One of the biggest challenges brands face with influencer marketing is determining how to properly vet potential influencers for campaigns. There’s a lot to consider, from the type of influencer to the audience to the authenticity of their stats.
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Fake influencers are on the rise, leading brands to believe that they have much more clout than they actually do. It’s easy for influencers to use low-cost follow services and bots to imitate engagement – and they can be hard to differentiate from the real influencers.
These strategies can help brands evaluate influencer partnerships before they enter into contracts, maximizing the potential success of a campaign.
What Are Vanity Metrics and Why Do They Matter?
Whether a fake following or a genuine one, some brands just look at an influencer’s numbers. After all, they’re still getting an audience and reach.
Unfortunately, the purchased services that fake influencers use have audiences made up of abandoned and hacked accounts, dummy accounts, follow/follow back pods, and cloned accounts that make it appear as though real people are interested in their content.
Real influencers attract followers who share a common interest, whether that’s fitness, lifestyle, travel, tech, nature, or any other niche. When an influencer buys followers, they not only offer no guarantee of the audience’s interests but many of their followers aren’t truly engaging with the content.
Vanity metrics harm brands’ time and money. They invest resources into partnering with social media influencers only to see their campaigns fail. It’s not because the campaigns aren’t sound but because these influencers are faking the actual influence they have.
The algorithms for social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube prioritize content based on a user’s previous content interests and preferences. Through their behavior, users tell the algorithms what they want to see based on how they engage.
With that determining the content that makes it into newsfeeds, it’s likely that the content from influencers who purchase followers will never even show up in front of the bought followers, let alone anyone else.
The market is noticing, however. The United Arab Emirates has a new requirement for social media influencers to either be licensed themselves or work through a licensed influencer marketing agency. This will prevent many current and aspiring influencers from doing business in the Middle East.
Brands are also taking a stand. Unilever announced that it will not work with influencers who buy followers and that it will give preference to social media platforms that provide transparency about user accounts. As a major umbrella brand with many major brands under it, including Axe and Dove, that leaves a lot of money on the table.
These are just two examples of how the industry is fighting back against the rise of fake influencers and calling for more transparency and ethical considerations for the industry. But until that happens, the responsibility falls on brands to do their due diligence.
How to Vet Influencers
Brands can evaluate potential influencer partners many ways, including:
Knowing the Brand Audience
It’s crucial for brands to understand their own audience before selecting possible influencers. It doesn’t matter how big an influencer is or how much clout they have. If the audience doesn’t fit, the sponsored content won’t resonate.
That doesn’t mean that brands need to stay strictly within their industry, however. Naturally, a fashion brand will work with fashion influencers, as will athletic brands and beauty brands, but there are opportunities for crossovers into other industries. For example, a health-conscious food brand can benefit from a partnership with a fitness influencer.
Conducting a Social Media Audit
If a brand has a list of potential influencers, an audit can go a long way toward identifying the ideal options. This is also helpful if an influencer reaches out for a collaboration.
Brands can use details like audience quality and engagement rate to narrow the list, but here are the important details to look for in the “fine print.”
- Is the profile picture clear? Does it match the content?
- Does the bio contain specific details? Is it personable?
- Does the bio sound like it was written by a human?
- Is there a business contact, collaboration email, or influencer landing page link?
This profile from @ellie_gonsalves shows her work, brand collaborations and partnerships, and contact information:
A lot of these questions will quickly separate the legitimate influencers from the fake ones. For example, fake influencers often use stock photos that imitate real creators. A Google reverse image search can help with identifying stock photos.
Bios also offer important details to evaluate if influencers are authentic and if they’re a personality fit. Successful influencers share information about their industry focus and experience, as well as a landing page or content information to show that they’re open to collaborations.
After the influencer information itself, brands should check the audience information.
- Does the account have more followers than people following it?
- Does the influencer meet the minimum follower threshold?
- What is the account’s follow-to-following ratio?
These details indicate the size of the influencer’s audience. For example, an influencer with a 5:1 ratio has 5,000+ followers and follows 1,000 accounts. Authentic influencers will almost always have more followers than accounts they’re following.
There is nuance to these numbers, however. Authentic influencers have a follower-to-following ratio of 3:1 or greater, but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Accounts with 1:1 follower-to-following ratios are a concern, however, because it often means they have low-quality followers like bots.
Finally, brands should check the influencer’s feed and aesthetic to make sure it’s cohesive and it reflects the ideal for the brand. The content should be edited and curated for quality, and it’s important to check for the appropriate type of content like videos or static images, depending on the needs of the campaign.
In addition to checking the influencer’s account and audience, it’s important to conduct a content-level audit to check the engagement on the posts.
For example, if an influencer is posting about a coffee brand but all the comments are discussing beauty tips, there could be a disconnect. A smaller audience that’s dedicated and engaged is worth far more than a massive following that isn’t interested in the brand.
The influencer should also engage with their audience. Reach isn’t the same as influence, so brands should look for influencers who take the time to respond to comments, answer questions, and share more information to get their audience interested in the product or service they’re promoting.
For example, this creator is responding to comments and questions about a rug they’re promoting:
Evaluating the Brand Fit
Brands should approach influencer vetting similar to hiring for an open position. While the influencer is external, they still represent a brand and its values. It’s essential for brands to ensure that the influencers they work with have a consistent point of view that matches brand values.
For example, if a vegan brand wants to work with a vegan influencer, but they find photos of meet on the feed, that could do significant harm to their reputation. The same is true of influencer’s who behave unprofessionally on their accounts.
Considering Language and Style
One of the reasons influencer marketing can be so effective is its authenticity. Followers come to see influencer recommendations like recommendations from friends or family, giving them a break from salesy marketing tactics and overly polished advertising.
There are some influencers who can pull off more promotional language, but it’s crucial for brands to consider the voice they’re looking for and the way their audience responds to this language. If products are reviewed with too much promotion, they won’t have the desired effect.
The Biggest Mistakes Brands Make When Vetting Influencers
Though vetting and researching influencers may seem straightforward, it’s anything but. Choosing the right influencers takes time and effort to ensure that campaigns have a high likelihood of success.
Here are some mistakes brands may make when vetting influencers:
- An inconsistent vetting process: It’s important for brands to have an idea of what they want from an influencer before they begin looking for potential creators. These don’t need to be set in stone, but having criteria for follower count, engagement rate, creator type, and aesthetics can save a lot of time and help with the evaluation process.
- High expectations: There are numerous influencers for brands to partner with. While it’s important to have certain standards, finding the perfect influencer who ticks all the boxes can waste a lot of time with little results.
- Relying on tools: Influencer marketing tools can help with vetting creators, but they may not be current. Many built-in auditors aren’t capable of detecting fake followers, so it’s important for brands to review influencers manually for the best results.
- Stopping the research: Vetting influencers is an ongoing process that doesn’t end once a brand has chosen their collaborator. Influencer campaigns must be monitored and managed every step of the way to ensure that the influencer is performing and engaging as expected.
Brands Need to Do Their Due Diligence
Influencer marketing is a must in the modern business climate, but choosing the wrong influencer can be a disaster. Brands have to put the work in and vet influencers thoroughly throughout the entire process to ensure that they’re representing them properly and getting results.