07 Dec, 2017

Fake It Until You Make It: Influencer Marketing Gone Wrong


Influencer marketing has been a force to be reckoned with in the marketing sector, especially after social media took the world by storm, opening up new opportunities and new networks of communication throughout the world.

Once brands and individuals started to work together to achieve brand recognition and customer engagement, influencer marketing was born. Influencers became anyone with a large following base on social media, in particular, Instagram, and they continue to hold a large impact on our society today.

“After all, 67 percent of marketing professionals have admitted that social media influencers have helped them reach their target audience.” Ad Week reports. 

The beauty of influencer marketing lies in the fact that brands can specifically target a product towards one kind of audience, through another individual who has successfully done so themselves. It is seen in all forms of communication, like photos, videos, Instagram stories, Snapchat videos, you name it. The way influencers carry out their marketing techniques is based on the style and relationship they have with their audience. This puts brands in a unique place to be as personalized as possible, and not to mention, extremely engaging.

“Most influencers are very particular about what they will and will not post because their audience trusts them to only post content that they truly believe in and products they feel good about promoting.” Ad Week reports. 

Instagram is home to a vast amount of influencers, ranging from different industries. From the beauty industry to the sports world, to the fashion sector, influencers can be found posting and promoting brands that meet their individual interests or professions. These promotions are usually clear and transparent, which is an important part of the relationship that comes with this type of marketing.

But, what if that transparency is betrayed, not by the brand, but by the influencer themselves? Well, then you will be a part of influencer marketing fraud, which is becoming more and more common as social media users continue to grow.

Fake It Until You Make It – Gone Wrong

Marketers are beginning to question if some influencer marketers are in fact as influential as they say. In the growing influencer market, which has reached $1 billion dollars, many professionals are starting to gain some concerns regarding the credibility of the social media stars. For example, the idea that people are buying likes, to appear more popular, is a real problem that marketers have to combat before making any decisions with the individual.

“But some of that authenticity is fake, whether it’s using so-called Instagram pods, bots or buying followers, and many marketers are starting to question just what they’re really getting for their money,” DigiDay reports.

Since influencers make their money based on posts and likes, it is pretty easy for them to fake the engagement and make it more popular than what it really is. The downfall to this is that marketers will not accomplish their goals when it comes to reaching an audience since it is all fraudulent. This could end up being a big waste of time, money and resources for marketers, and it is an issue that is resonating with many professionals.

“I think there’s nothing more powerful than word-of-mouth and someone saying ‘I trust this brand, you should try it too.’ But with the way influencer marketing is set up today and how it’s operated from a brand and influencer perspective, it’s very very broken,” said Brian Salzman, founder and CEO of RQ agency. Mobile Marketer reports. 

DigiDay dug deep into this issue to pull statistics from a variety of outlets in order to reveal the truth behind fraudulent influencers, and just how much money marketers waste when this occurs:

  • A single day’s worth of posts tagged #sponsored or #ad on Instagram contained over 50 percent fake engagements, according to data from anti-fraud company Sway Ops. Out of 118,007 comments, only 20,942 were not made by bot followers.
  • Sway found that more than 15 percent of influencers who sign on to do sponsored posts (and take the product associated with it) never create a post.
  • Bot comments are responsible for over 40 percent of total comments for over 500 of 2,000 sponsored posts made each day, per Sway.
  • Pods remain a problem as well: Sway’s recent research found that out of 2,000 posts, an average of only 36 sponsored posts made per day contained no Instagram pod activity, fake comments, fake likes or uneven ratios of bot followers to engagements.

Taken from DigiDay.

Many experts believe that this fraudulent behavior comes from Instagram pods which makes up a group of Instagrammers who support one another through liking and engaging each others posts. These pods work as a sort of fan base and support system for influencers, but now, marketers believe they could be the cause of being fooled.

Since the Instagram pods work to increase certain people’s engagements, it could come off as deceiving, since the engagement is not coming from actual customers who would be interested in the brand’s products, or whatever the influencer is promoting. Although professionals have called out this type of engagement, influencers disagree.

“Many influencers use pods and say it’s totally legit. “I don’t see pods as a problem because bloggers in a similar set of interest groups are supportive of each other,” said one influencer who preferred not to be named.” DigiDay reports. 

There is a true concern among the influencer marketing scope that has to do with robots taking over the sector. Once an influencer is exposed to using bots to create more engagement, they are blacklisted from the ad community and considered a fraud. But, before this happens, marketers could easily fall into the trap of fake influencers.

“Some brands are frankly oblivious to the real-versus-fake-audience issue. They want audience size at any cost, and they’ve become desensitized to “paid followers/engagement” thanks to the platforms’ own ad products,” said Collectively CEO Alexa Tonner. DigiDay reports. 

Look Out For Bots

So, as a marketer, how can you combat all aspects of this type of marketing, and somehow control the influencer to meet your guidelines? This has been quite the issue while integrating influencer marketing, and marketers are continuing to search for answers.

One way to figure out if the influencer is fake or not is to some personal investigating. After all, if you are giving your brand or product over to one person to deliver it to your audience, it is important to do some groundwork before you can completely trust this influencer.

If you are looking for an influencer, and their followers have spiked overnight drastically, chances are that person has paid for them, and they are not organic or real individuals. This can be a good giveaway and an early detection. The same goes for comments, and if they increase rapidly. Although likes can sometimes be hard to detect, comments can be a bit easier. It is pretty easy to tell on Instagram when a comment is organic or fake. If the comment has nothing to do with the post or doesn’t correspond to the content, it is most likely fake.

How To Correctly Work With Influencers

Let’s face it, social media is huge, and the audience on social media is even bigger. As a business looking to implement influencers into marketing strategies, it is crucial to know who is who on social media, and even better, what they can do for you and your brand.

“While sounding obvious perhaps, you must identify the top influencers in your space, as these are the people who can help share your message with their audience” Forbes reports. 

This can consist of simply logging onto your desired social media platform of choice, find out the trends and learning who is the most influential in that space. Anyone with a following of 1,000 to 63,000+ is a prime influencer with the opportunity to communicate with a large volume of people (but don’t forget to look out for the bots.)

All in all, it is important for the person you chose to match your brand and your brand’s message. For example, if you are a fitness company, you may want to find someone on social media who are continuously working out, wearing gym apparel etc… otherwise, your brand will fall short and reach the wrong audience.

“Despite doing everything correctly, a marketing campaign that is poorly targeted is likely to go wrong. Hone in on your target audience. When it comes to influencer marketing, an audience’s interest is much more important than their age, gender or ethnicity. Find an influencer who has that audience and interests that you are trying to reach.” Ad Week reports. 

A brand’s value is as good as the influencer who promotes it. Making this decision is crucial, and like stated before, will take figuring out some groundwork before making the call. As scary as it sounds, you are putting your brand’s reputation in the hands of someone else. If that person messes up, represents it poorly, or just does an overall bad job, your brand is at risk of losing an audience.

Before I completely scare you away from the idea of influencer marketing, it is also important to understand that influencers on social media usually do more good than harm. They are real people, who usually believe in the product they are representing. The positive thing about influencers is that most of them will not promote a message they do not believe in. That just means you have one more advocate for your brand that may genuinely want to share with others. This can be a very positive thing, and will only help move your business forward, into the social media world!

All in all, being aware that fraudulent marketing is happening is important if you are conducting any marketing strategies regarding influencers. With the steps listed above, cover your bases and be careful out there!


With 53% of Marketers planning on adopting Artificial Intelligence in the next 2 years, the digital marketing revolution is just getting started. CMOs and CDOs alike are seeking new ways to maximize their digital reach to attract new business to, as well as deliver enrich, personalized experiences to existing customers.

Social media has made influencer marketing very important, and brands have leveraged this tool to expose their brands and products to a wider audience. The downfall of this type of marketing is when influencers are not always who they say they are, and turn out to be fraudulent. As a marketer, it is crucial to be able to spot these trends before making any business decisions regarding influencers. Learning first hand about the impact of social media, followers, and influencers, is how marketers can bring their business forward in a social-media dominant society.

Social media is just one aspect of marketing that has changed the way we communicate. It has transformed the priorities of marketing strategies and has opened brands up to a much larger audience. The fact that influencer marketing is a trend, is just one example of how the marketing landscape is shifting.

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