Marketers Created the Influencer Fake Follower Army: Where Do We Go From Here?

Opinion: Measuring quality of engagement serves as a better proxy

Some brand influencers purchase fake followers to help boost their numbers Mykyta Dolmatov/iStock

Fake followers have grown as a concern for marketers partnering with influencers on branded content. Despite the roadblocks that brand marketers face when tasked with partnering with influencers as an extension of their brands, the landscape of influencer marketing continues to rapidly expand and evolve. In fact, 62 percent of brand marketers are planning to increase their influencer marketing budgets this year alone.

When approached correctly, the benefits of leveraging influencer relationships can be immense—opening a door full of opportunities for brands to more authentically reach their intended target audiences that otherwise couldn’t have been reached through traditional advertising.

And while it’s certainly easier to let platforms shut down bots or shun influencers altogether who have paid for all or part of their arsenal of followers to meet a brand’s specific follower metric, it is ultimately up to the brand to reassess its old-school one-size-fit-all metric that solely relies on the influencers clout.

Just what exactly is driving influencers to purchase fake followers? And how can brands implement better assessments other than the number of potential eyeballs to successfully build relationships with influencers that result in more authentic, valuable partnerships?

Brand marketers created the beast

Brands historically have paid influencers based on their reach, rather than the quality and relevance of their engagement, content and audience. Simply put, the current nature of the relationship between brands and influencers is transactional. So, it should be no surprise that brand influencers purchase fake followers to help boost their numbers. Influencers need not put extra work in their content as long as they have the numbers that meet brand requirements to partner.

However, the reach metric doesn’t accurately assess how an influencer will align with brand messaging or predict positive return on investment. Instead, brand marketers need to switch gears and focus on building an authentic relationship with brand influencers who embody the brand’s messaging and have an engaged and relevant audience on their channels—no matter the size.

Take Brooklyn-based professional hair care brand Amika, for example. When working with influencers, Amika values authentic relationships with its partnerships far beyond follower numbers. The metrics it uses focus on collaborating closely with influencers—from creating content to giving its brand ambassadors freedom to create what they want as long as they’re meeting the brand guidelines that embody Amika’s brand.

Alternative metrics to reach to consider when choosing an influencer to collaborate with include:

  • Quality of engagement: One way to measure an influencer’s depth and resonance is by the frequency with which the influencer’s followers engage with their content. Whether it’s a repost, a like or a comment, these interactions allow brands to determine an engagement rate and evaluate how authentic the dialog is between the influencers and their followers. Measuring the quality of engagement between influencers and their audience serves as a better proxy for people paying attention to content being placed in front of them.
  • Content relevance: Another factor to measure is the quality and relevance of the content the influencer is creating. An influencer’s content can provide insights on whether it embodies the brand’s messaging and values, and it also gives a sense of what their audience is interested in. Ask yourself if an influencer posts about your category often, or just once in a while (or never). A fashion influencer may have more than 1 million followers, but if they never discuss makeup, their audience may not be interested in a branded post about skincare products.
  • Audience relevance: While content relevance and frequency of engagement are helpful metrics to measure, it is also important to assess the type of audience the influencer has. Audience relevance is a set of demographic and “passiongraphic” assessments brands must identify to determine if the influencer’s audience aligns with the brand’s target audience. If you’re trying to reach men aged 18 through 45, the engagement rate of an influencer is irrelevant if their audience is 80 percent female. Digging into audience demographics is an integral step brands must take to determine real impact on brand awareness among your target market.

As influencer marketing continues to evolve, it’s pertinent that brands start taking the initiative to pull up their sleeves and research alternative qualitative data such as engagement frequency and content/audience relevance. Moving beyond followers will shift the current incentive system of a transactional relationship in place, eliminating the need for influencers to superficially boost their followers.

Ultimately, measuring the right numbers—not just the easiest numbers—will help brands preserve authenticity with their customers and improve ROI on influencer marketing campaigns.

Pierre-Loic Assayag is co-founder and CEO of influencer marketing platform Traackr.