Written by on . Pegasus.

Exposing the fraudulent influencers

Last month a US marketing agency hit the headlines after securing paid activity from brands using a fraudulent Instagram influencer profile. It’s the second time the agency has used this kind of social experiment to draw attention to fake influencer accounts, leading our Senior Influencer Strategist, Simone Stevens to ask, “What should or could the industry be doing about it?”.

In case you were not aware, American agency Mediakix made the news last year when they revealed the account ‘Wanderingggirl’ was fake after they had managed to secure paid activity with brands. The recent repeat of the experiment used the same account, and brands contacted the account offering free accommodation and restaurant meals. It highlights how big an issue it is within the the industry and just how easy it is for people to fake it.

In some cases, the repercussions are making businesses withdraw from using influencers, for example in January a hotel in Dublin  was featured in the news for ‘banning’ all bloggers after they were being regularly approached by influencers for free accommodation.

However, the industry has been making adjustments to manage these misleading accounts. We have seen positive steps in the right direction; Unilever Chief Marketing Officer Keith Weed recently announced that the giant consumer goods company would not work with influencers who buy followers.

But, although industry bodies such as the PRCA are taking more notice of this issue, it feels that more could be done to tackle the issue at a grassroots level.

Perhaps as communications experts we need to take a slightly different approach. If we are calling for more authenticity and transparency then we need to move away from seeing influencers as merely a service we can pay for when in need of a quick social post or video. Rather than striking a ‘deal’ with the influencer, we should be looking to building authentic, brand ambassadors so the brand and influencer offer one another genuine value exchange. This way it helps to ensure that honest content is created and audiences are then genuinely engaged.

Ideally, more guidelines will be set by the industry in the near future to ensure this is regulated so that all parties are protected.  For now, here are some useful pointers that may help you identify a fake account:

  • How many posts do they have? Sincere influencers will build their following over a long period of time and are likely to have hundreds of photos and content on their profiles. If their wall only contains a few images or posts yet they have a large following then stay clear.
  • Who is following them? Have a look at their followers, if they have a large amount of followers from overseas, these could be fake. Also, if their followers have never posted, are missing profile details or pictures these are also signs of fake followers.
  • Are the comments genuine? Do the comments on their posts look like people who are genuinely interested in and engaged with the influencer? If they are generic comments then the profile may not be the right one for your brand.
  • Have they had a surge in followers? If so, this could be suspicious but do a little more digging before you decide not to use them. It could be that they could have been cited on another influential post or platform which has driven the sudden interest, so be sure to check through any recent posts that might support this.

If you are interested in learning more about how to work with influencers, or if you need some guidance in this area then email me to find out more.

is a Senior Influencer Strategist at Pegasus. Simone has over 10 years’ experience in consumer, health and beauty comms, influencer marketing and digital communications.