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Just like you can’t buy your friends, you also shouldn’t buy your followers – not if you expect to maintain your role as an influencer.

That was the overarching theme of the Influencer FraudNomics Summit, which a group from the RhythmInfluence by RhythmOne team attended last month in New York. There, we learned that influencer fraud is estimated to cost brands $1.3 billion dollars this year alone – and that is a threat to the entire industry.

Below are some key takeaways from the summit, along with some insights to help our effort in battling dishonest practices and invalid users in the marketplace.
 

The Battle Against Bots

Bots have been around since before the dawn of social media, but when brands rely on influencers to reach a real human audience, who takes responsibility for sussing out bots?

Summit speakers Keith Bielory of Abrams Artists and Vejay Lalla of Fenwick & West discussed the tension that arises when brands ultimately discover that 30% of the followers they’re paying for are dormant and anywhere between 20% and 78% are fake.

Influencers can only be held liable with the right contract clauses. So, be sure to request analytics from your talent on the backend and include contract terms that impose penalties, termination, or refunds for fraud.

While influencers may be at fault for buying followers, it’s a brand’s responsibility to hold them to a higher standard. Your focus should be on measuring the number of real eyes you’re reaching, not the number of supposed followers.
 

Implementing Industry Standards

A common refrain at the summit was that the reason the Federal Trade Commission isn’t actively monitoring this issue is because there isn’t enough consumer pushback. Additionally, federal regulators are simply unable to keep up with fast-moving technology, leaving a black hole when it comes to standards.

According to economist and professor Dr. Roberto Cavazos (who addressed the Influencer FraudNomics crowd), brands, influencers, and agencies have to work with the government to find a third-party verification standard or certification system for influencers and to agree upon what transparency looks like. He argued that if an approval body were put in place, the industry would grow, engagements would improve, and companies would see a better return on investments.

Until that happens, here are some ways you can help ensure brand safety:

  • Using both a data-driven approach and human supervision to vet and analyze data, such as via RhythmInfluence by RhythmOne’s 35-point brand safety and fraud assurance checklist, can help keep fraud to a minimum.
  • Require first-party data from influencers and access to their accounts for those metrics. This offers transparency, allowing you to measure outcomes and cross-reference using different analytics tools and third-party verification tools to help gauge successes.
  • Work to create industry standards for influencers that reward authenticity and detect fraud on a level playing field.
  • Expect some bot followers from larger influencers and negotiate their compensation rates accordingly.
  • Recognize that micro-influencers with smaller, local followings may have stronger authenticity than larger influencers, who may lack the same human reach.
  • Encourage social media platforms to work with brands on verification and vetting.
  • Add in performance clauses that reward influencers who excel or create more content. Influencers that are rewarded for high engagement and conversions via affiliate programs may be paid a lower rate up front, with an incentive to deliver on engaging content.


Where do we go from here?

Though fraud is hard to police, progress to eradicate it and to increase transparency is on its way.

While some influencers have learned how to work the system, adding extra verification steps will help provide a brand-safe and fraud-free environment. Start investing in vetting technology, influencer data monitoring, and the employment of best practices. RhythmInfluence by RhythmOne battles dishonest practices and “invalid users” in the marketplace with a 35-point brand safety audit, which helps ensure that our engagements are real.

Finally, create or join networks that only accept influencers who aren’t participating in fraud, and reward them by letting them be a part of these networks. If we take all of these steps, we can all help improve the authenticity and transparency of the influencer marketplace.

Do you have questions about influencer marketing, or are you thinking about incorporating an influencer marketing element into your next campaign? Reach out to our team at InfluencerMarketing@rhythmone.com.


Forward-Looking Statements

This article contains forward-looking statements. In some cases, you can identify forward-looking statements by the words “may,” “will,” “expect,” “intend,” “plan,” “objective,” “anticipate,” “believe,” “estimate,” “predict,” “project,” “potential,” “continue” and “ongoing,” or the negative of these terms, or other comparable terminology intended to identify statements about the future. All statements other than statements of historical fact are statements that could be forward-looking statements, including, but not limited to, statements about the potential and effectiveness of influencer marketing. These forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties, assumptions and other factors that could cause actual results and the timing of events to differ materially from future results that are expressed or implied in the forward-looking statements. Factors that could cause or contribute to such differences include the dynamic and rapidly evolving sector, as well as the highly competitive industry that RhythmOne operates in, which make it difficult to evaluate prospects. These and other risk factors are discussed in RhythmOne’s Annual Report for the period ended March 31, 2018. The forward-looking statements in this press release are based on information available to RhythmOne as of the date hereof, and we assume no obligation to update any forward-looking statements.