The digital marketing and advertising industry is facing numerous challenges. The rise in popularity of adblockers highlights the sentiment of consumers, viewing digital ads as a nuisance and invasive. Then you have the issue of unreliable metrics, with recent studies showing that ads only reach a small % of their target audience, and the rest made up of fake or accidental clicks.

As a result, new concepts like influencer marketing has become a go-to for brands and agencies looking to spread their message.

However, influencer marketing’s rise in popularity – and how lucrative it has become – has seen rise to fraud within campaigns. Bought traffic, fake engagements and a lack of accountability are just some of the issues.

Is it now time for the industry to grow up?

Brands have awoken to the influencer opportunity

It would be hard to find anyone familiar with the world of digital influencers that weren’t famiilar with Zoe ‘Zoella’ Sugg. The fashion and beauty blogger commands an impressive following of over 11.6 million subscribers on YouTube, 11 million Instagram followers and a 9.2 million-strong Twitter fanbase. Amongst her many accomplishments, Zoella has a bestselling line of beauty products, smashed first-week sales records when she released her debut book ‘Girl Online’, and was recently named the #1 Beauty Influencer by Forbes in its 2017 Top Influencers list.

Brands and agencies are increasingly recognising the value of collaborating with these new rulers of the digital world. You just have to look at the way an increasing number of celebrities are monetising their social media accounts along with their skills. A single Instagram post from Selena Gomez is reported to set a brand back $775,000 while, Beyoncé charges a cool $1 million. Let’s not mention the latest Love Island Z-listers selling the latest teeth whitening products to adoring fans.

But the expansion of this burgeoning industry, and the potential for very lucrative rewards, has spawned a subset of the market that poses a threat to influencers, brands and agencies alike.

The rise of the ‘InstaFaker’

Fuelled by the desire to compete in a market with untold potential, some social media users and bloggers are turning to more dubious practices to gain a higher following, increase engagement and drive impressions. Rather than organically growing and cultivating a digital presence, you can now simply purchase one. Such is the rise of this market that there is reportedly a vending machine in a Russian shopping mall offering 100 Instagram followers for as little as 100 Roubles (or GBP1.40).

You think that’s crazy? It’s only going to get worse from here.

The allure for brands and agencies is clear: influencer marketing reportedly generates six times the returns compared with earned media. But with an influx of bots that can help you to win friends and influence people, the challenge of differentiating between the influencers that have the potential to substantially drive brand awareness and ROI, and those that merely look like they can, is becoming increasingly difficult for brands and agencies to decipher.

As a result, some brands and agencies are having negative experiences with certain influencers when it comes to analysing campaigns and measuring the results versus the investment.

So, how exactly can brands and agencies tackle the influencer marketing challenge?

Ask the right questions

It sounds self explanatory, but brands and agencies often use the wrong KPIs to determine the best influencer for their campaign. Metrics, such as the number of followers, likes or number of page impressions on a blog are not as helpful at determining potential ROI as clickthrough rate might be. Brands and agencies that ensure they are tracking the right metrics against the best KPI for their campaign are less likely to be hoodwinked by fake followers.

Alignment is key

Ensuring that the campaign goals are aligned with the best influencer and best channels, can help brands and agencies to determine which KPIs and metrics they should measure for their campaign. Which leads us too…

Size isn’t everything

Choosing an influencer with the 150k+ followers doesn’t necessarily equate to the best engagement rate for a sponsored post or campaign. So called ‘micro-influencers, with targeted and engaged audiences, can often provide a much better rate of engagement for a brand.

Fight fire with fire

Or technology with technology in this case. Other technologies have arisen as a direct response to the rise of bots. This enables users to sift through social media profiles, looking for patterns and other signs of automation such as ‘liking’ and commenting at the same time each day, word repetition, etc. Use technology to your advantage.

Avoid putting your eggs in one basket

If you have a budget in place, don’t go all in on one particular influencer. Test the water initially, measure the results and then review. Spreading your budget across a number of influencers with smaller communities may give you more value for money – and results.

With brands and agencies estimated to assign $1 billion to influencer marketing on Instagram alone, influencers, brands and agencies and brand have a responsibility to work together and safeguard against fraud. Only then will all three be able to ensure that the untapped potential of the market can be fully realised.

Influencer marketing is at the stage where it needs to evolve. By working together that can be achieved.

Simon Staib

Simon Staib


Simon Staib, Co-Founder, blogfoster.