Report: Brands are falling for fake Instagram influencers
Fraud is becoming a real problem in influencer marketing, an industry that is valued at over $1 billion.
One way fraud often appears is through bots. As brands and agencies focus on “micro-influencers,” those with followers under 100,000, those same influencers are also likelier to turn to bot followers to inflate authenticity.
A study by Mediakix completed this week found the problem goes deeper: Brands are spending money on influencers who have artificially inflated their followers.
It’s a common tactic. As Digiday has previously reported, marketing executives say they see a practice of buying accounts and engagement often. Viral Nation, a social influencer talent agency, told Digiday it received 50-100 influencer applications on a daily basis, and 20-30 percent of them have used bots on Instagram.
Here’s how the study worked. Mediakix made two fake Instagram influencer accounts whose followers were entirely fake — they were purchased followers with fake engagement — and applied those influencers to campaigns on platforms.
For the first account, @calibeachgirl310, the company hired a model and made content as a lifestyle influencer named Alexa Rae who lived in California.
The second account, @wanderingggirl, was made with stock photos entirely, posing as a travel and photography influencer named Amanda Smith who posted pictures from exotic locales.
Both accounts bought up to 15,000 followers at a time — it cost between $3 and $8 to buy about 1,000 followers. Instagram did not flag the rapid growth of the account, according to Mediakix. In total, @wanderingggirl got 30,000 followers and @calibeachgirl310 got 50,000 followers in two months.
Both accounts then managed to secure four paid brand deals, according to Mediakix. The company did not disclose which brands they were, but said the deals were with a swimsuit company, an alcohol brand and a food and beverage brand (which worked with both accounts). Digiday verified that the brand deals — which offered both money and free product — were real, using screenshots provided by Mediakix off the record.
For Mediakix, which itself does influencer marketing for brands, the report, which is one among many research reports it has put out, is a way to make people aware of the problem (and also tout its own capabilities).
“I would imagine bots have gotten more sophisticated and Instagram struggles to identify it. We want to call it out to the industry. Obviously, we do this for work brands. We would like to do [influencer marketing] well,” said Evan Asano, CEO of Mediakix.
Instagram is aware of the bot issue. Its guidelines prohibit users from posting repetitive comments and artificially soliciting likes and followers. Since bots run off hashtags, Instagram also has a limit on the number of hashtags one can use, according to a company spokesperson, who also told Digiday that “spam accounts make up a very small fraction of Instagram’s monthly active user base.”
“We take spam, inauthentic and other abusive behavior very seriously and have a number of teams dedicated to detecting fraudulent behavior and shutting it down,” the rep said. “We consider services that automate likes or follows to be spam, and we will continue to aggressively remove them from the platform per our policy.”
Instagram also said that internal estimates show that spam accounts make up a small fraction of its monthly active user base. The company has over 700 million users.
How Roblox is paving the way for a new era of branded gaming
Roblox is still in its infancy as a marketing tool. But over the last two years, the number of brands and retailers on Roblox has grown dramatically.
‘Email has become so cluttered’: Why DTC brands plan to use texting for Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year
With Black Friday and Cyber Monday nearing, text messaging is becoming a more common marketing channel for direct-to-consumer brands.
‘There’s more opportunity’: Publishers on TikTok are taking branded content into their own hands
As their audiences on the social app have grown, a flurry of publishers have turned to developing branded content campaigns to explore new commercial opportunities.
SponsoredPublishers will lead the charge as cookie-less advertising becomes the norm
Steve Wing, managing director, EMEA, Magnite As the advertising industry moves closer to a cookieless world — one in which browserless environments including connected TV (CTV) and mobile in-app are an increasingly large part of ad budgets — publishers will have an increasingly important role in developing the future of identity. Segment creation and identity […]
Member Exclusive‘A more hopeful future’: As the coronavirus surges, advertisers aren’t pressing pause
Spending has remained consistent, according to media buyers, who say that advertisers are more prepared this time around.
‘Time to test multiple offers’: Why Black Friday and Cyber Monday advertising is coming earlier than ever this year
The accelerated shift of consumer shopping to e-commerce and the expected surge of online holiday retail, has led to earlier Black Friday and Cyber Monday advertising.