the dirty work of getting in there and following people for a little while.”

Whether you happened upon a particular influencer or found them in a list, it is always important to watch them on social media to get a sense of their audience and posting style.

Participation in GRIN’s 0 to 100 Getting Started With Influencer Marketing webinar is free. If you’d like to learn more about finding the right influencers and scaling your influencer program, you can sign-up here.

In the June 17 webinar (Chapter Three – Influencer Budget), influencer marketing professionals discuss different kinds of influencers and how to detect fake ones. Participants also debunk common myths associated with finding the right influencers for your brand.

In Conclusion: Spotting Fake Influencers

Spotting fake influencers will help you recruit the right influencers for your brand. If you’ve not already done so, consider adding some of our suggestions above to your influencer vetting process. 

With greater experience and the help of influencer marketing software tools, it will become easier to separate real influencers from their fake counterparts. As you nurture long-term relationships with your top-performing influencers, you can lower your risk of losing time and money to fake influencers.

This article originally appeared in the Grin.co blog and has been published here with permission.

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