In order to help marketers ensure that they are getting what they pay for when they engage influencers, the Influencer Marketing Council recently released its "Fraud Best Practices and Guidelines."   

According to the IMC, more than 11% of the engagement for influencer-sponsored posts on Instagram is generated by fraudulent accounts.  The IMC said that, "For influencer marketing to truly deliver on its transformative potential, marketers need a more concrete and reliable way to identify fake followers and engagement."  

Here are the key principles from the IMC guidelines:

  • Follower patterns -- Identify fake followers by viewing historical follower count patterns to look for unusual spikes in followers.
  • Engagement spikes -- Review an influencer's past engagement for any abnormal spikes in engagement, since a higher engagement rate on a post (for no known reason) could indicate fraudulent activity.
  • Follower to engagement rates -- Compare the influencer's follower count to his or her engagement rate, since having a high number of followers but a low engagement rate may indicate that a large number of followers are fake.  Also consider whether the influencer's engagement rates are significantly higher than industry norms, which may indicate fraudulent activity. 
  • Low engagement -- If an influencer has a very low engagement rate, that could also indicate that the influencer has a significant number of fake followers.
  • View rates/impression rates -- Consider whether the relationship between followers and views makes sense.  If an influencer has too few views, that may indicate that the followers are fake.  If an influencer has a great number of views, that may indicate that the views are fake as well. 
  • Generic engagement - Pay attention to the quality of the engagement.  If there is a lot of repetitive or irrelevant engagement, this may indicate that the engagement is fake.
  • Audience/engagement location - If the influencer's audience is mostly in one location, but the engagement is coming from other places, this may suggest that the engagement is fake. 
  • Comments - If comments seem odd, generic, or off-putting, that may suggest that they're fake.  
  • Incorrect grammar - Lots of typos or grammatical errors could signal that the engagement is fake. 
  • False identity/stolen images - Watch out for accounts that may be using fake photos to represent the influencer. 
  • Forced followers/giveaways - Consider (and discuss with the influencer) whether the influencer has a large number of followers because of a sweepstakes or a contest -- since that may indicate that the follower numbers don't represent people who are truly interested in the influencer.
  • Influencer dialogue - Build a relationship with the influencer, so that any questions you have about the influencer's followers and engagement have been answered. 

With influencers being a part of so many marketing plans today, it's important for marketers and their agencies to have some processes in place to help them judge whether influencers are who they appear to be.  This guidance from the Influencer Marketing Council provides some food for thought about how to evaluate potential influencer relationships.  It will also be interesting to see whether these guidelines spark further conversations about how best to measure whether an influencer's followers and engagement are real.