I'm Amber Lowther, a journalist and blogger of 6.5 years. When I started my blog, I was a high school student wanting to write about fashion without needing to have a degree. Fast-forward to now: I graduated university in journalism & fashion in 2015, I am using the skills I obtained from my degree to work in a professional environment, and I still post regularly on my fashion & beauty blog, which I am quite proud of. My blog has seen me work with some incredible brands, attend fabulous events and grow a small but organic following on my Instagram.
But, I have a problem. You see, as someone who believes in authenticity and growing their audience organically, it's quite upsetting to continuously be overlooked and be outdone in the Instagram world by bloggers who purchase their following and are therefore, fake influencers. Here on the Gold Coast, we have a range of fabulous Instagram influencers and bloggers who kill it on social media! So much so, that I wrote an article featuring some.
While there are so many people doing it right and who have worked hard to achieve the success they have, there's a wide range of people who can't seem to have the patience to acquire an organic following and who decide to resort to fraudulent activity - purchasing fake Instagram followers, putting their money into automation and bot services to like, comment and follow people on their behalf - and mislead brands in order to receive financial gain, free products, all-expenses-paid travel opportunities and who are branded as a form of 'celebrity' without actually doing much to wear that title.
Don't get me wrong, this isn't a cry for help in growing my following. I'm extremely grateful for the people who have chosen to support my content. It's about having an equal opportunity with every other influencer out there without feeling as if there is an unfair advantage between us.
Purchasing fake Instagram followers has never been easier
Gold Coast Talent Manager and Managing Director of PR & digital agency Spin&Co., Sam Mangan, is glad this issue is starting to receive attention in the public arena:
"I personally take a very firm stance on what is essentially a massive deception perpetrated by these influencers. Ultimately, Marketing Managers and agencies need to be more vigilant in vetting the talent they work with, however it is admittedly hard at times. For me, it needs to start at the top and that’s government. The ACCC needs to quickly become more involved in this industry. Recent moves to regulate the disclosures of paid posts are the first steps, but for me it’s far more important to make clear that purchasing followers and representing to brands that those followers are organic or real, could result in some very serious consequences both civilly and legally for the influencer. It’s not a laughing matter, and at some point there will be a first case, and that could even result in jail time if pushed to criminal fraud.
For me, we have a rigorous procedure for ensuring influencers have built a legitimate and organic following. Additionally, we monitor hundreds of accounts to ensure there are no unusual spikes. We’re constantly evolving that and internally flagging those that are very obviously purchasing followers. I will also say, there is a very healthy dialogue in the industry between experts. It may not be public, but there are plenty of fake influencers out there we all speak about and share data and stats about, to ensure none of our clients work with them." - Sam Mangan, Spin&Co.
Beauty YouTuber and content creator Chloe Morello took to her YouTube channel recently and created an entire video about this issue. In the video, Chloe went on to describe how to track influencer statistics, discussed the lengths people are going to to create fake engagement on their posts, and the fact that these fraudulent bloggers are generating a stable income by fooling brands into working with them.
The video heavily mentioned Social Blade, which allows you to track the Instagram, YouTube and Twitter statistics of social media influencers and yourself. Here, you are presented graphs and exact numbers of the amount of follows/unfollows the user has had within the past year and gains/losses within the past month. The graph aspect of the website allows you to identify if someone has purchased a fake following, as a jagged line is often a dead giveaway. Those with a more organic following are shown to have a gradual upward projection, rather than unusual spikes of followers across the board.
The ACCC's website contains an article with an highlighted point stating:
"You must ensure you don't make any false or misleading claims as part of your marketing and promotional activities." - ACCC
Surely promoting the superiority of a business service by stating that a business has X number of followers then using purchased, fake followers to assert that superiority on a social media platform is misleading comparative advertising?
Social media influencers who have used this method of growth are gaining a significant market power, which is now being used to prevent competition. This must be determined as unconscionable conduct. Their action of purchasing fake followers to create a certain impression to boost their credibility are deliberate and involve conduct which is clearly unfair and unreasonable.
The problem is that the playing field is not level. For influencers to gain social clout, many go to great lengths to win notoriety, popularity, a loyal audience and engagement.
Surely any brand wanting to maintain their credibility would think twice before approaching these people to work with?
Surely any influencer worth working with should provide proof of their analytics and be monitored by the brand paying for the promotion in the first place?
Surely there is a way the ACCC can create an audit or verification process in order for a blogger or social media influencer to be deemed authentic?
Too many creative, authentic, honest bloggers and influencers are fading into the background and are not being given a fair chance among the influx of fake people stealing the limelight through their apparent 'mass following'. The problem also lies in websites and apps which allow influencers to apply for campaign briefs posted by brands across a range of categories, with the only requirement being to have a minimum number of followers. Why wouldn't someone just purchase the followers they need to reach the minimum? Since that's the only requirement set out by the brand.
Forget the smaller influencers who might be a true fan of the product or service you're offering, forget the people with an organic following they've worked hard for, forget all of the reasons why someone might be the perfect fit for your campaign - just look at the numbers. They tell you everything, right?
Example of the minimum follower requirement to apply for brand campaigns
In saying that, I encourage everyone who follows bloggers, influencers and even brands to do your research and make sure they are organic. Supporting the people who have lied their way to get to the top without working half as hard will only let them continue to mislead everyone around them. It's time to step in, support authenticity and expose those buying fake followers, engagement, likes and views as what they really are - frauds.
I do hope people speaking out about this issue is enough to create change in the industry. I myself will be unfollowing any person on social media who I suspect of beating the system. I do not support people who mislead others in order to gain fame & fortune. The bloggers that are worth following are the ones that aren't hiding behind bots.
I always say to people to blog because you enjoy it. Forget the perks, focus on being creative and enjoy what you're doing because the best part is looking back and seeing how far you've come. If your content resonates with people, they will follow you and support you. Believe in yourself, your abilities and have fun with it!
If you are passionate about supporting organic creatives, please use the #supportingrealinfluencers