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The Battle Against Fake Followers and Engagement

Whether you’re a brand or an Instagrammer, chances are that at some point you’ve doubted whether someone’s followers and/or engagement were genuine. It’s impossible not to hear stories about influencers buying followers or using bots to create fake likes and comments on their posts. The people who indulge in these sorts of unethical practices, unfortunately, tarnish the entire community with their actions – so how can we be certain that the people we are following and the people that we are working with are authentic?

Why does it matter?

Perhaps the first thing to consider is why it matters. Brands want people to see their products, so does it really matter if someone’s followers were grown organically or purchased via an app? The simple answer is yes, it does. Not only is it important to uphold the integrity of working with people who play by the rules, but most of the followers that can be bought aren’t even real people. You are being deceived and your product isn’t being shown to as many people as you think it is.

It’s not just brands who should be worried about fakery, however. When you post content on Instagram, especially if you are working in collaboration with brands, you are building up a relationship of trust with your followers. As soon as an influencer begins to buy followers and pay for engagement, that trust is lost.

What are Instagram doing about it?

Instagram are putting more measures in place themselves to stop people from using apps to leave fake likes & comments or to follow & unfollow other accounts. In recent weeks, they have begun contacting people who use these apps, giving them a warning to change their passwords and stop using the apps with the threat of having “their Instagram experience impacted.” For people who rely on their Instagram accounts for their income, it is hopeful that this threat may cause them to cease any unethical activity.

But until there is a complete ban on fake followers and bots, how can brands be sure that they are working with influencers who play by the rules? I spoke to Niko Croskery, Whalar’s Chief Product Officer, to share Whalar’s stance on influencer vetting and creator integrity.

Does Whalar vet influencers before matching them with brands?

“Whalar are the only influencer marketing company in Europe (and one of three in North America) that is an official Facebook & Instagram partner. This means that we are recognised as implementing industry best practises when it comes to creator authenticity and integrity.

We are committed to only working with credible and authentic creators, and our ongoing and exhaustive approach to creator integrity is of the utmost importance, and one we believe defines our leadership in the industry.”

How does Whalar check the integrity of the influencers on its books?

“Whalar have a multi-channel data-first approach to evaluate creator integrity that works on a ‘red flags’ detection model. We look at a number of factors to determine whether an influencer’s audience is genuine. Whalar vets every single influencer that joins our platform and does not allow anyone on-board who does not reach certain credibility thresholds. We also continuously vet those influencers once they are on our platform. Whenever red flags are raised, further human investigation takes place. Some of those factors triggering red flags include:

- Lack of engaged audiences

- Sharp and unexplained increases in the number of followers.

- Audience credibility an analysis of whether there are a higher number of suspicious looking followers (triggered by things such as followers with no profile pictures, high following/follower ratios, no bios, hardly any content uploaded etc).

- Suspicious commenting behaviour”

What is Whalar’s ‘audience credibility score’?

I also spoke to Whalar’s Associate Director, Jess Womersley, who assured me that Whalar takes fakery seriously, explaining how the audience credibility score works.

“We are currently undertaking a full audit, tagging or in some cases removing influencers who do not score 90% or above on our credibility score.

The audience credibility score shows what percentage of likes come from real accounts. To establish the audience credibility score for an active and engaged audience we take into account multiple factors; including an account's avatar and bio description, the number of posts, follower vs following ratio, and the number of likes received vs number of likes given ratio.”

What if you’ve already indulged in these behaviours?

We all slip up, and it’s understandable that influencers may have been tempted in the past by the many apps that claim to increase your following and engagement. If this is you, the best thing to do is to immediately cease using the apps, change your Instagram password and be honest about what you have done. Let your followers know that you used a follow/unfollow app or bought followers, but that you’ve realised that it was a mistake and you won’t be doing this again. Chances are that your more beady-eyed followers have already spotted the tell-tale trademarks associated with the use of these apps, and by owning up to your mistakes you are showing that you want to turn over a new leaf.

Words by Emma Lavelle

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