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The epidemic of instagram “influencers”, and how to avoid wasting your marketing budget on fake promises.

If you’ve been active on instagram in the past year, you must have noticed this kind of behavior. People start following you without knowing you really or at least know what you are doing. So, you do the polite thing, and you follow them back. Maybe they drop an introductory “hello” message, and propose to “follow a buddy of them with an equally amazing account”. And then, a few days (or hours) later they unfollow you by using automated programs or bots, hoping you will not notice and keep following them. All they are trying to do is build a big enough following to be considered as “influencers” on instagram. Apparently this is the new “cool” job in the social media world. And it doesn’t matter that most of these profiles and “followings” are completely fake. Bought, or created the way we described just above.

It all started with celebrities posting their shopping habits, their favorite bars and restaurants, and whatever makes them happy. Soon, companies realized they could monetize this attention. Each one of these celebrities has millions of followers. So the money started pouring in. It didn’t take long for others to follow. Social media brought democracy to the “attention game”. Beautiful men and women, chefs with a twist, world travellers, people all around the world realized the potential of an amazing life and income and started addressing themselves as influencers. But then the whole idea went out of control. Thousands of people started building fake followings; paying to buy them, or doing this follow-unfollow game.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of legitimate and high-value influencers on all social digital platforms. People who are paid a lot of money to appear to venue openings or promote products and services. There are also a lot of micro influencers who although they don’t hold the attention of millions, have very loyal and engaging followers. Both of these two categories could provide a business –your business- with valuable exposure if used correctly. Unfortunately, they are not the majority. The majority are the legions of “fakefluencers” flocking in and out of your social accounts like locusts.

These “fakefluencers” are what we described at the beginning of this article. People who can’t deliver, because their “influence” is fake. Customers won’t visit your dealership, they won’t buy your product or service, and you won’t get featured on “prominent mainstream media outlets” after you pay them with your hard earned dollars. Or euros… Or bitcoins… There are a lot of excuses they will offer, and you will create a lot more to justify the failed campaign you just paid for.

–        The economy (really?).

–        The weather.

–        The product.

But by now, you know the why. You didn’t buy influence, you bought smoke and mirrors.

They usually create their followings by either doing the “cheap thing” (following-unfollowing), or by paying for their inflated numbers. Exchanging likes, follows and comments, or just plain vanilla buying them. Whatever the case, their fake tribe will bring no value to your business.

Thousands of brands are spending a lot of money on digital and social media. And influencer marketing, hyped and praised everywhere and by everyone “that matters” are getting an increasingly bigger “piece” of the ad pie.

More specifically, instagram influencers are projected to have a combined value of more than 2 billion dollars in 2019 (twice of what it was in 2017) according to Buzzoka – a firm specializing in influence marketing-.

Brands like Adidas, the Ritz-Carlton, and Unilever are getting increasingly dependent on influence marketing. But lately, firms are catching up on this fake following pandemic that plagues the business side of social media. For example, Keith Weed (Unilever’s CMO) recently addressed the problem and announced that the company will no longer work with those influencers that are caught buying followers.

So, how do you spot them? Well, if you’re a big company with resources, a few failed or underperforming campaigns will do the trick. But big brands have the budgets to survive this. And since there are too many people looking to live the life of influence luxury and free mojitos at the beach hotel, they will inevitably start targeting medium and small-sized companies. Companies with limited budgets and no room for many mistakes. So, how can you spot a fake influencer knocking on your door and asking $5,000 to appear at your next function? Here are some ideas:

1)   Compare their followers to likes ratio. It’s strange for someone having a million followers to get just a couple of red hearts on their posts.

2)  Compare their likes to comments ratio. It is equally strange for someone to get 4,500 likes on their posts on average,but only a couple of comments.

3)   Finally, if everything else looks fine, ask them for referrals. Have they done it for another business? Which one? Contact them and ask them how it went for them. If they refuse to provide such information, maybe think again to pay them for their services.

Of course you can never be sure. Someone with enough money or good tech skills can still “game” the system and appear as something bigger than they are. Not for long, but they can. But as long as you keep your eyes open and read the signs, it will be difficult to be tricked into paying for a bad service.

Influencers and especially micro influencers are an amazing strategic option for your business and its reach, provided you use the right ones for the right reasons. And the right ones are not always the most expensive ones. A lot of times many micro influencers deliver much better results than a single big one.

As long as their reach is real.

Leo Varnavas