With the rise of social media, anyone and everyone today can easily voice their opinions publicly. Some people are capable of describing even the most mundane stuff in a way that engrosses people.
And because some people have this unique gift of creating compelling content, they have become modern day influencers. They are social media stars who have massive numbers of followers who trust their opinions.
But have you ever wondered what makes some people’s opinions more credible than those of others? Would you trust someone who endorses every sports drink and calls it the best? You’d certainly question their level of sincerity.
With the amount of resources you spend on influencer marketing, the last thing you need is a fake influencer. You need someone having genuine influence over their followers. Someone who shares their honest opinions which are not swayed by freebies or money.
So how do you spot a fake influencer? Let’s find out.
A Complete Guide to Spotting Fake Influencers
Who Are Fake Influencers?
Many companies sell fake followers. They create millions of fake accounts and enable bots to follow or unfollow accounts. They sell packages like the ones below.
Given how popular influencer marketing is, many scammers try to make some quick money by buying such followers. These are your fake influencers. They have false online identities, fake engagements, and fake followers.
Why Should You be Wary of Them?
It’s important that you understand the impact fake followers and influencers who buy fake engagement have on your brand. These red herrings are capable of hurting your business in a number of ways.
The effect they have is much like that of the fraudulent page views and clicks that hit the display advertisement industry. Bots, fake followers, and false engagement are bleeding brands and marketers for millions of dollars.
Fake influencers are doing nothing for your business except fluffing up your follower numbers and engagement rates. They are lulling you into a false sense of security. While those numbers may be on the rise, they’ll almost never culminate into anything substantial.
You’re unlikely to see a rise in your actual sales, which is the bottom-line metric for measuring your ROI. Which is precisely why you need to be looking at the right influencer marketing KPIs and metrics.
Not only are they having zero impact on your brand’s ROI, but they’re also hurting the industry. As a result of fake influencers, the efficacy of influencer marketing as an effective marketing strategy is diminishing considerably. Not to mention tarnishing the reputation of genuine influencers on social media.
As a brand, you definitely don’t want to associate yourself with such influencers. Nor do you want to waste your money on them. You need to know how to properly vet your candidates and weed out the fake ones. So here’s how you can go about spotting them.
How to Identify Fake Influencers?
1. Calculate the Engagement Rate
Engagement rates are the very first thing you need to check in order to weed out fake influencers. This refers to the percentage of likes, comments, or shares received on posts compared to the total number of followers. Generally, the average engagement rate of the most recent 20-30 posts are considered.
But, how do you calculate it? Using tools and platforms, unless of course, you’re keen on spending hours doing it manually. Grin’s influencer marketing platform can help you check follower counts, engagement rates, and average likes or comments.
So make sure to check the follower count and engagement rates of potential influencers against these benchmarks. If you notice a significant deviation, it’s a cause for concern. You might have a fake influencer on your hands.
2. Check the Quality of Engagement
Pay special attention to the comments section. With fake followers, you cannot have real engagement. The comments they post are likely to look spammy. If these are posted by bots, most comments are likely to look similar. Here’s an example.
As you can see, the names don’t look real. Most of them will have random display pictures or no display picture at all. And most importantly, the comments won’t look meaningful or thoughtful.
In order to weed out fake influencers, brands need to analyze the type of engagement an influencer gets. There can be spammy comments on genuine accounts too. However, the number of such comments will be considerably lower. You will notice quality engagement too. So, you must use your discretion here.
3. Be Wary of Newer Accounts that Have High Follower Counts
It takes time to impress followers and grow a following organically. If you see an account which is fairly new but has managed to get a sizable following, be cautious. Unless they’re a well-known celebrity, it’s not easy to get thousands of followers in a short span of time.
So it’s quite likely that these accounts have gained their followers by purchasing them. Some brands focus solely on the number of followers when they try to identify potential influencers. If you go by just the follower count, you can easily end up collaborating with fake influencers.
Organic follower growth happens gradually, and will look something like this.
Paid follower growth will have random, unnatural spikes as shown in the figure below. A spike like this can sometimes be credited to a mention by some prominent influencer too. But just to be sure, you can look at their earned media as well.
For instance, here we don’t see a significant rise in the earned media value. This doesn’t correlate with the spike in followers we see. This is rather uncommon among genuine influencers. It’s an indicator that the influencer might have purchased a certain number of followers for themselves.
4. Check for Sudden Spikes in Engagement
If you’re looking at engagement rates, and notice arbitrary or sudden spikes in engagement, it’s a red flag. The comments, shares, and likes could be due to some kind of reciprocal arrangement with a particular set of people. Everyone engages with everybody else’s posts, thereby increasing their engagement rates.
You’ll see that there are sudden spikes in engagement after October 1, 2016. When you analyze the engagement rate, it becomes obvious.
If someone has around 90K followers, and they receive more than 10K likes and comments per post, the engagement rate is unnatural. An authentic engagement rate of a celebrity influencer is generally between 1.5% to 3%.
5. Check the Ratio of Followers to Following
Real influencers have a large follower to following ratio. For every person they follow, they should have at least 3 people following them back. The more, the merrier.
This ratio conveys authenticity. If an influencer’s followers to following ratio is 1:1, this could be a warning sign. If an account follows more people than the ones who follow them back, they’re probably not an influencer yet.
There may be exceptions to this rule too. So you need to conduct a thorough check to spot any fake influencers.
6. Review Post Content and Tone
When scouting for genuine influencers, it is important for you to review the posts of potential influencers. You need to gauge their tone and personality.
Sometimes accounts with large follower counts are actually trolls. Trolling is a form of online attack on a personality. Trolls unleash their wrath on specific people who hold different views or support a particular group.
Trolls can not add value to a brand because of the vile nature of their posts. You need to review the posts of your potential influencer to avoid any controversies in future. You need someone who shares the same kind of values as your brand.
7. Check the Locations of an Influencer’s Followers
Influencer management tools or platforms can help you analyze various aspects of an influencer's account. One way of discerning whether the influencer is fake or real is by doing a little research into their followers. Try to check the locations his followers are based out of.
If most of their followers belong to one area, it’s likely that you have a fake influencer on your hands. Also, bots generally do not provide locations. So, if there is no clarity on where most of an influencer’s followers are from, be cautious.
8. Snoop Around on Online
Yes, Google might yet again come to your rescue and help you filter through your candidates. A quick search on it and you’ll get a reasonably good idea of the influencer’s authority on social media channels.
Look up the value of their earned media, their backlinks, and mentions. A good way to establish their authority is to check out the sites they may have published guest posts on. Even if their following on social media isn’t as big as you’d hoped, their general online presence is an indicator of their authenticity.
Look up their already existing content on social media for posts tagged as #ad or #sponsored. This way you can check out the brands they’ve previously collaborated with. Which will help you gauge whether or not the person promotes things that are of actual value to their audience. Or are they the kind who will promote anything and everything.
For successful influencer marketing, it’s important to find the right influencers for your brand and budget. You need to be clear about the goals and objectives that you are trying to achieve.
Fake influencers will simply eat away your budgets without giving you any significant returns. So it is important that you analyze the profiles of your potential influencers properly. Following the tactics mentioned above can help you weed out fake influencers and collaborate with real influencers.
Do you have any more ideas or tips about spotting a fake influencer? We would love to hear from you, so let us know in the comments below.
Brian Mechem is COO and Co-Founder of Grin, a software solution for companies who run influencer marketing programs. Grin's software powers some of the best influencer programs in the world, providing insights on ROI and adding efficiency to the influencer marketing process.