The world of PR and media is changing; we all know this. We know that print media is struggling to stay at the forefront of the industry and that social media is the future, in one form or another. It is clear that online influencers provide a great platform for generating brand awareness and driving sales. But do we really know if all of these influencers are what they say they are?
At Little Red Rooster we have had the chance to work with some amazing people in the acronymic world of SoMe, KoLs and IGdaily. With brands such as B&O PLAY, Smeg and Pantherella on our books we work across all the platforms to engage with an audience that has moved a long way from traditional media. Our carefully crafted social media campaigns have delivered fantastic results and we’ve really seen the power of these new tools in action, with Instagram being the main focus of our activities.
Social Media is not a case of the emperor’s new clothes, but we still need to tread carefully. Delve into this largely unregulated world, and you might find some surprising results.
The LRR office has often erupted into debate over the best ways to track the impact of activity, how to identify the right person for a campaign and – more often than not – whether the numbers we see are always what they seem? So, it is no surprise that our collective interest piqued when Mediakix published a story on fake Instagram influencers.
To cut a long story short, Instagram can make you money. Brands all across the world are willing to part with cold hard cash in an effort to tap into a network of seemingly engaged consumers who respect the opinions of the people they follow. To get that Insta-payday you need to have the followers and the engagement to back it up, but can’t you just buy this? That is exactly what the guys at Mediakix decided to investigate.
Building two fake profiles in the fashion and travel space, the website was able to invest small amounts of money to grow followers by the thousands, while generating likes and comments on their posts to back up the follower counts. Having paid in the tens of dollars for over 30,000 followers on one account and 50,000 on the other, Mediakix were able to present large engaged audiences to interested brands. This lead to them being able to secure four paid campaigns. Demonstrating just how easy it is to create and present a fake network that will generate profit from minimal investment. Simply put, its advertising fraud made easy.
This presents a real problem for people on both sides of the influencer paradigm. When we look at a potential partner we want to know how engaged their audience is. If they have 45,000 followers but only 2 people are liking their posts, it’s a safe bet that they’ve bought the followers. However, if 10% of their followers are liking a post and another 2% are commenting on it, suddenly they start to seem like the real deal. So with these likes and comments easily purchased it is incredibly hard to cut through the noise and find the real people that deliver authentic results. If these practices continue, brands are only going to become more sceptical of the people that approach them, making it harder for influencers to carve a path for themselves in the industry. A crying shame for the overwhelming majority of honest creatives who are trying to galvanise new tools to create a business.
One of the most disappointing aspects of the Mediakix story was the ease of which they were able to achieve this without Instagram sanctioning them. While they started off slowly trying not to arouse suspicions, they eventually grew confident enough to grow follower counts by up to 15,000 at a time, with no repercussions. It’s hard to see how this exceptional amount of activity could have gone unnoticed by the service. We know that it is possible to make significant gains on the platform in a short space of time – our Sam recently bagged three new followers after posting a particularly well framed picture of an umbrella – but this kind of unsustainable growth is obviously fraudulent. Instagram knows this is a problem, its own Community Guidelines are clear that they want “Help [to] stay spam-free by not artificially collecting likes, followers, or shares” so it is a shame to see how impotent they are on this on this issue.
So what happens next? From the PR’s perspective there is a fairly simple solution. At Little Red Rooster the one thing we’ve learnt from years of traditional press outreach is that nothing beats meeting face-to-face. This goes the same for influencers. If you make the effort to get to know the people you are dealing with in real life it is much harder for them to present themselves as something they’re not online. Intrinsic to everything that we do is the belief that authenticity is a critical currency. This is as true on social media as it is anywhere else. We believe in telling real stories, focusing on genuine personalities. This is what makes Little Red Rooster different and is what will allow us to continue to find the best people to work with for our brands.
For the industry as a whole, we think it’s time the sites got tougher. Social media is still media, for those who are purporting to be professionals there needs to be regulation. Instagram et al should be taking the fake profiles to task, giving the true influencers the platform they deserve to shine.