Speaking in Cannes this year, Keith Weed – CMCO at Unilever – announced they would no longer be working with any influencer who buys followers, uses bots or employs any other sort of shady misdirection.
The only surprising thing about such a move is that a huge brand like Unilever would have taken so long to apply a bit more rigor to their influencer marketing strategy. It’s only natural that a brand investing in any method of marketing is going to look carefully at where that money is spent – and what it is helping the business to achieve.
A recent Digiday study revealed that a single day’s worth of social posts tagged #ad or #sponsored contained more than 50% fake engagements – and 80% of the total comments for these posts were generated by bot accounts.
And if millions of dollars in digital advertising spend is being wasted on bots and fake followers – rather than the valuable customers they were hoping to reach and inspire – its no wonder that brands will scrutinize any social media influencer they plan to work with.
While it’s easy to blame the brands who are being duped into partnering with deceptive influencers – and of course, to blame the misleading influencers themselves – the competitive nature of big social media platforms has helped create a culture of follower-madness.
The major social platforms are all chasing the big numbers when it comes to active users – and the more accounts they appear to have, the more valuable an advertising tool they become.
A consequence of this is that they haven’t always been quite as tough as they could have been on flushing out the millions of fake or dubious accounts on their platform.
However, as brands are becoming more savvy about genuine influence, they’re also demanding more transparent and regulated social environments before they’re prepared to spend their ad money.
Twitter, for example. recently carried out a high profile purge that saw follower counts for some of the platform’s most famous users plummet overnight – and they’ve promised more clear-outs to come.
Professional and semi-professional social media influencing is such a wildly competitive space, it’s understandable that some people are having to compromise their authenticity just to compete.
And if brands are still sourcing influencer partners based purely on follower numbers (seriously guys?) the choice can sometimes be to embellish your numbers or risk being ignored in favor of someone with a shakier moral compass than you.
But we may be moving to a new dynamic where brands will scratch you permanently off their influencer list if your audience data isn’t whiter-than-white – no matter what that follower count says.
With this in mind, the competitive move now is to keep your social media audience clear of fake followers and bot accounts (which would take a smart brand about 30 seconds to uncover anyway).
And, while you’re in an ethical mood, why not make sure you’re squeaky clean in other important areas too.
By showing that you take FTC regulations around disclosing paid partnership super-seriously, you’ll prove to any partner brands that you’re someone who cares about your professional reputation.
(Again, the huge amount of undisclosed marketing can be traced back to the competitive nature of social media influencing. A lot of influencers, fearing that a sponsored collaboration will damage their credibility with their audience – and therefore their earning potential – choose not to tag it as an #ad. Ad Week even suggests that, partly due to this, 90% of influencer posts don’t contain proper disclosure.)
So, while buying followers and firing up your engagement bots will still make you stand out from the content creator crowd, it may no longer be in the way you were hoping for.