5 Quick Tips for Spotting Influencer Fraud

November 26, 2018

By Sean Spielberg

igor kisselev/Shutterstock.com

The fake follower alarm bell has sounded. Brands and agencies of all sizes, wishing to reach real people instead of armies of bots, are now watching out for influencer fraud.

This increased scrutiny is a great step for the industry. But the problem of fraud is far from over, and some influencers have responded by continuing their fraud in subtler, more surreptitious ways.

Luckily, fraudulent activity can still be spotted — but it means marketers need to look for different clues than may have been useful in the past. Here are five ways that marketers can set up their campaigns for success as fraud becomes less and less conspicuous.


1. Don't rely on engagement rates alone. Look at the comments themselves.

The prevailing wisdom used to be that fake followers meant low engagement rates. Unfortunately, fake engagements are now common, and a high engagement rate is no guarantee that an influencer's audience is real. In fact, an unnaturally high engagement rate can be an indication that the audience is fake.

To gauge the authenticity of an influencer's following, marketers should scrutinize the comments they receive. A high proportion of low-quality, generic comments (like "Cool" or a string of heart emojis) is a strong signal those comments are from bots or click farms, not normal people.

Points North Group


2. Scrutinize old posts (12-plus months ago).

Many influencers still buy fake followers and fake likes, but no longer buy easy-to-spot fake comments, for fear of being caught. Luckily, all we need to do is scroll back in time. Old posts from the early days of influencer fraud (when fake engagements weren't so subtle) are still around for us to check. Look at posts from a year or so ago. Did the influencer's posts get a lot more comments than they currently do? Are the comments low-quality, like the screenshot above? If so, proceed with caution before working with them.


3. Don't stop at the comments — look at who's leaving them too.

Examining the profiles of commenters can also be informative. Real people's Instagram profiles will have authentic-looking content and numbers that make sense. A profile with wacky numbers, like zero posts, hundreds of followers, and thousands of accounts followed, is likely a bot.

Points North Group


4. Insist on reach screenshots.

While fraud is certainly important, it is hardly the only thing marketers should consider when planning campaigns. The majority of influencers have not engaged in fraud, yet even among these honest ones, there is a wide range of effectiveness.

Great influencers reach almost all of their followers with every post, yielding sub-$5 CPMs. Others reach a tiny fraction of their followers with each post, and yield CPMs over $50. Before partnering with an influencer — even one who didn't purchase fake followers — it is crucial to know how many real people their posts reach.

Marketers should ask potential partners for screenshots from their analytics dashboards, showing their reach. Great influencers should be thrilled to show off their reach and impressions numbers, and use this data to negotiate great contracts. If an influencer is hesitant to share their reach numbers with a brand partner, it may be for a reason.


5. When in doubt, software can help.

For advertisers doing a lot of influencer marketing, checking every potential ambassador by hand can be tedious, and the cost of working with fraudulent influencers can mean thousands of dollars wasted.

For these companies, software can provide peace of mind that their budgets are being spent as wisely as possible. In a split second, software can analyze tons of data to estimate CPMs and look for clues of fraud — including clues that would be hard for a human to spot unassisted. For example, some influencers' posts get comments from the same accounts in the same order, which is a big red flag those comments aren't from real people.

Points North Group

By improving screening and asking for more transparency from their ambassadors, marketers can push influencer marketing to a place where accuracy and trust are the norm. Honest influencers won't lose out on partnerships to fraudulent influencers with higher follower counts, emerging influencers will be less tempted to buy fake followers, and advertisers' campaigns will be more powerful and cost effective.

Influencer marketing has become a key channel for marketers, with second quarter spend in the U.S. and Canada totaling $211 million. But it will only continue to be effective if influencer fraud and brand safety are addressed.


Sean Spielberg is the CEO of Points North Group, creator of the Instascreener platform, which provides third-party screening and measurement of influencer marketing.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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