Safeguarding influencer culture with good, old-fashioned transparency
Influencer culture is now a powerful industry fully supported by global companies and powered by the cult-to-fame trajectories of internet personalities. The authenticity of online and video influencers, and the valuable loyalty of their audiences, has driven brands to invest significant ad spend in the community.
But where there is money, there is exploitation. Within the industry, we’ve seen a rise in the amount of fraudulent activity across influencer platforms. As the CEO of an influencer marketing firm that uses artificial intelligence to power campaigns, I've seen that tackling these issues head-on requires brands and influencers to embrace transparency in the form of information sharing and the use of innovative technologies to monitor social platform interactions en masse.
Defending against the actions of a few
The majority of digital influencers — and brands supporting them — play by the rules.
However, thanks to the actions of a few bad actors, questions increasingly arise about the authenticity of accounts, posts and interactions between brands, advertisers and regular people on social platforms. In reality, much of the fraudulent activity on social media platforms today is driven by automated technologies.
For brands, in particular, one approach to fraud protection is to invest resources into addressing potentially illegal or damaging activity with the assistance of technology. Once a chosen technology begins to analyze influencer data and validate account activity, human counterparts can help make sense of engagements that produce fraud — and take steps to mitigate against them in the future.
In order to accurately identify fraud across social platforms, in particular, marketers need to analyze mountains of data to understand how an influencer’s engagement has evolved over time. Then, take note of any spikes or dips, and compare those numbers against industry norms. It's important when using these technologies that people remain central to the design and validation of AI systems that tackle these types of fraud issues with broad impact and employ algorithms to contextualize the data that runs through them.
It's also critical to remember that AI is not a one-size-fits-all solution for marketers. It can become expensive depending on the size and scale of a campaign. For marketers running smaller, more isolated campaigns, manually vetting influencer engagement for fraud is still a viable option. To do it, sample between 10 and 20 of an influencer’s most recent posts, and calculate the sum of their likes and comments. Then, divide that number by their total audience size. Once you have this average, multiply by 100 to get the engagement rate.
Generally, we consider an engagement rate above 3 percent to be very healthy. Once overall engagement is calculated, pick a few posts, and take a look at the comments and likes. Are they being posted by real followers or bots? Bots still have real profiles, though the giveaway is usually that they have zero posts and zero followers. This will allow you to get a sense of how much engagement is bot-driven versus organic, and you can make a better judgement call.
Eliminating questions about authenticity
In my experience, there’s a certain level of deceptive activity that exists on virtually every influencer profile, whether it be multiple accounts sharing identical posts in the comments or influencers clearly selling products without marking posts as advertising. Bot armies that are designed to automatically like, click, view and follow are significantly changing the dynamics of data authenticity and influencer engagement metrics that drive actual business decisions. In response, brands and influencers should jointly strive to make transparency common practice in an industry shrouded by murky online activity and unproven results.
Today’s extreme online reality requires brands to employ extra measures to vet influencers, authenticate engagement metrics and analyze interactions to determine if certain activity is real or automated. That’s why I believe it should become standard practice for influencers to provide brands with verified – or verifiable – reports of engagement on their posts. This way, brands can effectively gauge the return on investment of working with them. On the flip side, sharing authenticated metrics with brands should enable them to pay influencers fairly for their partnership and production.
Ultimately, a more transparent influencer industry will lead to brand activations and influencer posts that produce authentic engagement numbers and value for everyone – except bad actors and bot armies.