The world of influencer marketing continues to stir this week after Unilever made a statement at Cannes proclaiming that they will no longer work with influencers with fake followers. And as the week continued, other brands like Samsung and eBay have jumped on board.
Directionally, we 100% agree. Influencer marketing is about authenticity and influencing people. It's not going to be successful if influencers continue to purchase fake followers and fake engagements. But as more and more brands continue to stand against these influencers, one key question stands out: How exactly do we do this?
Are All Influencers with Fake Followers Are Out?
The statements from Unilever and other brands are pretty bold in that they say they won't work with any influencer who has fake followers. However, this isn't a black and white scenario, there's a lot of gray area that we need to consider.
Let's look at Influencer A. Influencer A has gained 90,000 followers over the past three years. However, when she first began she bought 1,000 of those followers for $20. Now, she regrets that decision, but they're still in her account and there's no efficient way to remove those purchased accounts. Does that mean she's off the list even though the majority of her followers are legitimate?
Now let's look at Influencer B. Influencer B is a legitimate influencer over the past three years as well. However, a click farm has recently been hired to follow certain accounts. This same click farm needs to also follow accounts that they aren't being paid to follow in order to game social media algorithms and not be caught. During that process, the click farm followers Influencer B because of his large following. Chances are, there are probably multiple fake followers following Influencer B for this reason. So, are we going to ban Influencer B for his fake followers, even though he didn't pay for them? That would potentially eliminate any large-size influencer.
Additionally, we need to take into consideration that brands and agencies incentivized this behavior in the first place. There's a lot of companies out there with a business model that pays only on engagements. The more engagements you get, the more you pay. Well, it's easy for influencers to buy an engagement for a penny and sell it to the brand for a nickel, and there's a certain percentage of influencers who will take that bait and run with it. Other companies look for influencers who have a big following and are willing to throw lots of money to those influencers even if they don't inspire anyone. All of that is a huge mistake that the industry has incentivized, so we need to look at ourselves in the mirror and say, "What can we do better?"
How Do We Begin to Move Forward?
Moving forward, brands and agencies have to do a better job of vetting influencers and building relationships with them. Consider ambassador programs, but also know that you'll need to begin hand-scrubbing influencer lists. You have to look at their content by hand because a tool can only do so much. If you're taking a shortcut and not getting to know your influencers at all, you can't really complain that you were duped because you really didn't do the due diligence that good influencer marketing programs do. At Carusele, we always have and always will hand-scrub our influencers lists.
The tools also carry a burden in that they need to be better. Why can we not have a quality score where we can see, "Based on our algorithms, we think this influencer's percentage of fake followers is 3%, this influencer's percentage of fake followers is 30%" and then a brand can make important decisions in real time? The same concept applies to fake engagements. We should be able to have algorithms that can sniff out false engagement, at least on a high level.
Finally, brands and agencies need to rethink their compensation models and rebuild them. Start by thinking about, "Who can inspire people? Who can create aspirational content that really moves the needle on sales?" We know reach does not move the needle on sales, or brands would have put all their money into banner ads with a $1 CPM. Inspirational, aspirational content moves the needle on sales. Let's make sure we're focused on that.