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The world of influencer marketing is getting more controversial by the day. According to a recent study conducted by a professor at the University of Baltimore, influencer marketing fraud will cost brands up to $1.3 billion in 2019. In fact, as much as 15% of all advertiser spending on influencer marketing will be wasted, as brands pay for followers and fans that don’t really exist.
The bottom line here is that it’s far too easy to buy fans and followers, and that’s something even the big A-list influencers are guilty of doing. As a result, even when dealing with celebrity influencers, brands may think they are reaching hundreds of thousands of people with their ads, but the reality may be far bleaker. It’s safe to assume that 90% of an influencer’s audience will never see the sponsored post they were supposed to see.
Reasons behind poor performance of influencer marketing
One reason, of course, has to do with the algorithms. Even if you sign up to follow a certain influencer, there’s no guarantee that the big social media platforms will actually show you all of that person’s content. Take the Facebook algorithm, for example. If you have demonstrated in the past that you never, ever interact with a certain brand’s content, you will likely never see content from that brand. And if certain influencers never get their content to “pop” on social media, then Facebook is not going to reward them just because they claim to have a lot of followers and fans.
And another reason has to do with followers of the influencers who have exited the platform entirely, or moved on to bigger and better things. In other words, it might have seemed like a good idea a few years ago to follow a certain influencer, but hey, tastes change, and maybe you’ve embraced someone new. It happens all the time in real life, right?
Key signs to watch for brands
So before you decide to allocate a huge chunk of your digital advertising spend to influencer marketing, it’s worth doing some initial due diligence. For example, check to see how long the influencer has been active on a certain platform. New accounts created within the past 12-18 months may be from fake influencers trying to scoop up some of the digital ad dollars that the big brands are throwing around.
And, more importantly, check to see what kind of engagement each post from that influencer is getting. If a mega-influencer claims to have 100,000 followers, but each new photo on Instagram is only picking up 100 likes, then there’s likely a problem with ghost followers. You can’t expect every follower to like everything you do, but you can certainly assume a certain level of engagement. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your money.
Not the end of influencer marketing
While paying for eyeballs that don’t really exist may be an ongoing problem for brands, that’s not to say that the shine if entirely off influencer marketing. By just about any metric, influencer marketing works better than just about any other form of social media advertising. Because, let’s face facts, who really buys something based on a random Facebook ad from an unknown brand? According to digital agency Edelman, 63% of consumers still trust influencers more than brands’ own advertising. And, according to one metric tracked by Edelman, real influencers (not the “fake” influencers with paid-for followers) are six times more powerful than celebrities in driving the purchase decision.
The big takeaway from the latest figures on influencer marketing fraud is that getting lots of new followers is easy on social media, but actually getting engagement from those followers is hard. With that in mind, brands should always be willing to pay up for influencers who can demonstrate engagement and the ability to convert followers into buyers.