Fraudulent Influencers – There have always been people who manage to influence others for different purposes (see our article on Edward Bernays).
But the concept of influencer is recent and refers to a limited and specific phenomenon: personalities that manage to have a great reach in social networks and turn their lifestyle into a trend. In recent years, these people have become fundamental pawns of digital marketing. Fraudulent Influencers
In a 2018 survey, the Association of National Advertisers discovered that 75% of brands used influencers for promotional purposes, and almost half planned to increase their expenses in 2019. However, only 36% of companies saw those campaigns as effective. This is partly due to a rising phenomenon: as the influencers’ market becomes more competitive, many have resorted to fraudulent behavior to maintain popularity. From faking followers to buying engangement, the end result: companies invest money that does not generate return.
«Mom, I want to be influencer when I grow up«
The influencers are the popular boys and girls of social networks: what they say is replicated everywhere, what they use becomes fashion. It is enough for an influencer to upload a photo eating at a restaurant so that soon after it is filled with reserves. Thus, what began as a social and leisure phenomenon quickly transformed into a million-dollar industry. The category of influencers is increasingly professionalized. To such an extent that, last year, the Autonomous University of Madrid announced the creation of the first university course to be influencer. This “vocation” is one of the most chosen by teenagers around the world. Dinners and free hotel stays, trendy clothes, fame and money just by posting photos. It sounds like a very attractive existence, but if the popularity does not have a real sustenance, it can cause millionaire losses to the investors.
Alamudena: the H2H experiment
The agency specialized in influencer marketing H2H (Human to Human) was aware of this problem and decided to conduct an experiment. They hired a Spanish actress called Alamudena to play the role of influencer, they made an account, they created content and planned the purchase of followers, I like and comments. All the followers of Alamudena would be bots and therefore they would not have any value for the brands. The objective of this experiment was to show how easy it is to artificially inflate the arrival of an influencer. Fraudulent Influencers
The experiment yielded alarming results: although all its followers were false, Alamudena was hired by brands and accessed free services in exchange for promotion. As demonstrated by H2H, it is very easy and cheap to buy followers. This represents a huge temptation for micro-influencers looking for rapid growth. With only a few euros you can create a giant community and access all the benefits of being an influencer, without really being one. Fraudulent Influencers
Devumi: the followers factory
In its investigation “The Follower Factory”, the newspaper The New York Times exposed the black market of followers. It is a dark American company called Devumi that has raised millions of dollars selling followers on Twitter. The followers package is offered with the premise that these are authentic. However, the New York Times investigation revealed that most are automated bots. These bots are created by duplicating the information of real accounts, altering only a minimum data that goes unnoticed. Fraudulent Influencers
Based on an estimated inventory of at least 3.5 million automated accounts, each sold several times, the company has provided customers with more than 200 million followers on Twitter. According to an analysis of data from the Times, at least 55,000 of the accounts use the names, profile pictures, places of origin and other personal information of real Twitter users, including minors.
The problem in numbers
12 of the 35 million invested have not had any return due to fraud.
One out of every two campaigns is a scam.
One in four followers of an influencer is false.
One in five likes is bought.
Of the 350 influencers analyzed, 184 exceed 25% of fraud.
Source: Influencer Marketing Annual Report in Spain from the H2H agency.
Why do social media companies not react?
Given how easy it is to incur in this type of fraud, a question arises: why social networks do not take action? Some critics point out that Twitter has a commercial incentive not to eliminate phantom accounts. In the last two years, the company has struggled to generate the growth of users seen by rivals such as Facebook and Snapchat. The market value of a social network depends on the number of active users. They see the problem: if they eliminate all the fake users, they lose market value.
However, the seriousness of the infringement (large-scale social identity theft) forced Twitter to make a massive purge of false accounts last year. As expected, this action put them at a disadvantage compared to other social networks, where fraud persists. Due to the low response of these companies, new analytical tools emerged that do respond to the problem. HypeAuditor is a software that scans the accounts of influencers in search of fraudulent behavior. Different brands have used this software to certify the authenticity of the influencers they hire.