In 2018, a huge 39% of marketers plan to increase their investment into influencer marketing.

But with so many reports of fake audiences – including recent claims that 12% of Instagrammers buy fake followers – brands would be forgiven for thinking they have stumbled into digital marketing’s new Wild West.

Facebook has even admitted that around 3% of Facebook accounts are still fake despite its algorithms nipping many in the bud at their source (the social media giant deleted 583m fake accounts in Q1 alone this year).

A major contribution to these issues is the severe over-emphasis on reach, across the industry – often at the expense of relevance, content quality and engagement. This, along with the eruption of influencer discovery tools and social networks, has meant that by simply having the right kind of numbers, even the least credible influencers have managed to gain a place on some media plans.

A similar case can be seen across other social platforms. But in this case, it may not be within platforms’ financial interests to stage too much of a crackdown – after all, it inflates their user numbers and can increase revenues.
In order to challenge this issues, the biggest move that agencies and advertisers can do is create demand for genuine engagement, quality content and real advocacy. Emerging technologies can help here, as they provide access to metrics like “active (read: human) audience” and engagement in place of traditional “reach”.

A demand for quality engagement will also provide influencers with a level playing field, in which they’re not having to compete with those who are cheating the system. This will in turn encourage influencers to focus on maintaining their real audiences (something that we know our top influencer partners here at the7stars already do).

But while the right tools make an impact, no amount of data can replace the human element involved in selecting influencer partners: content quality, opinions, preferences and stories play such an important role that a hands-on approach is needed to see through a successful influencer partnership.

While the industry needs to make some major changes, we wouldn’t recommend abandoning influencers altogether. The opportunity to work with passionate and influential partners in the social space remains powerful – even in the face of fake followers.