Kellogg’s is no longer paying influencers solely based on their reach because it has no way of knowing whether that engagement is real or fake.

Fradulent yet common practices like bought engagement have left marketers at the advertiser suspicious of what they buy from influencers, Joseph Harper, social media lead at Kellogg’s in the U.K. and Ireland, said at the Digiday Brand Summit in Monaco this week.

Those suspicions have led to the advertiser digging deeper into how its agencies analyze audience data from influencers as well as taking more time to understand how posts perform even before it spends money with them, said Harper. That data includes tone of voice, content style and follower demographics, and it’s becoming more important to how Kellogg’s hires influencers.

Even agencies tasked by Kellogg’s to handle influencer relationships have experienced fraud, said Harper, which has forced the advertiser to be more strident in demanding data, metrics and reports from influencers.

“One agency we work with said a campaign was a success because it generated loads of comments, but when we dug deeper into the report, we realized that the influencers we’d paid had just gone to a WhatsApp group of other influencers and asked them to make all of those comments,” said Harper.

“Some of the agencies helping us to manage influencers have started small but grown quickly so they don’t know how to deal with big clients, which has meant we’ve had to pressure them, he continued. “It’s something which we’ll be working closely with agencies to help resolve.”

After he reviewed a report on its micro-influencers activity, Harper found that 12 percent of the 20,000 followers they claimed to have weren’t even people in the U.K., its intended target.

It’s not a clear-cut example of fraud, but it does show how exposed the advertiser has been to paying for reach it isn’t actually getting.

“We don’t buy social media ads based on reach anymore because it can be easily faked,” said Harper. “We’re trying to move away from being solely reliant on vanity metrics and take into account the sentiment of posts as well as the different types of conversations happening around them.”

The company is now focusing on finding influencers who are genuine users of the brand or product. To do that, the advertiser is working with agencies that have the technology to find those potential influencers. Next year, it plans to work with agencies that use image-recognition technology to sift through social networks to find posts that feature its brand.

The explosion in the number of micro-influencers seeing an opportunity to make a quick buck coupled with insufficient knowledge about how to spot fake likes and engagement has resulted in fraud, industry experts have previously said. In a survey of its members this year, the Association of National Advertisers found that 75 percent currently work with influencers, and of that number, 43 percent plan to increase their spend in 2019. Yet only 36 percent said they judged their influencer marketing efforts as effective, and 19 percent admitted they thought that the money spent was ineffective.

Kellogg’s plan is still in its infancy, however, and the business has found the influencers it hires can sometimes struggle with its strict compliance guidelines. As a consumer goods company, there are reams of stipulations about what the advertiser can and can’t say in content it funds, which has meant some of its influencers have lost their motivation to work.

Influencer marketing, if done right, can be cost-effective. Paying influencers to create content is cheaper than paying larger, more traditional agencies to create an ad, particularly as the formats on platforms like Instagram Stories become more sophisticated.

“Influencers are creating content for a fraction of the costs are above the line charges, and we’re slowly starting to see it perform better,” said Harper.

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