January 30, 2018

The practice of purchasing thousands of manufactured followers has been around for years and is something that can be done with the push of a button. What many do not know is that all you need is a social media account and access to a credit card.

The recent New York Times expose, “The Follower Factory,” has reignited the debate on what influential influencers really are, and it has brands and influencers feeling exposed.

It’s not only followers, but it’s other social media engagement that can be manufactured such as retweets on Twitter, views on YouTube or endorsements on LinkedIn.

So why would an influencer or brand take this route to reaching influence? Some do it for online fame, but others for fortune. Brands will pay top dollars to influencers solely based on reach. And, influencers will do it for hundreds of thousands of dollars in free product or merchandise.

As communications professionals, it’s important to serve as a watchdog for brands, ensuring we evaluate and analyze which influencers to partner with. It’s important to go beyond follower count. As you develop your next influencer strategy or are looking for your next brand ambassador, consider the following four factors:

1. Regular Engagement. How many people engage on a regular basis?

Is there is a large discrepancy between the number of followers and their engagement rate? If so, you’re likely looking at manufactured followers or just passive followers. Neither make it ideal for your brand to invest in this influencer. Be sure to check the likes-to-follow ratio before engaging with a channel.

2. Comment Depth and Frequency. What and how are people commenting?

Evaluating comments on influencer content is a great way to understand the quality of their engagement. With bots and fake engagement, many comments show up as generic statements. They tend to be emojis or general statements that might work on any piece of content like – ‘love it’, ‘cool pic’ and ‘beautiful’. But not all comments are fake. Some influencers also work in groups to support and boost each other’s post results. They’re real people, but this practice may lead to engagement that’s not as authentic and receptive to brand messaging.

3. Consistent Growth. Has there been a sudden spike in the number of followers?

The path to organic growth is usually gradual. If there are large spikes in an influencer’s audience, there’s a chance they have been manufacturing followers.

4. Earned Attention. Does an influencer’s content have any earned media value?

Influencer’s content that lends itself to earned media value provides an added value beyond reach and online engagement.

The value of a brand follower on social media is continuing to decrease. This makes it even more vital for brands to partner with the right influencers. At Golin, we use tools such as our Accelerators of Relevance to go beyond follower count and unearth an influencer’s relevance to your brand, a specific topic or your target audience. Engagement, appeal, receptivity and connectivity are all factors that must be evaluated when auditing influencers. Through quantitative and qualitative data, we pair brands with the most relevant influencers who can integrate authentically with branded content.

Authenticity is the source of the connection, and without connection, you don’t have valuable engagement. Make sure you go beyond reach for your next influencer play, otherwise your ROI is bound to fall short.

Do you have a hunch that either one of your executives or your brand purchased manufactured followers or engagements? Make sure you plan accordingly. You’ll want to be prepared to proactively explain your situation and limit or negate potential criticism from both your consumers and your executives.

Contributor: Brian Camen, Director