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Fake news, fake influencers? here's how to spot them.

LAST week's column on influencer marketing trends for 2019 must have been interesting to readers, as we got many inquiries about the subject. One of these was the issue of influencer fraud.

According to Ian Samuel of Buzzoole, an influencer platform, 'the industry obsession with reach has driven the rise of fraud and fake followers.'

A recent report from the New York Times found that 'dozens of TV personalities and athletes were customers of companies that specialized in inflating their social-media status through the use of fake followers. Those dishonest practices have resulted in a crisis of confidence in the industry.'

Indeed, in an era of fake news, are there also fake influencers? How can we tell the difference?

In an article in Samantha Woods talks about 'Follower Bots Exposed: How to Spot Fake Influencers.' With regards to fake influencers for our discussion, the issue is not their existence, but rather their actual reach.

First, some hard facts. The New York Times recently published an expose on the practice of buying followers, a sizeable number of which are bots or robots that either steal a person's identity or use a random string of letters and numbers as a username.

The piece specifically targeted a company that peddles Twitter followers and retweets 'to anyone who wants to appear more popular or exert more influence online.'

Woods said the Times 'estimates that up to 48 million of Twitter's users-nearly 25 percent-fall into the category of fake accounts. And on Facebook, as many as 60 million automated accounts may be lurking among the population of the world's largest platform.'

In short, when it comes to social media, 'not all that glitters is gold.' In short, we have to rethink the practice of valuing an influencer's true reach using the number of followers as a main gauge.

So how can our brands separate influencer fact from fiction? Woods reached out to Danica Kombol, CEO of Everywhere Agency, an influencer marketing firm that works with Fortune 500 companies, for some tips on spotting influencers with fake followings. She shared some tips with us.

Consider all aspects of an influencer's ecosystem

Services such as can be a helpful tool during the vetting process. But fake followers can slip through these vetting tools, too, so Kombol sticks to human research.

'While we rely on lots of technology, at the end of the day, human beings do all our vetting,' she said. 'We look at all aspects of an influencer's ecosystem.'

She suggested that brands and agencies looking for influencers should ask the following questions:

1. Where are they located? Do they have an actual address or PO Box?

2. Are there multiple photos of this influencer on their site, or do they use the same photo over and over again?

3. Does their bio reveal personal details to verify that they exist?

4. Look at the type of people the influencer follows and who follows them. Is everyone a gorgeous Ukrainian model or is there a nice mix of everyday people?

5. Do they have real comments on their site or are the comments spammy and asking for likes?

6. Also, look at their entire digital presence. If they're only on one platform, that's a red flag.

Don't focus only on quantity

'Follower count is an important measure of influence,' Woods said. 'But beyond sheer numbers, the key to proving out an influencer's worth lies in real engagement and interaction.'

Kombo shared with us a tip on the type of influencers they don't work with. 'It's hard to prove definitely that an influencer has fake followers,' she said, 'but when you see one with thousands of followers on Instagram and no comments on a post-well, it does make one wonder.'

Fake followers aren't a new issue

'The issue of fake followers has been around forever, so no surprise there,' Kombol said. 'I am hoping this will trigger an 'a-ha' moment for brands and agencies of the importance of human connection.'

After all, 'influencer marketing is a relationship. Tech platforms that promise to pair you with the right platforms that promise to pair you with the right kind of influencers can't do the due diligence to uncover the kind of fraud that is inherent in the digital space.'

All in all, if we are to go into influencer marketing, we have to be aware that buying influencers has been around nearly as long as social media itself. And it's still unclear whether platforms like Twitter and Facebook are responsible for weeding out the fake accounts.

At a time when boosting is a buzzword, we have to be very careful in selecting influencers, and our choices have to be beyond claimed numbers and followers.
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Publication:Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Feb 18, 2019
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