Fake It Till You Make It: Influencer Marketing Costing Brands Up To $1.3 Billion Dollars A Year

A new report from Business of Fashion has calculated that influencer marketing is costing brands more than $1 billion USD per year. 

The study, which was conducted by cyber security company Cheq and the University of Baltimore, states that influences who pay for fake followers or engagement will cost advertisers $1.3 billion USD this year alone. This number is also projected to grow to $1.5 billion USD by 2020. The reason for this huge loss is due to influencers purchasing fake followers and engagement which is tricking brands into thinking they have a larger audience and engagement rate on content than is reality. 

Cavazos also conducted a study and found that 25 percent of followers of 10,000 influencers were fake, while another study stated that out of 800 brands and marketing agencies, two-thirds found out they had worked with influencers with fake followers. Following the research, Cavazos believes 50 percent of engagement on sponsored content is fake. Aside from buying engagement, Cavazos noted that some influencers post fake sponsored content “to dupe brands into believing they have a proven track record — and in order to get hired for a future engagement.”

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So how do brands navigate this minefield of fake influencers and make sure they are working with genuine influencers that haven't purchased fake followers and or engagement? Below are 3 different methods we use to make sure we are working with people that not only have not purchased followers but also have real, genuine influence on the scene they are attached to:


The first step is to use social data tools to analyse an influencers activity and see if there have been any dramatic spikes in followers or engagements in the past. If there are irregularities with activity you then need to look at those dates and see if anything happened to justify that leap in engagement or following. If there is nothing to justify a spike then it is more than likely that the influencer paid for engagement or followers over that period. Another way to see the quality of an influencers community is to look at the comment section on a few posts - if there are genuine comments with replies from the influencer then this is a sign that their community is engaged and responsive - also look to see how many of the comments are from pages that have been verified (the blue tick on a page that shows they are of celebrity status). You can get quite small pages that seem to not have a huge amount of engagement but their community is passionate and has true influence.



The exact size of micro/nano influencers varies but I would class micro influencers as anyone below 100k followers and nano influencers anyone below 5k followers. The benefits of working with smaller follower pages is that the audience is likely to be a lot more genuine and a lot more engaged. If someone has a mere 5k follower the chances of them buying their audience is significantly lower than someone that has half a million. Micro influencers tend to be attached to a specific niche which also means you can segment your audience targeting through the type of pages that you work with and make sure you choose influencers that crossover into other markets.



One of the best ways to ensure you are working with an ambassador that has genuine influence is to work with true creators that have honed a craft or skill. People that are artists, musicians, actors, designers etc are more likely to have a genuine following because they are creating value within culture and as a result commanding real engagement and emotion with their fanbase. It’s not to say that traditional Instagram influencers don’t have passionate audiences but the people with real influence tends to lie with the people that are shaping culture not just fitting within it. Instagrammers that post selfies for a living can only have so much penetration within culture and while they might be getting high engagement brands need to be careful to measure the impact these people are having - real creators not only have more passionate followings but also will bring more value to a campaign through their art.