The Grey Areas of Instagram’s Influencers

​By Holly Lindsey, Content & Brand Experience Director, Fuse

​The rapid increase in demand for influencer marketing is fuelling grey areas on Instagram with an upsurge in bought followers and likes, engagement bots and ‘comment pods’ becoming increasingly popular within the Instagram community in the past year. More than ever, the authenticity of engagement – from a brand’s point of view – is questionable.

Instagram’s inability to report on the demographics of engagement on unprompted posts makes it difficult to analyse the performance of an influencer’s content and therefore its value to a brand and its audience. Yet the demand to partner with influencers with huge followings and quick engagement is higher than ever, fuelling a temptation for influencers to engage in these activities. It’s vital that brands and agencies understand the grey areas and how to effectively plan an influencer marketing campaign that delivers real results.

Bots: A robot that will ‘like’ and comment on Instagram content on behalf of the influencer. This encourages others to follow back and engage with their content. Signs of bot activity can be a quick increase in followers and/or constantly engaging in content at all hours. Building an Instagram following organically is a long, slow process. Unless content is being re-shared on other accounts or there’s another traffic driver, a sudden increase should ring alarm bells.

Bought Followers and Likes: Bought fake Instagram followers and engagement offers little genuine influence. Inactive followers and odd locations are just a couple of tell-tale signs that something fishy might be going on.

Pods: A comment pod is made up of a group of influencers who support each other’s content. Once a post goes live they share it with the group, who quickly ‘like’ and comment. This is a way to encourage quick engagement – increasing the chance of the content being shared in Instagram’s trending section and opening it up to a wider audience. Comment pods may encourage genuine relationships between influencers with a similar niche and can help drive traffic back to a blog, but on the flip side the comments and engagement are part of the commitment within the pod group, therefore not necessarily about the content posted, making the performance of #ad or #sp (sponsored post) content unclear to a brand. Comment pods are neither good nor bad, but something advertisers need to be aware of when assessing engagement levels.

With organic reach and engagement increasingly difficult to achieve, social followings shouldn’t be the primary reason for selecting an influencer, as only a small portion of their followers will be served this content organically. Additionally, we don’t know how authentic these followers are.

Instead, invest in the content, not the following. Work with influencers as content creators. Look for those who produce quality, engaging content; who tell real stories and share real experiences and honest recommendations.

Identify influencers who can integrate the brand story in a natural and genuine way; whose content aligns with the brand. It is this content that can add value to your brand and audience. The more genuine and engaging the content, the more genuine and engaging the conversation.

Use their content. Share it across your owned channels and target to your audience or repurpose across other forms of media. Create a genuine, natural presence on Instagram by integrating their content into your social calendar. Think of the partnership as a collaboration and an opportunity to share content and audiences.

Determine their level of influence based on how their content performed against your audience, i.e. the engagement rate on promoted and targeted posts. Ask for screen shots showing reach and engagement on their recent Instagram posts. If the content has reached 300 people and engaged 290, there is clearly something awry. Ask to see screen shots of their Instagram stories and compare the total number of views on their story with their total following.

Partnering with the right influencers to create genuine, credible, shareable content that engages a real targeted audience can be highly valuable to a brand, but ensure you understand where the numbers on Instagram come from and put value in the content not just the metrics. Good content will continue to deliver well after the influencer has finished promoting it.