Instagram, Fake Likes and the Future of Influencer Marketing

It’s been hard to ignore Instagram’s recent announcement that it will be banning fake likes and followers as it attempts to restore trust in the platform. And it’s hard to fault their logic: “People come to Instagram to have real experiences [and] genuine interactions”, they said.

While the news was generally well-received by the industry, there has been some surprise at the scale and number of influencers using fake followers and fake likes to boost the ‘value’ of their channels. ‘Buying likes’ has been around for many years now, but what’s got some marketers spooked is just how far the technology has come.

I think most people were shocked to learn that up to 96% of followers are not real people—and some in the industry have even gone as far to claim that this is equivalent to theft. While their outrage is justified, we also need to be realistic: most brands are now working with influencers and, with an average return of $7.65 per dollar spent, influencer marketing as a channel isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

What needs to change, however, is how we measure success—and the related field of performance marketing gives us some clues as to how this could pan out. A performance-based solution? Luckily, marketers are wising up, and there’s a whole range of tools that brands and their partners can deploy to ensure their influencer marketing is on point.

If these are combined with performance marketing metrics—whether that’s clickthroughs, leads or sales—it would go a long way to cleaning up the influencer-marketing landscape. Right now, there’s no benchmark or rate card at all. ‘Value’ is based solely on engagement or followers, which can vary massively.

For instance, accounts with over 1 million followers can charge more than $10,000 for a single post, while at the same time influencers will promote certain prestige brands for free. When fake followers and engagements are thrown into the mix, it’s obvious this pricing model is broken. While using tools—like the Like-Wise App—is one way to audit an influencer’s following (and appraise their value), an easier solution may be to weave performance-based metrics into your influencer campaign.

After all, an influencer must be able to encourage their followers to take action. If they can’t, then they shouldn’t carry the title. Performance-based metrics are one way to separate the real influencers from the fakers, rewarding those who exceed campaign targets while discouraging those who don’t. Despite all of the concern about Instagram and fake likes, I don’t see the interest in influencer marketing on the decline.

The market is set to continue to grow over the next few years and why shouldn’t it? Ultimately, it’s a great way to get a brand or product out there—we just need to know we’re measuring it right.

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