Has the influencer bubble burst?
The fake followers would fit in anywhere: padding out an obscure microinfluencer’s ranks, creating the illusion of customers for a would-be T-shirt seller, skulking among legions of real fans on celebrity accounts like Ellen DeGeneres’. A report by cybersecurity firm Cheq projects that these fake fans will cost brands $1.3 billion in 2019 alone. In the influencer economy, you’re paid in part for the size of your audience, which means that, if an influencer’s account is swarming with fake followers, brands are paying extra to reach people who don’t exist.
Agencies and would-be sponsors know they’re being scammed, and are growing more vigilant. “In the last few years, we’ve started holding influencers accountable in their contracts,” says Gabrielle Vogt, senior manager of digital talent at influencer marketing agency HelloSociety. “They have to agree that they haven’t participated in comment pods, botting, or purchasing fake followers.” Let’s break down these forms of fakery. “Comment pods” (or “engagement pods”) are groups of influencers who agree to like and comment on each other’s posts to artificially drive up engagement and improve their algorithmic performance. “Botting” is using automated fake accounts—bots—to bolster an audience, à la the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency. In their contemporary form, “fake followers” are often real people, just not always the person they say they are, and, of course, not someone who is an actual fan (and hence, potential customer).