When Unilever announced “no more fake followers,” it got the industry talking. Brands and agencies immediately started to ask how they’d enforce similar mandates for their influencer campaigns across various platforms.
Removing fake followers from influencer follower counts is a great idea and each platform will find their own way to do it effectively. The problem is that “fake followers” is a fake headline for the industry. Let me explain.
It’s not that fake followers are a myth; there are plenty of bots and faulty accounts that boost follower numbers for influencers large and small along with many tools to decipher which accounts are artificially boosted. I applaud Twitter which just took action to restore trust in its platform by finding and removing automated and/or fake accounts which have resulted in the decrease of follower counts from many influencers. The cleaner and more accurate follower counts are as a “measurement” of appeal and creativity, the easier it is to select influencers for a campaign. The actual problem is how much importance perceived follower count has on influencer marketing decisions at all.
Organic reach has been decreasing precipitously in the last year or so. According to 2018 WHOSAY research, Facebook organic reach for sponsored posts is 5-7% which is down 23% as compared to the end of 2017. On Instagram, there’s a sweet spot of 36% organic reach on Instagram for trailblazers in the 1-2 million follower range. But for other groups with both more and fewer followers than that figure, organic reach is closer to 23-25% at best for sponsored posts.
With such a small subsection of followers seeing organic posts, to begin with, it shows the flaw in the organic reach approach versus seeing influencer marketing as paid advertising. With an optimized paid distribution plan, brands are putting their spend on the audience that is actually going to interact with the sponsored posts. That makes the “fake followers vs. real followers” conversation basically null and void since you are not working with an influencer for their reach but their creativity.
There are many marketers that view the follower conversation in this way of raw organic numbers and it’s hard to fault them for it. The industry knowledge and coverage lag behind the actual results of high performing influencer marketing campaigns relying on minimal organic reach. Brands are finding that paying for selfies published to a given follower count is wasted money. What do you know about that group? Do they really represent the potential audience you want to get your message in front of?
In addition, quality creative also shouldn’t be limited to the followers of a single individual influencer. The social platforms are designed to be targeted paid media companies with diverse capabilities for marketing to their typical consumers. Best results come from using them in this manner, yet the approach most influencer marketers take isn’t always reflective of this dynamic.
When you work with an influencer you typically want a subset of their audience which will have the most impact for your brand. And if you select the right kind of influencer and produce a great piece of creative it should be effective well beyond that influencer’s followers. The combination of creative talent and premium content can be distributed beyond social and into third-party publishers, out-of-home, television and ad networks to achieve the best performance possible.
The fear coming from the “fake follower” conversation is seen as a backlash on influencer marketing. Truthfully, it’s a backlash on an outdated approach that experience and data completely refutes. This isn’t about how many people/accounts follow a given social media account. It’s how you can collaborate with an influencer and tap into the power of the creativity to support your brand messaging.
Changing the lens will help change your overall influencer marketing thinking and strategy, and will lead to more effective influencer marketing campaigns in the future. Weed out the influencers ripe with “fake followers” as you must and focus your efforts on professional and creative talent combined with targeted and optimized paid distribution to cut through the advertising clutter.
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