These days you’d be hard pressed to find a brand that isn’t engaging influencers in their integrated campaigns.

We do it often and have noted great results from working with some amazing influencers to bring awareness and love to our brands through exposure to their like-minded communities. But we also know first hand how fickle, confusing and often misleading a strategy it can be as it still remains difficult to truly track ROI on influencer campaigns especially with the rise in fake accounts and bought engagement.

Recently we’ve seen a major inquest into influencer marketing sparked by one of the world’s biggest advertisers Unilever’s CMO Keith Weed, who has announced that his company would make an effort not to work with influencers with fake followers or had used bots to grow their accounts, while prioritising partners who are actively trying to improve transparency. As Weed states, “We need to take urgent action now to rebuild trust before it’s gone forever.”

So, how did the industry get to this point?

For many brands, follower count and likes has been the primary, and often the only metric used when selecting which influencers to work with, despite whether or not they are suited to the brand. This is the key factor which encourages inauthentic padding of an influencer’s follower list, and yet the practice is not only to a brand’s detriment, but it is also completely unethical.

An influencer may have huge numbers at first glance, but if those numbers are inflated by fake followers and bought engagement, then the brand will not be getting what it hoped to out of the agreement.

Ethics come into play when you compare this type of activity to more traditional forms of advertising and marketing. If, for example a publishing house or magazine were to lie about their audience numbers or readership based off made-up identities, it would be considered fraud.

Now is the time for marketers to invest in finding the right people to represent their brands. We, here at Nitty Gritty, have strategies in place to ensure that our influencers are genuinely invested in brands, and in turn, their engagement is authentic.

A vetting process is integral

An immediate red flag is when an influencer has a high number of followers and low engagement. This generally means they’ve bought followers. These days however, it is possible for influencers to also buy engagement.

There are two ways to recognise the fraud. Firstly, have a look at how their audience interacts with the influencer. True influencers live up to their title – they have a drastic influence over many of their followers. Secondly, before engaging an influencer ask to have a look at their Iconosquare stats.

Employ micro-influencers

Micro-influencers are typically considered an influencer with less than 30,000 followers, engagement to correlate and are a return to what an influencer is at its core: a relatively normal person that consumers feel they can connect to and trust.

Consumers aren’t blind to influencer marketing. Everybody assumes that these people are being paid to promote certain products, but we are more inclined to believe in the authenticity of a regular human who have steadily built their following through authentic engagement and a niche interest or passion that is core to their personal brand.

Be human

Trust your gut. If an influencer is only looking to get paid and isn’t actually contributing ideas to how they can make a campaign successful, they either aren’t a real influencer, or simply aren’t worth hiring.

Get your tools out

If you’re looking for a tool to validate suspicions or a nagging doubt about the sincerity of an influencer on your radar, you can use Social Blade. With this online tool, businesses can be on the lookout for sharp drops or increases to followers – a clear sign that an account is not authentic.

Consumers want authentic, engaging content which is going to take more than a simple product placement on a busy account, and the bottom line is that fake accounts simply do not convert. As influencer marketing matures, we’ll hopefully see the industry work through some of these insecurities and learn to engage with what is genuine. We all know this is the key to happiness and authentic growth.