Fraud is a problem in influencer marketing. Increasingly, influencer profiles emerge, showing fake follower numbers, fake reach and false commitment. For advertisers, this means that checking the influencer for a campaign becomes even more important. Philip Papendieck, co-founder of the influencer agency Intermate, reveals how to track down fake numbers, why rethinking is important and what social fame has to do with it.
LEAD: Instagram has become a tough business – and there are black sheep cheating there as well. What are the possibilities for fraud?
Philip Papendieck: The most well-known and simplest fraud agent is the Follower. Within seconds you can boost your own profile. Also, one does not plunge into the debt here: The TKP is here, for example, at six euros.
Since the algorithm of Instagram and the interaction is becoming increasingly important, you can now also engagement – so Likes – buy. Follower and engagement buying are the two most common things out there.
But of course there are also other tricks: for example, the so-called WhatsApp groups. Here, influencers or smaller users organize themselves and like and comment on each other’s latest posts. This keeps the engagement, click rate, and amount of comments high.
A fourth possibility of fraud is the use of bots. One can use technical means, so that they like as their own profile, for example, posts from other users comment or follow. The so-called Like and Follow Bots can also be booked on certain platforms.
How do you control your influencers for fraud as an agency?
We review our influencers using our own technology.
In the first step we select to KPIS. It does not matter which influencers we have before us. We look at the numbers, the target audience and the performance. Does the influencer have a good organic level, is there a good natural growth? Then it’s the topic of trust. How strong is the community, there were at certain times a special growth in the followers, so-called stairs in growth – this could be a hint for obvious follower purchase, but it does not have to.
For example, if an influencer was featured on the Explore page on Instagram, or interacted with another large account, there could have been a large and true follower growth here as well. All this has to be checked and analyzed. Therefore, it is also important to include more factors in the analysis of fraud.
Therefore, we next look at the follow-follower structure. How many followers follow the influencer, who follow very many accounts and how many followers do these people have? What is the comment frequency – here we see how many comments appear in which frequency among the pictures of individual accounts.
Commenting on the same people in the same words under the pictures of the follower, this can be a hardcore fan, but also a bot. Here then the commentator must be considered accurately. For example, we check the origin of the follower, but also what his profile looks like. For example, user name anomalies may indicate a bot.
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A demographic check of all followers is important anyway – because especially fake followers often come from relevant countries or countries to which the influencer has no direct reference. But here, too, you can buy “real” followers from your own country of origin for a little more money. Also, let’s see what the commitment of the influencer’s followers is. For example, there are fake profiles that even have followers and uploaded content that seem to be “real”. But if these profiles then have an extremely low engagement rate, this also speaks for fake accounts. From all these factors can then derive the resilience of the community.
Every influencer with a critical Audience Credibilty flies out!
But not every influencer knows what kind of bots that appear on the profile, right?
Right. Even influencers who have never cheated on engagement or follower buying are bots or do not have 100% audience credibility. This is hardly possible for influencers with 100,000 followers or more. But: Every influencer who is below a critical limit of audience-credibility flies out.
Do you also secure your contract with campaigns?
Yes! In addition to our technical and manual pre-selection, our influencers sign a contract with us in campaigns in which they assure that the engagement as well as the followers are genuine.
How can companies protect themselves from fraud influencers?
To be honest: only with technical tools. Many companies still hire and pay influencers with high follower numbers and do not even check the demographics. So the most important basics to make sure I put my budget into real engagement.
Of course you can secure yourself through contracts, but to be honest: You can not really check it manually. Here it needs a technical tool.
Often, the increase in followers is more important than the fight against fraud
How do you think influencers can best protect against fraud?
It is super hard to protect yourself as an influencer from involuntary bot infestation. My tip: You should always keep a close eye on your engagement rate as well as your own follower growth and changing demographics of your own channel. For example, if I only post in German, but notice a sudden increase in international followers, I can check where they come from, or because my profile may have been hyped or featured somewhere. So I recognize early changes that supposedly come from nowhere and can get to the bottom of them.
But I’m afraid that’s what few influencers do and that the increase in followers is more important to them. Many forget that it will scratch their credibility and audience credibility in the long term.
Have you ever imposed penalties because a fraud has been detected in retrospect?
In fact, we have many clauses in our contracts, ranging from late payment penalties to claims for damages. If something was overlooked or overlooked in the execution of the campaign, such as an incorrect or no hashtag, despite extensive briefings, we have already made budget cuts.
However, we did not have that in terms of Instagram fraud, as we are trying to sort out such influencers in advance. If a customer still wants a profile without a resilient community in his campaign, we will point him there.
Contractual coverage of fraud is more an attempt to sensitize influencers to work honestly and above all professionally. The technological examination thus forms the basis of the selection, the contract the legal framework.
Is a rethinking of the industry necessary to avert fraud and “ever higher, ever further”?
A rethinking is absolutely necessary and must take place in the long term. The better one can check the profiles for hard KPIs, the better the influencer can of course choose. We always ask our customers first what they want to achieve with the marketing campaign. For example, if I want to publicize the brand, it’s worth driving up the brand’s visibility. So, for example, I select ten influencers who have a lot of follower overlap so that the individual follower often gets to see the brand as well. It does not have to be a huge influencer here.
Here you have to observe influencer campaigns and be open to new things or changes. The more complex and flexible campaigns become, the more verifiable they become. This also benefits influencer marketing, as successful campaigns result in this marketing branch being trusted.
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The higher the number of followers, the more dependent one is on digital approval
What will Instagram change in the future to get a better and more honest platform?
Instagram itself knows that the influencers have tremendous value for the platform. When there are good, credible influencers on the platform, good content comes along, which in turn attracts the users, who in turn respond to advertisements that I can serve as a platform. So I’m sure Instagram will do a lot more in the future to give the influencer accounts even more insight and analytics.
Your personal opinion on Fraud: Can you understand the temptation for the Instagram scam?
I see the topic of influencer marketing from two perspectives – professional and personal. From a personal point of view, of course, I can understand the temptation of the Fraud. It’s great that we have platforms where people – without knowing each other in person – can talk and hypnotise each other. At the same time, of course, this creates an extreme pressure.
The Vanity Fair recently had an interview with still-young singer Billie Eilish, who now has 25 million followers (as of June 2019). The interview revealed that social fame does not necessarily make you happier. The higher the number of followers, the more dependent I will be on the digital response. One becomes addicted to the confirmation and also anxious that it could eventually be over. So it gets some to uphold the commitment and the numbers. The social fame is then the addictive substance: people do not want it to end.
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