How influencer marketing can survive the Badshah fake followers scam

Experts comment on the rise of the nefarious scam rocking the influencer marketing industry and how to bring in an authentic approach on digital media platforms

e4m by Noel Dsouza
Published: Aug 13, 2020 8:05 AM  | 6 min read
Fake Followers and Influencer Marketing

Followers of an Influencer’s social media page garner attention from brands for digital campaigns --  higher the count higher the reach. Brands know that the metrics they seek vis-a-vis digital campaigns can only be fulfilled by those with a massive follower count -- a fact that influencers are well aware of.

But often in an effort to catch the brands' attention, many resort to unfair means and pay platforms to make their follower count look appealing. This sums up the recent debacle with the musician Badshah who was accused and later questioned by the Mumbai Cyber Crime branch. It has been suspected that the Punjabi rapper had paid a company Rs 72 lakh in exchange for 72 million fake views on his music video ‘Paagal’ released in 2019. This raises the question of whether he will be trusted by brands in the future for brand endorsements and his existing deals. It also puts the companies that handle these celebrities and influencers under scrutiny.

Not just Badshah, even B’Town celebrities like Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra were accused of having more than 40% fake followers according to the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance (ICMP) and are among 10 celebrities who have the highest number of ‘bots’ on Instagram. Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres ranks first on that list with about 58% of fake Instagram followers.

The sequence of events was triggered by singer Bhumi Trivedi who reported that someone has created a fake account of hers on Instagram. The CIU unit of Mumbai then arrested a Kurla resident and later Kashif Mansoor, who runs a portal that provided fake followers, views, and likes.

Influencer Marketing has a personalized approach when it comes to promoting a brand or service that resonates with the influencers' persona as consumers are more likely to find them reliable. But with the issue of fake followers in the limelight, brands need to differentiate followers from the ‘Faux Followers’ on Social Media and reassure credibility when it comes to campaigns, especially in the pandemic where influencer marketing is at it its prime.

e4m spoke to Influencer Marketing experts about their perspective on fake followers on social media and how to develop a more authentic approach on social media platforms.

Fake Followers in the Digital Marketplace
Manesh Swamy, VP-Creative, Logicserve Digital says, “I think the celebrities have gone overboard and done it for that extra fame or that one specific record. It’s difficult to figure out how it makes any difference or adds value to consumers or anyone else's life. Having fake followers in a way means they have cheated on the genuine followers, and their tall influence claim falls flat.”

Rajni Daswani, Director - Brand Experience & Employee Engagement sharing her perspective asserts, “The fake followers and engagement is an old problem that is back in the news because of Badshah’s fan following. All social platforms struggle with this and continue to build algorithms to purge this as far as possible.”

Varsha Jeetendra Kunhody, Influencer Marketing Specialist, The Mavericks remarked, “The Influencer Marketing industry has been seeing fake followers in the last few years and for agencies like us who have dedicated team handling influencers, it comes as no surprise, as we see such profiles daily. Given the current pandemic times, there has been a close to 15% rise on screen time and this has caused influencer marketing to boom despite COVID too. Individuals with spending power are taking up recommendations and reviews that are on social media, before making a purchase. Influencer Marketing is one such industry that is purely surviving because of trust. When a follower trusts and looks up to an influencer, he/she takes up the influencer's recommendation, believes the reviews being posted are unbiased, and bases their purchase decision on it. If you remove the trust element from this equation, it will take less than a couple of seconds for a follower to unfollow the influencer.”

Enhancing Authenticity
Daswani remarked, “As an agency that has been leveraging influencer marketing for our brands since 2014, we’ve always paid more focus on the type of engagement an influencer can get us over the follower’s metrics. Having a high follower count is a vanity metric, which is used for superficial judging. When a brand is investing heavily in influencer marketing, the focus should be more on how much value the influencer can bring on board through actually connecting with their followers, who can drive more shares and spark authentic conversations. There are multiple tools available online to check the authenticity of followers and it’s best to use more data-driven methods to plan your influencer marketing campaign than just looking at the follower count.”

Viraj Sheth, Co-founder, and CEO, Monk Entertainment commented, “As an organization, we've always been a champion of ensuring that brands work with creators who hold actual influence, something that cannot be gauged just by the number of followers one has. Brands have become smarter over time and are using various methods to understand the authenticity of a creator. One of the quickest ways to check the real influence of a creator is to check their comment sections. If they're genuine creators, you will see the audiences interacting with them very personally in the comment section instead of just using emojis or one-word compliments.”

Logicserve Digital’s Swamy shared, “We definitely shouldn’t assume that this is how every influencer works, or this is the norm. In the past four months, Influencer marketing has seen steady growth, and I’m sure it has happened because the celebrity or the influencer could connect and engage with their real audiences. Diljit Dosanjh, Chef Ranveer Brar, Bhuvan Bam, Virat Kohli, Kusha Kapila, etc. are great examples of how the right Influencers look like and how they truly connect with their followers. As of now, we don’t have any set laws to track or control this kind of activity. Till the time we get a proper law or a cyber act, I guess, as a marketer and brand custodian, we have to be very cautious and use a fine comb to select the next big star for our influencer campaigns.”

Kunhody concluded saying, “Now with celebrities in the acting and music industry being accused of fake followers, it does bring up the question of the authenticity, of course, but also questions the worth of such influencers. We have had influencers and celebrities quoting lakhs for one Instagram story and post. Knowing the basics of influencer marketing, as a mandatory routine, we do a thorough scan of influencer profiles, check their engagement, like follower ratio before deciding to collaborate. However, there are authentic influencers out there who spend hours every day striving to curate intriguing content. While the fake follower’s scam is bound to get brands to be more cautious about influencer marketing, the need of the hour is a more regulated approach by Instagram. Fake followers, likes, comments, etc need to be banned and profiles who indulge in these activities should be blocked for a certain period at least."

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