Understanding the murky waters of influencer fraud and the role of illegitimate engagements
Marketers and the media are having a meltdown about influencer marketing right now, and influencer fraud is at the core of it. But what the heck is influencer fraud, how do you detect it and what is the difference between pods, bots and glots (our nickname for those pesky algorithms).
Let’s start at the beginning - why has influencer fraud become a hot topic?
The answer to this question comes down to a few things - the influencer pricing model, confusion around the value of influencer marketing as a legitimate marketing channel, and the ongoing discussion around fake followers and fake engagements.
First, the influencer pricing model is typically based on followers and reach, however marketers are starting to realise that reach isn’t always the best metric to use as a benchmark or a KPI and impressions and engagements are much more measurable, plus they are a better indication of success. Marketers don’t want to pay $5,000 for an influencer with 1 million followers if they only receive 2,000 likes and comments. The number of followers is irrelevant if the other metrics don’t stack up.
Second, it is to be expected that changes in an industry result in people hanging on to the comfortable past. Influencer marketing is a relatively new channel, and debate about "fraud" and "fake" followers serves incumbents who are not ready to change. An easy way to throw shade at this new medium is to question its legitimacy as a marketing channel.
Third, the terms “influencer fraud” and “fake followers” are muddy, and everyone seems to be okay with that. It’s all because of the bots, pods and glots, right?
So, we’re drawing a line in the sand and stripping away all of the hype and misinformation that has seeded panic in the influencer marketing space. It all comes down to this…
The debate around influencer fraud does not threaten influencer marketing as a whole, it threatens the influencers who are doing the wrong thing to make their mark in this emerging industry.
The responsibility rests with the decision makers - the brands and agencies - to do the due diligence to identify who the legitimate influencers are, and work only with them. It follows that platforms such as Scrunch pay dividends in empowering brands and agencies with the data needed to separate the fakes from the real deal. Already, we can see market leaders such as Unilever taking a data-driven approach to working with influencers, and we hope hope that many others will follow suit in 2019 and beyond.
Breaking it down: types of fraudulent engagement
Fraudulent engagement can be broken down into three distinct types: pods, bots and glots (we promise we’ll tell you what these are). Understanding the differences between these three categories will help you to make decisions about which influencers to work with, and which to blacklist from your contacts lists.
“Quality of engagement comes down to... who can buy the shoes.
Can a person in an engagement pod buy shoes? The answer is yes.
Can a bot buy shoes? Can a glot buy shoes? The answer is no.
Focus on the bots, focus on the glots. The pods can be your friend. ”
- Anna Harrison, Head of Product at Scrunch
What is a Pod
An engagement pod is a group of influencers who have an agreement to like and comment on each others content and communicate via a group message. When each member in the group posts on Instagram (for example) they message the other group members (the engagement pod) that a new post is live. Everyone in the pod must then go to the post and like and comment on it. Essentially, it’s a way for influencers to have guaranteed engagements on their content, and to get the ball rolling when the post first goes live.
Engagement pods popped up as a way to conquer the Instagram algorithm and have always been labelled a “bad thing” for influencer marketing and considered a “fake engagement,” but that’s not actually the case.
Because influencers are consumers - they are real people who purchase products and services and look to their peers for advice and recommendations. So although they didn’t naturally come across the content by scrolling on Instagram and there is an agenda to their initial engagement, what they write and how they respond is authentic and they genuinely do what to join the conversation.
What is a Bot
A bot is a fake user or algorithm that is employed to engage with particular content on Instagram, or deployed to crawl websites and click on links. Importantly, bots are just like algorithms - they cannot buy shoes. While they boost vanity metrics and give the illusion of increased traffic and engagement, this type of engagement has zero value to a brand.
Scrunch recommends that brands do not work with influencers who actively and knowingly use bots to boost their engagement and following.
So, how do you know whether an influencer has or is using bots to grow their following and boost their engagement? This article outlines the red flags to look out for.
What is a glot
A glot is an algorithm that performs actions on behalf of a human. An algorithm can be programmed to perform a particular task in an automated way, and often at a faster pace than a human ever could. In theory, bots and glots are pretty similar and play a similar role when it comes to influencer fraud, however, for the purpose of this explanation, we have split them up to make it super clear.
Glots (and bots) bolster engagement and followers. Glots are being used to perform social interactions on behalf of a user, without the using having to lift a finger. The important difference between a bot and a glot, however, is that the glot represents a real human (who theoretically can buy shoes). However, as the engagement is performed by the glot (and not the human), a brand will not be receiving the benefits it would if the human person were interacting with the content. For this reason, Scrunch does not recommend working with influencers whose audiences have a large proportion of glot-powered accounts.
For example, Instagress (which has since been shut down) was a program that allowed Instagram users to set up glots to like, comment and follow on behalf of their account. You could add in your target hashtags, like #foodie #foodstagram and #foodofinstagram (for example) and then task the Instagress algorithms to like and comment from your account, on all content that mentioned those hashtags.
While Instagress has been shut down, other platforms that support influencer fraud via glots still exist.
How Scrunch detects influencer fraud
At Scrunch, we leverage the latest techniques and technologies to detect influencers that use bots and glots to commit influencer fraud, and we have some big features in our pipeline which will make this even easier for users. Coupled with our team of influencer marketing experts and campaign managers, detecting influencer fraud is a combination of technology and human experience.
We’ve included a detailed guide to detecting influencer’s with fake followers here.
What brands can do…
To address influencer fraud, we need to move towards the next phase of influencer marketing, which is a phase where transparency, credibility and authenticity are critical. These values are the future of influencer marketing and the sustainability of this marketing channel, and there are some things that brands can do to support this movement:
- Shift your expectations, or the expectations of your clients, away from superficial metrics and solo data points. Focus on a combination of data points to paint a complete picture of an influencer before investing. These data points include engagement, engagement rate, an analysis of the influencer’s audience, content aesthetic and reach. If the industry professionals shift their mindset to a data-driven strategy, the industry as a whole is better off. Plus, when brands use a data-driven strategy, it is harder for influencers to cheat the system, and for influencer fraud to continue.
- Focus on quality over quantity, always. While a mass influencer marketing strategy has its benefits, it is only powerful when the right combination of influencers are engaged. It’s better to work with 10 high-quality, legitimate influencers, than 50 mediocre ones.
- It’s not about the number of followers or the number of engagements, it’s about the quality of the interactions. The quality of the interaction will often dictate the legitimacy of the influencer.
- Challenge the status quo that influencer rates are dependent on the follower range. In the past, influencers and their management teams have based their rates on reach, however, this is slowly changing and brands are starting to consider more than just reach when it comes to the cost of the influencer. Reach is not the only metric to consider, so consider all data points including the quality of the content, the audience of the content and the expected engagement on the content before coming to an agreement on price.
From strategy development and influencer identification to execution and reporting, data is the key to success in influencer marketing. When you’re informed on industry best practices and trends, you can make better decisions in all stages of the influencer marketing process and in doing so, help combat influencer fraud for once and for all.
What to share your thoughts on influencer fraud and pods, bots and glots. We’d love to chat - just email firstname.lastname@example.org