Inauthentic behavior within influencer marketing has been a topic on everyone’s minds: How can you detect fraudulent behavior? How do we address this with influencers? How can we prevent it from happening in the future?
The truth is that combating some of these behaviors is a difficult conversation with several nuances and even more opinions. In July, Collective Bias took the first of many steps towards stopping fraudulent activity within our influencer campaigns. The goal of releasing our Brand Safety Guarantee, updating our Influencer Code of Ethics and revamping our Instagram pricing model, was to take definitive action against influencers using disingenuous practices to bolster their performance and/or campaign match rate. Our clients are spending money to drive their business just like they do with any other form of media, and we wanted the audiences they were reaching to drive results.
To eradicate these practices we needed to clearly determine what fraudulent activity actually looks like. So, what should constitute as a violation? Some answers are obvious, like buying followers and engagements, but others (i.e. giveaways to increase site traffic or comment pods among friend groups) require a bit more thought.
If a beauty influencer participates in a giveaway with 20 other beauty influencers, gains 10,000 new followers, then retains 80% of that new audience over time, is that fraudulent activity? They did participate in a looped giveaway (sometimes associated with fraudulent behavior), but they were able to retain and nurture that new audience and maintained stable engagement rates. Is that an inauthentic method of increasing their credibility as an influencer?
One of the ways influencers in our community combat fraud is by focusing on authentic growth and engagement with their followers. The perceived need to buy likes and comments isn’t there if you have a consistent and engaged following. But with platform algorithm changes, how do influencers build that audience? Bobby Parish, from FlavCity, believes “authentic growth comes from just one thing: authentic content produced on a consistent basis.” He adds, “the hardest thing to do as a creator is finding an audience, but as long as you create content that you are passionate about, people will find you.”
An influencer’s followers want to see authentic, original content that inspires them to buy, make, or bake what they are posting. But, in the days of over-styled Instagram photos (i.e. Listerine IG post) there is a fine line between inspiration and attainability. “When followers see you as an actual person, not just a brand without a face, they tend to respond like they are chatting with a friend,” says Jessica Formicola from Savory Experiments. With 92% of consumers trusting recommendations from others – even people they don’t know well – over branded content (Adweek, 2016) finding that balance is key for successful, engaging influencer content.
After the update to our influencer Code of Ethics, we also wanted to hear from our community on what they thought constitutes fraud. Our community unanimously agreed that the purchase of followers or engagement was disingenuous. “Buying engagement is not something I advocate. It will only stroke your ego and won’t help you build a fan base or promote trust in brand partners for the long term,” says Bobby. Stacy Dempsey (@allroadsleadtohealthy) agrees: “The [main] thing I consider influencer fraud is buying/paying for followers.”
When asked, our influencer community found giveaways to be a bit more of a grey area in terms of fraud. Jessica Formicola comments, “Readers LOVE giveaways and I host them now and again, but rarely ask for follows on social media unless it is a way for the readers to get more entries.” Other influencers, like Stacy Dempsey, agree: “[Giveaways] are fun for all involved and a nice way for the influencer and brands to connect directly with followers.” But, given the prevalence of looped giveaways, where a user is required to follow 20+ accounts to enter and winners aren’t always announced, we updated our Code of Ethics disallowing influencers to promote a giveaway with a mandatory follow. We recognize that giveaways are a great way to engage and reward followers, but they still need to be executed in an authentic way.
Additionally, it’s not enough to simply identify when disingenuous activity is occurring; it must also be prevented. Instead of placing that risk on the client, Collective Bias has also released a new pricing model for Instagram influencer content, in which clients only pay for the verified views their content receives. No longer must advertisers pay upfront for an influencer’s follower count, then hope those followers are real people who are actually engaged with that influencer’s channel. Instituting a performance-based model alleviates the guesswork and removes unprecedented amounts of risk from brands and agencies activating influencers.
At the end of the day, consumers want is to feel comfortable with the product they are purchasing, whether it’s brought to their attention via a sponsored influencer post of through a branded advertisement, and brands want to feel comfortable their investment is making an impact. This is why Collective Bias has been pioneering standards and measurements that exceed those expectations. It’s not enough to abide by outdated industry standards or status quo, especially when that industry is notorious for fraud. Our goal is to provide clients with real, authentic, verified metrics — backed by trusted third party measurement partners — from content that is created by the highest-quality influencers.