Earlier this month, influencer marketing company MediaKix released How Anyone Can Get Paid To Be An Instagram Influencer With $300 (or Less) Overnight, a project it undertook to prove whether was possible to game the system of influencer engagement on Instagram. In short, how easy is it to create fake Instagram profiles, purchase followers and then get offered sponsored content opportunities by the major influencer marketing platforms?
Turns out, pretty easy, at least for the two profiles the firm created – one focused on beauty, and the other on travel, not coincidentally I am certain, two content areas where Instagram is particularly strong, and the demand high for influencers with scale.
This has spawned a great deal of coverage in the industry trades over the past week, including AdWeek, PR giant Edelman and Digiday. All bemoaning the fact that it is possible to game a social network and artificially inflate followers and engagement.
I’m mostly surprised that anyone IS surprised. The demand for volume, for more, more, more – bigger reach, more likes, more clicks — is bound to lead to both fraud and waste. It did in advertising, in search of the almighty click, and it has in social, in search of likes, comments, shares AND clicks.
Let’s take the two problems separately. Fraud is the intent to deceive by artificially inflating numbers, whether buying followers or engagements. Waste is the natural by-product of scale. Not every legitimate viewer/reader of a message is the target, no matter how good our demographic and behavioral targeting. Even today, with the phenomenal matching made possible by programmatic advertising, there will be waste, and targeting on social is a mixed bag. You can do it within a social platform like Facebook, but not across platforms.
In my opinion, the platforms are responsible for posting the first level of defense against fraud in influencer marketing. The social platforms, to police the activity and manage fraudulent accounts effectively. The influencer platforms, to build similar checks and balances into their technology so brands can trust their influencer recommendations.
Managing the impact of waste, however, is part of the influencer marketing strategy. Our best offense is to put scale in its proper place in the strategy. Quantity – followers, likes, comments, shares, clicks – is not the only metric that matters. Quality of engagement is just as important. In the long run, perhaps more important. That means balancing your strategy, and including tactics that lead to deeper engagements with your current and potential customers as well as broader, more volume-centric microinfluencer tactics.
Remember: the influencer who matters is your customer. Always. That’s why influencer marketing works.