Influencer fraud – how can influencers influence big brands to choose them while losing their influence


How Influencer Fraud Is Hurting Brands and What Can Be Done About It

Influencer marketing is getting more and more popular since in the age of advertising people usually trust more in the opinion of another customer than in a simple ad. Advertisers often seek influencers who have a large group of followers within a specific niche or industry. In fact, the increased reliance on social media and content marketing by consumers has turned influencer marketing into a multi-billion dollar industry. While there are many potential benefits of attracting the attention of the right influencer to spread the word about a brand, there are some influencers who use deceptive tactics. The reason for that is – of course – money: brands choose influencers with more followers. But are these followers real and will they ever convert? Similarly to the whole ad tech industry, influencer marketing is not free of fraud and the shadows of malign bots. In our current article we take a deeper look at the phenomenon itself and at the tactics to avoid it.


Types of Influencer-Related Fraud

Influencer fraud can be put into two basic categories. The first type of fraud occurs when an influencer doesn’t disclose when posts are sponsored by a major marketer. This is what caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) when brands, including i.e. Johnson & Johnson and Chanel failed to disclose that their social media endorsements were really paid ads. In situations like this, it’s not clear that an influencer is endorsing a product because they honestly like the brand or if it’s just because they are being paid to promote it on their social page.


The other type of fraud – and honestly, this is the worse one – is the initial intention to give a false impression to marketers and advertisers looking to partner with someone with huge follower base. This fraud – that is similar in nature to bot fraud – is used to make a social page look more attractive to advertisers. While it can be argued that influencers who use paid endorsements may actually like the products involved, this type of deception is more intentional. It happens when an influencer wants to give the impression that they have more followers and likes with paid bot traffic. False impressions of followers can also be created with automated bot software. This type of software links fake accounts to an influencer’s page.


How Legitimate Brands Get Duped

When influencers use deceptive tactics to give a false impression of being more “influential” than they really are, it can cause a domino effect: everyone wants to be partnered with, so more and more of them “buy” followers in order to seem more desirable to advertisers. Why is this a problem? If a business happens to partner with one of these deceptive influencers, they assume their brand is getting more visibility than it really does. Unfortunately, it’s not easy for brands to avoid getting duped because there’s a “black market” of sorts where fake influencers can purchase thousands of followers for as little amount as twenty-five dollars. And poor honest influencers just want to boost their real follower base with some newly acquired fake ones to keep up with them.

Businesses lacking the resources to carefully check out every single influencer often focus only on how many followers they’re seeing on social pages. Some social media influencers go a step further to scam advertisers by purposely gaming the algorithms on social platforms like Instagram. They do this by partnering with other influencers to share comments on posts on a recurring basis. This extra engagement causes Instagram’s algorithms to display an influencer’s content more prominent and create misleading Instapods (group chats among like-minded individuals).


However, any tactics that artificially boost an influencer’s stats can hurt brands’ pockets. Some influencer’s form deals with brands based on the potential visibility being featured on their page could provide. When part of that visibility isn’t generated by actual customer engagement, brands are actually paying more and getting less, so their ROI is decreasing.

How Influencer Fraud Affects Influencers Who Truly Influence

The rise of fraud is cause of concern for legitimate influencers as well. It can be difficult to form relationships if brands have doubts about stats. So, what can an honest influencer do? Due to lack of insight in the “influencer fraud industry,” real influencers can only continue to cultivate beneficial brand relationships, work on establishing a good reputation and hope for the best.

What Brands and Agencies Can Do

As of right now, there is no perfect solution to influencer fraud. It’s not only a problem for brands, but for their customers as well, some of whom may also be tricked into trusting the opinion of influencers only looking out for themselves. Both agencies and brands can minimize their risk of fraud by asking the right questions when seeking to build relationships and eyeing metrics that matter. Realistically, followers and likes aren’t the main metrics that should be used when choosing an influencer. Click-through rates and engagement patterns are far more meaningful when it comes to determining ROI and spotting signs of fraud.


Brands need to dive a little deeper and pay attention to “follower health.” This is a metric that tracks follower activity patterns. Activity that’s generated by bots only can show patterns that don’t seem as random as normal human interaction does. One way to spot fraudulent influencer activity is by looking at comments on their social pages. Comments by fake followers are usually short, positive, and vague.

Fraudsters have a bigger is better mindset, which is why they purposely pad their stats. But size isn’t everything and most of the time it doesn’t mean that much. There are plenty of “micro-influencers” (satisfying only a niche) with smaller, but loyal social followers that can provide better engagement with less risk.


Another preventative measure is to simply get in the habit of going beyond raw stats and spend more forming mutually beneficial relationships with influencers that includes actively communicating back and forth. Additional precautions brand can take to reduce the risk of being fooled by fake influencers include:

  • Making an attempt to engage with some of the followers
  • Noticing disproportionately low engagement rates based on the number of followers
  • Taking the time to check out the social pages of some followers on an influencer’s page to see if they look like legitimate pages
  • Forming and maintaining relationships with known, trustworthy influencers
  • Spreading budget dollars among several influencers rather than focusing primarily on one or two

When the proper precautions are taken, partnering with the right influencers can be a smart investment and an effective way to increase your brand’s visibility among searchers likely to be interested in what you have to offer. Avoid potential issues and damage to your brand with We’re the only ad verification company offering and end-to-end solution to cover fraud, brand safety, and visibility across various digital campaigns and affiliate networks. Whether you are concerned about bot fraud or you have suspicions about certain influencers, we’ll help you make worry-free advertising and marketing investments. Contact us today to learn more about our influencer and ad fraud services.

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