AudAngry AudVerbalDiarrhea

How influencers fake their follower count on social media and how agencies help

Hello everyone!

This has been something I’ve been wanting to blog about for some time but it’s a heavy issue to take on. It’s also super long winded cos I had to squeeze in a lot of info into one post so uh drink some coffee.

The topic is, cheating on social media.

I’m not talking about married men on Tinder yo.

I’m talking about ‘faking it till you make it’ on social platforms.

With the rise of blogging, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Dayre, Snapchat, and what-have-you, follows the birth of a unique creature called the Blogger (or Influencer)*.

(I guess I am one wtf)

* A Blogger is someone with a blog.  An Influencer is what people in the marketing industry refer to when they mean ‘someone who has “influence” on social media’.  An Influencer can be a celebrity or someone ordinary who just has a following on social media.  However, having influence is subjective.

With the rise of the Blogger/Influencer comes the rise of FAKING ON SOCIAL MEDIA /insert angry smoke blowing emoticon

I used to work in advertising – digital and social media to be exact – and I still blog, so this field was something I really pay attention to.  It’s such a new area and it can be tricky to gauge what it means to work with influencers.  There are no hard and fast rules to calculate the power of an influencer either.  A lot of questions exist and this is how problems start to occur.

So are influencers real?

The term is super misleading. An influencer technically can be anybody. You got influence over your cat’s behavior then you can also be an influencer what wtf.

The right question is, what is an effective influencer and how do you avoid fakes?

Here’s what I think you need to look out for when evaluating if an Influencer/Blogger would be effective for your purposes.  (disclaimer: there aren’t really any hard and fast rules so this is what I personally observed.  And it’s probably only specific to Malaysia since all markets are different.)

1. Quantity (of followers/traffic/hits)

This is the most obvious.  Look at their blog traffic, Instagram follower count, FB fans, Dayre, Twitter followers, etc.

But how many followers would you need to be influential? 10K? 30K? More than 100K? No hard and fast rules cos it depends on many factors (location/market, type influencer, type of content, social platform, even language) but if the Influencer is a hot girl, 10K isn’t going to cut it wtf.  Really pretty girls rack up followers by the thousands just cos Instagram is such a visual medium.

A reasonable way to gauge if a number is good is compare between similar content bloggers.

Quantity =Awareness.  The more people you reach, the more awareness you get.  However Awareness alone is not Influence.  You may be telling 100K people about your product but if those people are not interested, you just wasted your time.  However, you can engage an Influencer with a huge enough following and hope that out of that you will reach a certain number who match your target audience.

2.  Engagement/Interaction

You can’t judge a B/I on quantity of readers/followers alone.

Look at number of interactions.  This includes comments, shares, likes, etc. Obviously the more, the better.  Again judge against another similar blog post or blogger to figure out a standard.

Also look at quality – the interactions they generate, the content of those interactions and comments.

In an ideal world, every sponsored post a Blogger/Influencer does would be traced to a sales record because the final desired outcome is after all, a sale.  But that’s not possible (yet?).  The next best thing is to see whether an Influencer’s post sparks off comments showing interest to buy.  

And if a post sparks a conversation about said product, we can presume that the blogger has introduced/reminded a reader about the product. The more top of mind a product is, the more the reader is likely to buy it.

Plus reading comments is a great way to find out what your customers think of you. :)

3. Relevance

This is common sense. Don’t be a nut and engage say a male rapper to promote ladies’ cosmetics.  It’s just not going to work.

However, Relevance counters Quantity.  Quantity may be low but if Relevance is high, the overall effect should still be positive.  In other words, even if you’re reaching a small audience, if the blog is known to be a trusted word on that subject, it’s the right move to make.

On the other hand, if say if a pretty girl with thousands of followers posts a photo/update but everyone is irrelevantly talking about how pretty she is, is she considered influential? Nobody cares what she said, they’re only reacting to her looks.  Popularity DOES NOT NECESSARILY EQUATE Influence.

4. Rapport

This one is kind of subjective but Imma put it out there anyway.  If a blogger has good rapport with his readers, has generally supportive comments and seems well liked, I can presume whatever product recommendations he makes will go down well.  Say a good friend tells you about this awesome soap he’s using.  You’d be more willing to trust his word because you like and respect him.  As opposed to the bitch who plays politics in your office wtf.

So the conclusion is…

Do your homework.  Talk to your friends, colleagues or better still, contacts in the industry. If more people have heard of this Influencer, it’s a good sign.  If they brighten up and tell you some (hopefully positive) news on that Influencer, even better.

If you have time, follow that Influencer on social media for a while.  Most Malaysian Bloggers/Influencers are very personality based so their social media is about their lives and personalities.  It’s easy to figure out what they’re like, how’s their relationship with their readers, and whether their lives and charaters are suitable for your product.  You wouldn’t ask a blogger who’s trying to conceive to promote your birth control pill, would you?

All this should give you equally as good a picture, if not better, of the suitability of a blogger for your business. When you’re in doubt, use your own brain, do your own research.

Why am I writing such a long winded boring lecture on social media usage?

Because CHEATING, THAT’S WHY!

A food blogger (whom I’ve heard of but never met) posted this on her Facebook recently.

2015-08-24_09-57-08

 

I AM VERY SHOCKED AND DISGUSTED. Because while I’ve heard of influencers doing this, this is the first time I’ve seen an AGENCY (basically a professional company) attempt to cheat like this.

If you were confused, a social media or PR agency contacted her to work with a client of theirs.  Many businesses work with third party agencies to engage Bloggers/Influencers.

Sounds like this agency wants to sell her Instagram/FB to the client but deems her follower count as too low.  So the agency asked her to “pump” it up by BUYING FOLLOWERS.

If you’re not in this field, you may not realize how disgusting this is.

Buying ads on Facebook to drive FB fans is one thing.  Your ad is shown to FB users who fit your target audience.  If they’re interested in your page, they click Like and you gain a GENUINE fan. These are real people who actively chose to follow your page.

Buying Instagram followers is an entirely different thing.  You pay a company, and they increase your followers.  How?  There are no ads on Instagram.  The followers you get are mostly fake – bots or fake profiles.  These profiles can have no profile photo, don’t post any photos themselves, or post 1-2 very very shitty quality pics (like a grainy photo of a TV screen wtf #truestory).  These accounts usually follow thousands of people but have very few followers themselves.  It’s spammy and very fake.

Instagram has no analytics so it’s hard to see.  But if you:

  • scroll through their follower list and see a lot of profiles with no photos, with usernames like @4hrghhjs_skkfjkhs, chances are they’re bots
  • watch an Instagram account and see the count go up by 100 or a round number every day, chances are they are bought.  Actually, almost 100% confirmed bought cos how can it be a coincidence every day increase 100?
  • notice that the number of likes/comments are extraordinarily low compared to their followers, chances are the followers are fake too.  Bots don’t like or comment. There’s no formula for calculating interaction rate but I guess 3-4% and more is decent?  If you have 100K followers and 1000+ likes (1%) I’d wonder if you bought followers.  Another general trend is the less followers you have, the higher your interaction rate should be cos at a lower count it’s easier to have more likes in proportion.  So even if you have 15K followers and 100+ likes, I’d also be suspicious.  (And especially if you’re a decent looking girl :X)

The blogger who posted the update above is Missyblurkit.  Wei Zhi of Kampungboycitygal showed me her post so here I am, clapping for her wtf.  She could have gone the dishonest route and earned more money for herself (cheating unsuspecting clients) but she chose to preserve her integrity. :)

I can’t say the same for many Bloggers/Influencers.  In fact, I’m currently watching one blogger increase her IG follower count by 100 every day.  Wonder how much money is involved and what number she’ll stop at hahaha.

It really pisses me off because I’ve worked hard for my traffic and influence and I’m sure a lot of bloggers out there are the same.  But these people just “pump” up their followers and then they can charge clients more cos they have *ahem* more readers.  How is that fair to other bloggers, not to mention the clients?  They’re basically paying to reach out to an non-existent audience.

As for that agency in question, they’re  blatantly trying to cheat the client!  They implied that the client wants a higher number, no matter what it takes.  Unless the client is very stupid, there is no way a client would want to buy fake followers.  How would that contribute to their end goal of sales at all?  On the other hand, it would definitely affect the agency’s performance to the client.  So I believe the agency was doing this without the client’s knowledge.

So this post is for the marketers and business owners.  Social media is a very grey area with a lot of opportunity to cheat.  But when used correctly it can really boost your business.  Please be smart about it and don’t get cheated.  :)

 

 

  • Adrian Tan

    which agency was this? super curious nao! hurhur

  • http://tauyanm.com/ Mary Jane Tauyan Fitzsimmons

    Saw that post on facebook as well, and I was like Errrr… T___T haha love this blogpost! Sharing!!! =)

  • bowie23

    totally agree !

  • cindyrina

    Thats too much!!! Gosh! they want to be cheated? adooiiii! so daring to even suggest you to buy.
    http://www.princesscindyrina.com

  • Miriam Goh

    Great post Audrey! I’ve seen that status post on Facebook as well and so true how nowadays agency/clients just focus on the number of followers/likes instead of genuine engagement and interactions. Some ‘influencers’ I know of can have a few thousand followers but even less than 100 likes on their photos and post! These fake influencers are not only cheating their readers/clients but also making the industry difficult for those who actually worked hard to get their followers but are just pushed aside for campaigns and projects. Thanks for such a great post!

    xoxo
    Miriam
    http://www.miriammerrygoround.com

  • missyblurkit

    THANX for sharing it which otherwise would have been just considered a rant when it was originally posted.

  • Miriam Goh

    Great post Audrey! I’ve seen that status post on Facebook as well and so true how nowadays agency/clients just focus on the number of followers/likes instead of genuine engagement and interactions. Some ‘influencers’ I know of can have a few thousand followers but even less than 100 likes on their photos and post! These fake influencers are not only cheating their readers/clients but also making the industry difficult for those who actually worked hard to get their followers but are just pushed aside for campaigns and projects. Thanks for such a great post!

    xoxo
    Miriam
    http://www.miriammerrygoround.com

  • sherrygo

    Thy sure have nothing better to do and play cheat spoil those hard worker and also market. I hope nobody support them.

  • leonamanutd

    there are getting more and more PR willing to cheat, not just cheat client but a lot of times cheat bloggers too.

  • http://iamyumimeiki.blogspot.com/ iamyumimeiki

    too awesome must share! with too many fakes out there, everyone calls themselves influencers ><"

  • Duku langsat

    Hi audrey, you are really a good blogger. as a reader i really appreciate for effort and you really deserve my “follow” hahahaha (maybe because i am sick and tired of reading those so called blogger just write advertorial post.) ganbateh and have a great day~~ <3

  • Claire Bong

    So true. I work in social media and I have seen countless times where it’s not just agencies but clients themselves who want to pump up the numbers so that things look better than they are.

  • CC

    Walao..too many such people on Social Media! In fact, I have a friend who’s like that too but I’m not close to him. His number of Instagram followers dropped significantly after the clean up. Disgusting. The ones I despised the most are those with poor grammar and yet media companies keep engaging them! Oh well, it’s the numbers that count I guess?

  • http://www.tallpiscesgirl.com/ Charmaine Pua

    Read the status as well, agencies these days just wanna earn more money eh? I wish the clients are smart enough to go check the list of followers instead of just looking at the numbers. Sometimes I kepoh and scroll through popular IGers’ followers list too :p

    tallpiscesgirl

  • http://www.adrianathani.com/ Adriana Thani

    Instagram has been really great at dumping fake accounts recently, which I think is great! It was funny to immediately see who has been buying followers lol.

  • http://sixthseal.com/ Poh Huai Bin

    Well written and well said Aud. I’ve seen this a lot too, but it’s the first time I’ve ever heard of an *agency* asking for the numbers to be boosted. I would like to say I am surprised (and I was, when reading it at first) but come to think of it there are so many unscrupulous agencies out there nowadays.

    I really don’t get the point of buying Likes or fake followers, it affects the interactions negatively and everyone knows growth isn’t exponential. I actually have pretty sad numbers except for YouTube (coz of fireworks and er, certain exotic meats) and the blog, but I don’t mind coz only those two are things I care about.

  • fourfeetnine

    Thanks HB! Actually I think the social platforms a blogger is strong on depends on the blogger’s content and personality. IG is a very visual platform so naturally pretty female bloggers would have higher numbers there. You being strong on Youtube and blog of course reflects your content and who you are as a blogger :)

  • fourfeetnine

    Yea I can’t wait for the second round of cleanup!

  • fourfeetnine

    Ya but from the sound of it a lot of clients aren’t very savvy with social media T_T hopefully my blog post will shed some light on it

  • fourfeetnine

    To me there’s more than one thing that makes a popular blogger. maybe the blogger’s English is not good but they write more in Chinese? Either way if they’re genuinely popular and engaging then it’s fine ah.

  • fourfeetnine

    but why would the clients do that??? it’s not truly beneficial for them also

  • fourfeetnine

    Aww thank you!

  • fourfeetnine

    Yea anyone can be an influencer now hahaha

  • fourfeetnine

    you mean PR agencies? how?

  • fourfeetnine

    Haha yea that’s why must expose those who do cheat

  • fourfeetnine

    Thank you Miriam :)

  • fourfeetnine

    Nice to meet you today!

  • fourfeetnine

    Hahaha I have some clues but dunno the exact agency 😛

  • fourfeetnine

    Thanks!

  • Harada

    Do you think Nuffnang is any better? Xiaxue was calling herself “Asia Pacific’s top blogger” and claims that “40,000” people read her blog “everyday”. How true is that exactly?

  • fourfeetnine

    Glad you asked. Many corporations and entities refer to themselves as XXX TOP XXX even without substantiation so I don’t see how it’s any different. Xiaxue may be blogging less now but she is arguably still the most well-known of bloggers in the region.

    And anyway what she states on her blog is her statement. FYI in the industry ethical and professional agencies (including Nuffnang) will share impartial third party blog traffic numbers (ie Google analytics) to clients that cannot be faked. Blog traffic also varies day to day and this info would also be available to clients working with her. So her clients would already know her numbers. How is that cheating? Compared to actively buying fake followers to cheat a client.

    Thanks for asking so you can be educated about how things really work.

  • Harada

    OK I understand now. Thanks for explaining. I agree that buying fake followers is bad. But do you know that Xiaxue is advertising a company in her blog that sells fake followers? If Nuffnang is against fake followers, then why is she even advertising such a client?

  • fourfeetnine

    What company is that? Do you have screencap evidence? No offense but are you just parroting what you’ve read from xiaxue hate sites?

    If it’s her pixel ad space you mean, she was selling the AD SPACE. The buyer could have one ad up when she sold it but changed the ad halfway and she wouldn’t even know cos they already bought the ad space.

    Besides, that ad space doesn’t even belong to Nuffnang. Nuffnang ad spaces have a Nuffnang logo on them.

    You seem extremely eager to pin accusations on xiaxue and Nuffnang without knowledge of how the digital ad industry works. I hope you don’t embarrass yourself further.

  • Shelley Straitiff

    The clients ask for it because they are often marketing managers who have been asked by execs to show numbers. The marketing manager wants to do a campaign to look good, so she wants to say she got x impressions for $x. Likewise, the agencies provide reports where they use numbers – not quality or effect.

  • candyserendipitymom

    This is why after 7 years blogging, my follower accounts are are still under 5k on each because I not only refuse to buy followers but refuse to beg and beg for likes!