3 ways to spot fake micro-influencers on social media

How can PR pros spot an influencer that isn’t all he or she claims to be? Use the metrics to ensure your marketing budget isn’t spent on a scam.

More and more marketers are choosing to work with micro-influencers (influencers with less than 10,000 followers) instead of big industry names to broaden reach and promote their products. It’s a smart strategy, given that micro-influencers have a much closer, more genuine relationship with their followers.

The only problem is how easily micro-influencers can fudge their numbers so it appears they have an impressive audience.

Before paying any new micro-influencer to promote your brand, make sure their audience is genuine. Here’s how:

1. Check their engagement rate.

A micro-influencer’s engagement rate is always the first metric you should look at, because it tells you the most about their potential value for your business. When a person’s engagement rate is extremely low, it’s also a big sign that they might be buying followers.

You can do this manually by spot-checking posts on an influencer’s profile. All you have to do is select one of their posts and total up how many likes, hearts, retweets and comments it got. Then divide that number by how many followers they have.

Here’s how it’s done using top fashion influencer Nicolette Mason’s Instagram profile.

One of her recent posts got 2,979 hearts and 44 comments. That’s 3,023 engagements. Divide that by her 159,000 followers, and we get an engagement rate of 0.0190 (or 1.9%). Of course, that’s just for one post, so you need to repeat the process with several recent posts then find an average.

Nicolette’s engagement rate is well above average for Instagram (you can check out the average engagement rates by social network here). Even if an influencer isn’t buying followers, it’s still a good idea to walk away and find a new influencer with better post engagement.

2. Scan for fake engagement.

Just because an influencer has a high engagement rate doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods yet. They could be buying comments to boost engagement or cover up the fact that they have bot followers.

You can check for this by digging into their posts and scanning through the comments. Look for comments that are very generic (e.g. “Cool,” “Great post,” or a string of emojis).

Of course, every potential influencer is going to attract some amount of generic commenting. The real indicator that an influencer has good, genuine engagement is if you see a lot of comments relevant to the post in question.

A quick look at Nicolette’s comments shows people referring to the picture she posted, the outfit she was wearing, etc. These are all good signs of genuine engagement:

3. Look for suspicious following/engagement strategies.

Of course, there are still ways to get real followers and real engagement that isn’t high quality. Fake micro-influencers can use unnatural tactics to do this, attracting an audience that isn’t necessarily relevant to their niche (or yours).

One example is bulk following/unfollowing. Many social media users skyrocket the size of their audience by following and unfollowing thousands of people at once. It’s better to build a high-quality audience gradually by posting interesting content and building personal relationships with them.

SocialBlade is a tool you can use to check an influencer’s daily follows/unfollows. Did they build that audience naturally or through bulk follow tactics?

Here’s a suspicious profile that isn’t using bulk following, but is somehow gaining several hundred new followers every single day:

That’s probably because they’re using unnatural engagement tactics, like hashtag spamming.

Spot check some of your influencer’s posts and see if they’re using way too many hashtags to boost engagement. These are often buried in the comments (not in the original post itself).

Always be weary of an influencer that uses hashtags like these:

That means they’re attracting engagement/follows from other influencers (not from a genuine audience).

If you want your micro-influencer relationships to really pay off, make sure they built their following in a natural way, and get real engagement from an interested audience.

Michael Quoc is the founder and CEO of Dealspotr, a social platform connecting brands, lifestyle influencers, and trend-seeking shoppers around exclusive deals and promo codes. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelquoc.

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