The dynamic nature of online marketing has made it such an exciting field to explore. Unfortunately, it also means that it is also susceptible to more unscrupulous elements that aim to victimize businesses that simply want to take advantage of all the benefits online and social media marketing offer. Particularly on Instagram, one of the most vibrant platforms on digital marketing these days, a challenge for marketers has risen: influencer fraud.
With the newly installed power given to so-called influencers, or accounts with a substantial amount of followers that are believed to have an impact on the latter’s spending decisions, an opportunity has become available for cybercriminals to cash in on this trend by pretending to be influencers victimizing both their followers and businesses alike. Instagram (and Facebook, as IG is a Facebook company) has put the effort into controlling influencer engagement fraud, although those efforts may not be enough anymore. Let’s look into the various events that have affected the otherwise promising world of influencer marketing:
Has the government done anything?
The answer to the question is an absolute yes, but then if the question were, “Has the government done enough,” it would be a no. The government, through its agency the Federal Trade Commission, has rolled out guidelines for influencers, requiring them to put a disclosure notice on all sponsored posts. However, the guidelines have not been as effective as they were intended to be. For example, a campaign of US department store Lord & Taylor had them employing 50 Instagram influencers who they required to post about a dress. However, the company didn’t require those IG influencers to disclose the sponsored status of their posts. The case ended in a settlement, with the FTC banning the business from “misrepresenting that paid ads are from an independent source.” However, no fines were required to be paid.
The FTC is especially critical of companies that have pressured influencers to hide the fact that their endorsements are paid advertising. In 2016, video network Machinima settled a deceptive advertising complaint with the FTC for not disclosing that it paid YouTubers to make endorsements of the Xbox One, and telling them to position their opinions as independent reviews. The settlement, which also did not involve a monetary penalty, has done little to deter native advertising on platforms today. The FTC is now calling for “codifying elements of the existing endorsement guides into formal rules so that violators can be liable for civil penalties.”
Who is responsible?
So, who has the ultimate say on how influencer fraud should be controlled? It’s none other than Instagram’s parent company, Facebook. Instagram the platform and its users are so prone to fraudsters that in a very short amount of time, for example, five minutes, any user of the platform can inflate his or her followers and like count by the thousands simply by purchasing them. Facebook has done some action to abolish this fraudulent practice of when it took in 2012, with fraudulent users getting blocked. Since then, fraudsters have become advanced, and safeguards against them have not progressed as fast.
The longer people stay on the platform, the more ads they are shown — and the more ad revenue Instagram can make. It is in Instagram’s interests to make life easy for influencers by allowing them to achieve huge follower growth and engagement, in order to keep them on the platform rather than risk losing them to competitors like YouTube and Twitter.
Influencers expose the system’s weaknesses
Who better to expose the fault of Instagram as a platform than influencers themselves? A blogger sent to deliver a message to her followers to not believe everything they see on social media and be more discerning on what the accounts they follow stand for by staging a fake vacation. Natalia Taylor filled her Instagram account with pictures of her having the time of her life in Bali, only to reveal later that she just took the photos in an IKEA.
Her first post with a "Bali" location was captioned "The queen has arrived," and shows Taylor in what seems to be a glamorous setting. Other photos showed her lounging in a luxurious bath and preparing to pop a bottle of champagne.
Just say no
As a business just starting your journey on social media marketing, you cannot afford to be connected with fake influencers, only to be duped by them in the long run. You need to be alert in spotting real influencers and separate them from fake ones who will only cause trouble. There are some easy steps to sport fakes, but then you have to know the red flags to be alert for.
They are often bots or real people who purchase their likes and followers to help raise their engagement artificially, making them appear to have a strong following and thus a good influence over the market. That's not the reality, though, and you’d get better results by opening your window and throwing your cash out into the street.
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