Fake Bots and Instagram Pods: Who is Really Influencing Your Buying Behaviour?

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Influential impact has always been prevalent within society, and although great attention has been paid in the past to the likes of celebrities and industry know-alls, influence through the medium of social platforms, can be driven by anyone.

But when we say ‘anyone’, this can also be the problem. Disclosure, social bots, fake followers and ‘Instagram pods’ are all hot topics of issue within this divergence of marketing strategy.

Discussion within this session on Tuesday 20th March 2018 on the Workshop Stage, was framed around social influence and the ability of media to manipulate data and profile statistics. Headed by Nicola Kemp (Trends Editor, Campaign) the panel was formed by industry specialists Christie Dennehy-Neil (Senior Public Policy Manager at IAB), Greg Halfacre (Head of Digital Marketing at News UK), and Anthony Svirskis (CEO at Tribe).

Nicola began by asking how influencer fraud can be recognised. Anthony started off by noting three main identification strategies, taking a focus on Instagram.

Firstly, content originality. Whether the images used were authentic to the source and hadn’t be photo-shopped or manipulated.

Secondly, monitoring their statistics through ratio. Having more likes than views for example. For a photo to have likes, it must have had at least the same amount of views. An imbalance of such statistics indicates bot use and non-human interaction with the post.

Thirdly, charts of steady rise of following. By tracking the increase and changes in profile following, an authentic and real increase can be identified. Steep and quick increases in numbers can highlight an un-realistic account hosting fake followers planned engagement.

At this point Christie jumped in. She said “agencies need to be remembering the same rigour needs to be applied before partaking” in influencer marketing. The same research and due diligence needs to be applied to this implementation of strategy as any other investment or strategy involved within the business. “All the same rules apply” and a conversation over guidelines around disclosure need to be had between collaborations.

Nicola then pointed out that “influencer marketing is in its adolescents” and like social media in the past, getting to grips with how it works best is something the industry is catching up with. “Authenticity trumps disclosure” Andrew added. Authenticity means attraction for brands as there are expectations from consumers and audiences of influencers. Brand therefore need to get this right to maximise its use.

Discussion then moved on to the demographics of influencer marketing and the shift we have seen from celebrity to micro-influencers in the past decade. A shift heavily identified with the move away from celebrity culture and towards the ‘kids of Instagram’. Nicola asked, “What does it take to be a good influencer”. Answers surrounded the notion of trust within the influencer’s sector, as well as the ability to convince an audience to care about what they are promoting.

It was later noted that whether influence was bought, paid for by brands or for free, anyone can be a publisher. And most people want to be. But such freedom of publication is highlighting flaws in regulation acknowledgement. When brands are “working with a different community who aren’t likely to know of regulations” then they need to be informed as to “when it is advertising and when it is not” Christie pointed out. It doesn’t have to be either or with disclosure and authenticity” Andrew adds, but “extra care is needed”.

Andrew argued further that this new development of influencing is “undeniably fragmented” with teenagers making “Instagram pods” to boost engagement to overcome the algorithm. He said that measuring the repetitive activity driven by participants within these types of ‘pod’, can identify strategic alliances made between accounts and tackle the problem accordingly.

Asked through Slido, Andrew then answered the question as to “what data search tools are used to identify genuine influencers?”. He mentioned various ways including hashtags, following rates and user engagement. He added that influencer marketing is still an “untapped opportunity” …

Greg noted near to the end that influencers no longer need to be a focus for ‘just’ influence, but that they can also drive last click conversion and should be acknowledged more for that. And to make the most of this, “the same rigorous behaviour” needs to be applied, Christie added, in terms of regulation.

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