Influencer marketing is BIG business these days and a top strategy when it comes to public relations and social media agencies (like us!). For good reason too! Partnering with influencers is a great way to increase your brand awareness, capitalize on user-generated content, get backlinks to your website and get some really great reviews. Plus, another big one, influencers can have a real impact when it comes to the buying decisions of their followers. That being said, sales should not be your only driving force for a campaign, because it’s much more of an awareness strategy, but the opportunity is definitely there.
Here’s the thing though. When you create a market for people to try products for free or get paid to try them suddenly everyone wants a piece of the pie, which can bring up some issues. While I’d love to tell you everyone has good intentions, the truth is there are a lot of people out there taking the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it” a little too far. How so? Well, do a quick Google search for buying Instagram followers and you’ll find with $50 you can buy several thousands and essentially make it look like you’re an influencer overnight. Not only that, but you can also buy services to inflate your engagement so it looks like you have followers + people care about your content. It’s yucky, but it happens SO often because doing the hard work of building an audience, well it’s hard work and it doesn’t happen overnight with a credit card swipe.
As an agency that regularly works with influencers (and have worked with brands ourselves on our personal accounts) we just hate seeing people get taken advantage of and lucky for you we do know what to look for. Because the truth is, this isn’t our first rodeo. Influencers aren’t the first people to take advantage of these crappy practices… there have been businesses buying and faking their followers for years to try and improve their reputations… even a ton of social media agencies that do so to move the needle for their clients. Yep, really. So we’ve become pros at what to look for and it’s a lot more than just the numbers. So today we’re walking you through a checklist of things you should go through before you agree to working with an influencer to make sure they’re legit and have ethical practices.
1.) Check the Number of Posts They Have vs the Number of Followers
One of the first things you want to take a look at is how many posts they have vs the number of followers. While people can archive past posts to clean up their feeds, for the most part if someone has thousands of followers but less that 50 posts, something fishy is going on. Unless they are a celebrity, reality star, or have some sort of influence prior to creating an account, it’s going to take some time to build up a following.
2.) Check their Engagement
Do they have 40k or 50k followers but only 100 likes on each post? Red flag! While there is no exact formula for what is a standard engagement rate based on a number of followers, if the numbers are really low based on their follower number then something is off. And that thing is probably that they have a lot of fake or bot accounts following them. Based on my social media background and working with influencers here are some ballpark numbers I’d keep in mind.
5k-15k followers: 100-400 likes per post
15k-30k followers: 500-1k likes per post
50k+ followers: 750-1.5k likes per post
100k+ followers: 1.5k+ likes per post
Like I said, there isn’t a standard and some micro influencers (less than 30k followers) will have engagement rates that will surpass larger accounts but just for some ballpark numbers this is where I’d start.
Another really important thing to look at is the number of comments they have on each post and the quality of each. The number of likes will certainly outnumber the number of comments but if they’re getting 500+ likes per post and only one or two comments then that shows their audience isn’t actually very engaged with their content. Another tell-tale sign is if the comments are mostly one or two words, don’t make sense for the post or are just emojis. In addition to buying followers, there are also services to inflate engagement so this is an important thing to look at. That being said, even when someone is super ethical and doing everything by the books, you will see some spammy comments or bot accounts liking their posts. That’s normal, and if you have a bigger account you will attract more, but the issue is when it’s the majority. That’s when you know something is up.
Last but not least on the engagement front, go through their posts and look for the number of likes/comments per post. Things you want to look for is that the level of their likes and comments vary on posts and aren’t all virtually the same. They may be around the same range, but over a period of a month you should be able to see some variance. If they are all nearly the same, there is a chance that they’re using an engagement inflation service to make sure each post reaches x amount of likes. Another tell-tale sign that someone is doing this, is if you look through their posts and their engagement goes from getting 100-150 likes/post to 1k-1.5k likes/post in a matter of a few days. Sure, an account could go viral or maybe they had something happen that grew their account quickly, but that would be the exception to the rule. For the most part, it means they decided to try and take a shortcut.
3.) Take Some Time to Review Their Content
Is every post sponsored or related to a brand? Are their posts full of giveaways? Or are they doing a ton of loop giveaways? All can be red flags and we’ll explain why. It’s important that the influencers you choose to work with have a good combination of content on their feeds. Giveaways and lots of sponsored content doesn’t have to be a deal breaker but see how things are presented. Is there some context to how things relate to their lifestyles or do they just come across as ads? For the most part, people want to follow people with some substance and if every post reads as an ad it’s easy for people to recognize they’re really just a walking billboard. You also want to make sure you’re working with someone who really aligns with your brand and your products. If they posted a few weeks back about something that opposes what your brand stands for then it’s probably not a good fit.
On the giveaway side of things, make sure that the number of giveaways isn’t taking over their feeds. Giveaways are great but in moderation. Another tactic to look out for is a lot of loop giveaways. Loop giveways are when influencers partner up in a small group and go in on a prize together. Then during the giveaway, users have to follow everyone participating in the giveaway, usually they tag one person and then that person tells them the next person they need to follow on their post. The process continues until they end up back on the post of the originally user — essentially completing the loop. Now loop giveaways aren’t a bad strategy as a whole, sometimes it’s smart to partner up especially when the audiences are similar between users, but when someone is doing them very regularly it can be an issue. The tactic can be used to grow audiences quickly because each loop giveaway can increase a user’s followers by several hundreds or even thousands. So essentially it can be looked at another way of “buying followers”, plus and it doesn’t always attract quality followers. There are a lot of people who create accounts specifically for giveaways and are on the hunt for things like this. So I always just caution people to be leery of lots of loop giveaways. It’s definitely a step up from buying bot followers but it’s still not great.
At the end of the day, influencer marketing campaigns are largely an awareness strategy so it’s important to familiarize yourself with someone’s content and see if their style of content and imagery matches with the outcome you’re looking to achieve. Receiving quality content that you can repurpose is gold so it’s worth taking some time to take a look at their content.
4.) Look Through their Followers
One of the easiest ways to spot a faker is to look through the accounts who are following them or the ones who are engaging on their posts. Are they real people?! Here are some things to help you identify bot accounts. They’re often from foreign countries speaking languages the influencer does not speak. Another thing you’ll see a lot is a tonnnnnn of accounts that on the surface might look believable but they’re all private accounts. Yes, there are a lot of private accounts on Instagram but if you look through 25 of their followers in a row and they’re all private then… yeah that’s a red flag. Now, as I mentioned above, real influencers can still be targets of bot followers or bot engagement but the issue becomes when they are the majority. Once you’ve poked around on a few accounts you’ll be able to better spot the fakers from the makers much easier.
5.) Look through their other social media channels or blog
There are certainly many users who are strictly Instagram influencers, but a lot of them will have some form of influence on another channel. Maybe that will be a Facebook account or Facebook group. Maybe that’s a Youtube channel, Pinterest account or maybe they have a blog. If they have a website and you can check out other platforms they have that is another great way to get a peek into their influence. This is especially valuable if they reference links in their bios or if they’re using the “swipe up” option in Instagram Stories to direct their users elsewhere. Where do they send their followers and what kind of engagement and influence do they have on those channels? If an influencer consistently links to Youtube videos but they have very low view numbers then they may not have as much influence as you’d hope. Same goes if they are directing users to blog posts and encouraging them to engage in the comments and no one is commenting. Of course this doesn’t give you the full picture, many analytics are still private for users, which is why so many people can get away with this kind of stuff, but it’s still good to cross-reference when possible.
As you can see, it’s not an exact science, but once you’re able to start identifying some of these trends it will become a lot easier to spot influencers that could be a good fit for your campaign vs ones you’ll want to pass on. In closing, we certainly don’t want this to come across like we’re poo pooing on influencers because like we said we work with them on the regular and there are so many out there who are AMAZING and have worked hard to earn each and every follower and page view they get. Unfortunately there are so many out there who are trying to cut corners in the name of getting free stuff and we’ve never been a fan of cheaters.. Plus, the fakers devalue the industry as a whole and it’s actually a really great strategy so we don’t want people to shy away from it because of that. With a little education on what to look for though and a little time spent on research though you will be on your way!