FAKE FRIENDS AND IN­FLU­ENCE PEO­PLE

DMS’s Leena Kewlani on fol­lower fraud.

Campaign Middle East - - FRONT PAGE - Leena Kewlani is branded con­tent direc­tor, Dig­i­tal Me­dia Ser­vices

“The key to im­prov­ing the sit­u­a­tion is three­fold: clean­ing up the in­flu­encer ecosys­tem by re­mov­ing mis­lead­ing en­gage­ment; mak­ing brands and in­flu­encers more aware of the use of dis­hon­est prac­tices; and im­prov­ing trans­parency from so­cial plat­forms to help brands mea­sure im­pact.”

In­flu­encer fraud is a ma­jor is­sue around the world, as well as in the re­gion. This is where in­flu­encers buy fol­low­ers and sub­scribe to bots to ar­ti­fi­cially boost their fans and en­gage­ment in or­der to in­crease their value in front of brands. It can cost as lit­tle as a few dol­lars to buy thou­sands of fol­low­ers.

To­day, the so­cial me­dia land­scape is reel­ing from fake fol­lower ac­tiv­ity across all so­cial plat­forms. Ac­cord­ing to a Points North Group study, up to 20 per cent of mid-level in­flu­encers’ fol­low­ers are most likely bought. Bench­mark­ing and mea­sure­ment firm Cam­paignDeus pub­lished a study in mid-2018 that re­vealed 12 per cent of UK in­flu­encers bought fake In­sta­gram fol­low­ers. More­over, Face­book re­cently ad­mit­ted to its stake­hold­ers that it had close to 60 mil­lion fake ac­counts and has started re­mov­ing them from the plat­form.

A New York Times in­ves­tiga­tive ar­ti­cle pub­lished this year ex­posed some of the com­pa­nies that are run­ning th­ese ‘fol­lower fac­to­ries’. One com­pany cre­ated more than 3.5 mil­lion au­to­mated Twit­ter ac­counts that im­i­tated real peo­ple’s be­hav­iour. They sold each ac­count mul­ti­ple times to in­flu­encers and brands, in­creas­ing their Twit­ter fol­low­ing by over 200 mil­lion fol­low­ers.

So how do th­ese com­pa­nies cre­ate so many pro­files that ap­pear and be­have like real hu­mans? Think of it as a black mar­ket for so­cial me­dia, where in re­al­ity an iden­tity is be­ing stolen.

I per­son­ally have been a vic­tim – and I am not even an in­flu­encer.

For those of you who don’t know me, I in­dulge in travel pho­tog­ra­phy and of­ten post my ad­ven­tures on an In­sta­gram ac­count. But much to my sur­prise, I re­alised that there were five dif­fer­ent Leena ac­counts ac­tive on In­sta­gram and each of th­ese had stolen my pic­tures and bio. In ad­di­tion, all the fake Leena ac­counts were fol­low­ing in the re­gion of 1,000 or 2,000 other ac­counts, while hav­ing fewer than 10 fol­low­ers them­selves. If you were to come across a fake Leena pro­file, you would find a le­git­i­mate per­son trav­el­ling, tak­ing pho­tos and post­ing. Need­less to men­tion, I felt com­pletely vi­o­lated and im­me­di­ately made my real ac­count pri­vate. With the help of the pub­lisher Al­fan Group, I man­aged to re­claim my pho­tos and got all the fake ac­counts deleted. But it did make me won­der about the vol­ume of fake pro­files that must be out there to­day.

There are also ser­vices where, for a cou­ple of dol­lars a month, in­flu­encers can gain fake en­gage­ment with real In­sta­gram ac­counts by shar­ing their In­sta­gram log-in and cre­den­tials. Th­ese are scar­ily ef­fec­tive and ex­tremely hard to trace. There also ex­ist fol­low-for-fol­low pro­grammes, along with plat­forms where in­flu­encers can buy views for their YouTube videos.

With the growth of bots and fake pro­files cre­at­ing a fraud­u­lent view and en­gage­ment ecosys­tem, it is im­per­a­tive that brands come to­gether to crack down on in­flu­encers and plat­forms that in­dulge in this be­hav­iour. Trust needs to be re­built and a solid ver­i­fi­ca­tion struc­ture put in place to en­sure trans­parency.

As Unilever’s chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer Keith Weed stated at Cannes this year, “The key to im­prov­ing the sit­u­a­tion is three-fold: clean­ing up the in­flu­encer ecosys­tem by re­mov­ing mis­lead­ing en­gage­ment; mak­ing brands and in­flu­encers more aware of the use of dis­hon­est prac­tices; and im­prov­ing trans­parency from so­cial plat­forms to help brands mea­sure im­pact.”

The first step is for brands to work with plat­forms that utilise real-time data to dis­cover up­dated in­sights on in­flu­encers. So brands are no longer re­ly­ing on out­dated sta­tis­tics or wait­ing for screen­shots to start mak­ing choices.

Plat­forms need to have ac­cess to his­tor­i­cal data, which al­lows brands to check on the or­ganic growth of an in­flu­encer’s ac­count. If their fol­lower count has spiked all of a sud­den with­out an in­crease in en­gage­ment, this usu­ally sig­ni­fies fake fol­low­ers.

An­other key in­di­ca­tion is re­lated to the in­flu­encers’ post­ing lan­guage. Some­one who posts in Ara­bic but has a huge fol­lower base in non-Ara­bic speak­ing ter­ri­to­ries im­me­di­ately stands out for hav­ing fake fol­low­ers.

In your search for the in­flu­encers that will rep­re­sent your brand, get your part­ners to dig deep into the com­ments left on an in­flu­encer’s pro­file. If there are com­ments in lan­guages that are ir­rel­e­vant, mul­ti­ple com­ments with just smi­ley faces, or one-phrase generic com­ments (“love it”, “awe­some”, etc.), that too can give you an in­di­ca­tion. Real fol­low­ers leave gen­uine com­ments on posts that they con­nect with. They have a nat­u­ral in­ter­est in the in­flu­encer, of­ten an­swer­ing ques­tions or ask­ing for ad­vice.

Fake fol­low­ers will con­tinue to cost brands heav­ily, un­less brands stand up and de­mand greater trans­parency. Brands must com­pel plat­forms to in­vest in ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy that can help to iden­tify bot-driven ac­counts. Only then can we get closer to an en­vi­ron­ment that pro­motes brand safety.

With a reg­u­la­tory body now in place around the GCC, and brands start­ing to de­mand a data-driven ap­proach, one would hope that this ‘Wild Wild West’ ap­proach to buy­ing fol­low­ers and en­gage­ment stands to be curbed, if not to­tally erad­i­cated.

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