In this digital age of social media, newly formed online marketing strategies and promotions, some special people reign over the hearts and minds of others. These people have immense power. They can change mindsets, convince others to follow them and, be a source of an intense sales burst for any business they choose to work with.
These people are called ‘Influencers.’ They are the crux and core behind every brand. Sometimes, businesses rely solely on their ability to market products to their huge following. It is termed for a long time now as the ‘next big thing’, in the marketing world. So essentially, if your content and audiences match and, you are looking to promote something for your brand, Influencer Marketing might just be your choice marketing tool. Partnering with an influencer opens your business to avenues of influence not explored before.
Before you do so, I’d like to share the truth about their ugly, dark side!
But, where does their power come from? You guessed it. Their number of followers.
However, this same power they possess comes at a cost for many. Like all good things, influencer marketing has its own set of risks and drawbacks as well. Influencer fraud is true, and this happens in many ways. Influencers may end up damaging your brand, not holding up their end of the bargain and/or having a fake following. Read on and find out how some influencers have exploited, hindered our marketing success and displayed fraudulent behaviour with a first-class business; SEA-Malls.com a brand owned by the Owl Media Group.
Influencer Marketing – the what and the how
The secret lies in trust. How so? Let me give you context before we move on to the unfortunately ugly side.
This big buzz in marketing that often trends, ‘Influencer Marketing’ has taken a new height. The impact is huge and quite favourable. Of course, expecting one influencer to boost your sales up by 120% would not be a realistic expectation – but clearly, it has helped businesses achieve great fame, engagement and hype.
Influencers can be bloggers, vloggers and social media icons too. As their online media presence and following grow, so does their chance of getting emails about PR and collaborations. The more chances of them endorsing a brand and “influencing” people who trust their choices, the more they pocket annually. Some brands prefer going to micro-influencers now; this refers to influencers who have smaller but more loyal followers. These loyal followers have a lot of faith and trust in the people they follow, and then believe them enough to try out this new ‘product’ just because Influencer X or Y talked about it.
Research proves that 70% of millennial consumers value peer endorsement over celebrity endorsement (CompareHare). This is the same for me when my fellow Owls tell me about the best places to hunt for food!
Influencers can be TV personalities, celebrities and, they can also be self-made online stars – through being an Instagrammer, Youtuber or more recently, a TikToker. Before we move on to the ugly side of influencers, let’s uncover exactly how their jobs begin, what they are expected to do – and what they are supposed to deliver.
After a brand does ample research on the kind of influencer they want and break it down to a few options – the brand will send them details about which form of influencer marketing they want influencers to help carry out.
There are 5 main forms:
Brands usually send free samples and products to the influencers as an exchange so that the influencers will in turn review the products in a good light (fingers crossed) on their social media channel. Often, there are coupon codes involved and when influencers drive sales through the codes redemption, affiliate marketing strategies take over.
The conversation with brands can take place anywhere – some brands directly message influencers on their social media channels. However, emails are a proper formal standard procedure. Email conversations automatically become legally binding when there is agreement and commitment provided, which means, if influencers accept the job, they are legally bound to complete their part of the work. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen so simply.
How do you know when things have started to look wrong?
The bad, the worse and the ugly
The Bad: Starting off, let me reveal the truth to you. Influencers you may have worked with in the past might have successfully robbed you of your money. Here’s the reality: Some influencers can be very dishonest. All they look for is cash-grabbing and free products given to them. These influencers are very easy to miss, because they pretend to be nice – when in fact, they are not. We’ll reveal what goes on behind closed doors in this article.
The worse: You should know that the right influencer would make an impact very visible for you. BrightLocal says that the right influencer will add value to your business. “88% of customers trust online reviews by strangers as much as they would recommendations from friends.” But what happens to most of the businesses working with influencers?
Invespcro’s statistics say that almost 63% of all marketers and brands admitted having personal experience with influencer fraud in their past campaigns. It is truly eye-opening because this is more than half the industry!
This means in simpler terms, 50% of engagement levels you see on the influencer’s sponsored content is fake and paid. Some bots and pods are at work here. In addition, it goes on to analyze that up to 20% of mid-level influencers between 50, 000 and 100, 000 followers are most likely fraudulent!
The ugly: With this reality of fraud, businesses are hit the hardest. The impact received on the business end is extreme and harmful in many ways.
Your brand’s financial plans are being destroyed. Not only do influencers charge a lot, but they also do that whilst delivering no significant results (the fraudulent ones). You waste money on sending free products to them and also lose out on all the sales that could have come out of working with more ethical partners.
Many brands spend a lot on their marketing campaigns – and this could be in excess of $600, 000. This is a massive opportunity cost as the brand could have actually spent the money on generating actual impact.
A large or established brand may not have to suffer much as they can compensate for such losses within a couple of months. But small businesses suffer a major hit on their entire budget.
Influencer fraud can damage your brand reputation as well. Imagine that your customers find out that you teamed up with a fake influencer – your credibility may be doubted. People may think you offered influencers scripts – which although common – is still an unethical practice. In short, any trust built up may be broken.
Then, there’s a waste of not only money but time and effort. Your team will have spent hours on developing an influencer strategy – only for it to turn out fake. This results in valuable time being wasted in all the communication and back & forth.
Lastly, some fraudulent influencers do not even bother emailing and reaching back after they have received free products. Their promises are fake, and this comes off as the most hurtful and damaging impact of all.
Think you know your favourite influencer with millions of followers? Read on!
Uncovering the truth about your favourite Influencers
It is time to share real cases to uncover the dark side of influencers to you. In 2020, the Owl Media Group contacted 3 different social media influencers to promote the value of SEA-Malls to their audience. The reach out by my team was via email. Let me share a breakdown of each one of them in detail, highlighting everything we experienced with these influencers.
Kyle Tieman was emailed on 29th July 2020. After agreeing to work with us, we told him to put his preferred item from our SEA-Malls.com store into the shopping cart and checkout but not make payment. We completed the payment on the backend. The items he selected were shipped to him immediately.
The agreement was for him to share the SM values with his audience. Soon after his cart was filled, our community manager at SM asked him what type of content he would produce, where it will be posted and how long it will be there. See Kyle’s reply (verbatim) here:
Notice the promise made by Kyle. This is just a fake persona, pretending to be ethical and trust worthy. It is difficult to notice any suspicious intentions, but it is very real. Because Kyle ended up doing nothing of this sort. Like a plane underwater, that was the last we ever heard from Kyle.
The community manager asked several times in September “when will the video be posted” but there was no response, just a deafening silence. The audacity is quite real with Kyle himself picking out multiple items and providing his full address to receive them but throwing his commitment out the door when he received the items.
I was upset and grilled our community manager so we kept asking what was the hold back as you can see here but not once did we receive a response:
Going public without Kyle’s physical address is purposeful. Instead of vengeance, we just want to bring truth to light on what happens behind closed doors.
Through this case, we want to bring into light the fake promises that influencers make to receive free products from businesses. It is truly disrespectful and shameful. SM may have suffered loss by sending him stuff, paid for shipping, and wasted a lot of hours and days in communication with Kyle.
Here are some TikToks of Kyle, proving it to you that he is online and keeping his TikTok going – he has the products given to him and he is still choosing not to respond back or do anything about the promises he made. The latest TikTok was uploaded 5 days ago, I think he went live too. Thinking of sending him some fire (money transferring gift on TikTok)? LOL! Here’s the bearded star for your visual pleasure:
2. The case of Mean Creature (Christle) or Bree Wales Covington
We contacted another influencer Christle who went by the name of Mean Creature on 20th August 2020. We sent her the exact same message as Kyle and expected a video promoting SM across all her social channels. This was in exchange for a swimsuit which she selected after shopping on SM. She loved it, posing for us, showing us that the fit was perfect:
Before agreeing to work with SM, she asked for clarification on what we wanted her to do. Our community manager responded by saying that we would send a swimsuit she liked to her for free. Mean Creature was told to pose the way she always did, post it on TikTok and Instagram (not stories). We would give her the hashtags to use. After providing a few pointers on what the content she produced should be, we agreed on a plan.
On 5th September, we asked Mean Creature for the creative concept so we could discuss it internally and get approval. Mean Creature said she would take a photo at the beach or a swimming pool. After clarification of links and hashtags, we received the photo above.
We asked her if she liked it and about the TikTok video links. She replied by saying:
We had made it clear from the very beginning that we are expecting a video. She had only sent us a picture. Which although she took down 3 times, is up for you to see here (she might take it down again!):
Influencers can change with the tide, based on their temperament and how they feel like ‘playing’ the day.
Any objections she had should really have been discussed before her shopping spree, not after she had bagged free clothes.
After some back and for the email exchanges, Mean Creature said, “If i just post at tiktok then theres no prob right? Bcs i dont post video on my insta feed.” This was sent to the community manager on 20th September and we agreed to it.
We received no video links so the community manager asked her again on 25th September, “any updates on the video”, there was no response. Then another message sent on 6th October and then again on 7th October. Still, no responses. On 11th October, the community manager asked yet again if she was going to post the content as agreed – but there was no response.
On 26th October, the community manager decided to ask me (Professor Owl) to talk to Mean Creature, also known as Christle. I asked her why her promise wasn’t upheld.
I then went on her IG and low behold!
Yeah, she’s shy. 🙄
I never knew such hypocrisy could exist! Christle’s been posting adult-themed pictures on her platforms, but when it came to holding up a promise, she immediately did not want to do it anymore. She took the adult pictures down when we were writing to her but when we checked again, she has them back up.
I then decided to screengrab these images to make sure they don’t vanish into thin air if she takes them down again, which will likely happen. She seems to delete them according to her wishes, even after having contracts (possibly) not to take them down. These are all published on Instagram as of today.
We as a company are very conscious of the fact if someone is feeling uncomfortable. I replied back by clearly stating that we at Owl Media Group will never want anyone to do something that makes them uncomfortable and that we were ready for new concepts.
Even after trying to accommodate her ‘under cleavage’ concerns, we received no reply. Influencers think that replying back is worthless. This was the height of dishonesty and deceitful behaviour. So, on 25th December, our community manager sent the following message.
“At this point, you have not posted the video as agreed and you have taken down the Instagram post you originally put up.”
We received a message on 25th December by Mean Creature saying, “Lol, give me ur bank account. I trf you better. I dont have time to do.”
It’s been weeks, no purchase has been made. This case shows how influencers are quick to accept anything for free, but when it comes to delivering on their commitments, they will be busy, have sudden self-confidence issues, go into a black hole; any excuse other than to actually do the work!
In this case, one influencer took over half a year to stretch a small project – and the item still hasn’t been paid for. Influencers also do this very irritating and damaging act where they either archive or delete the previous (paid) posts when they don’t want them on the feed.
The problem is that they are agreeing to terms which state a video is to be published and displayed forever but deciding on the brand’s fate based on their temperature for the day! Mean Creature recently added the picture she took and posted 35 weeks ago. What is the point of archiving it in the first place? What is the point of removing it off the feed? What is the point of NOT responding to emails?
3. The case of ‘Blended and Winning’ or Joaquin and Stacey Loper
Probably the best shamelessness hidden in a winning blend I’d say!
We contacted them on 12th August with our email, inviting them for a video PR package project, the same way we did for others. We did not hear anything so we decided to remind them on 23rd August about the email.
On 24th August, we heard back for the first time and were told that they would be making a purchase soon. Right the next day, we received their cart and were happy to proceed, even though it was hundreds of dollars! We asked them about the final concept idea on 25th August and Stacey Looper replied saying this:
We asked them to add TikTok to this and it was agreed upon delightedly as you can see. The purpose of this was to make the process easier by clarifying to each other the expectations.
Stacey sent an email to us on 26th August with another proposal.
We were quite happy to hear this and agreed to sponsor it all for free on the same day. All that was left was the promise on their end. Notice how Stacey sounds ready to begin, and notice all the promises made; with Facebook and Instagram and TikTok, also telling us they won’t take the video down.
But, of course, things started getting shaky just after they had free products delivered to them. After a while, on 17th September our community manager asked for a check-in. There was no response. On 23rd September again after asking, we received an email with a positive note and scheduled post dates.
After a long break of waiting, we finally emailed them to ask about the content on 5th November. This was met with no response. We sent the last email on 25th December on Christmas day:
This case was personally a big hit. The cart was hundreds of dollars in goods! Even after positive communication and a successful exchange of expectations back and forth, the promises made by Stacey and Joaquin were not met.
Notice how Stacey was extremely supportive and seemed equally as excited to start this project, but as soon as the products were delivered and sent, she stopped answering? What sort of behaviour is that for an apparently well-established influencer?
What would you make out of this? Does this not symbolize hypocritical behaviour? I’d use the term ‘scum’ but really, I’m not sure if this is low enough; Pond Scum? We’d like to demand answers but the truth is, you’d never expect this from someone who’s position is:
I’m attaching proof of their Instagram and TikTok pages in case their content is removed. At one hand, they put up “It is our desire to be the change we want to see in this world when it comes to faith, family, and marriage.” This is in their Instagram biography, and on the other hand, they don’t uphold these values themselves. This is the epitome of proof of fakeness and lies; A True Behind Closed Doors Perspective.
The true personality of Influencers
What do these three cases tell us about the true personality behind influencers? What did Kyle Tieman, Christle aka Mean Creature, Stacey and Jaoquin have in common? They all replied, made the orders themselves in our SM store, provided their physical addresses, selected their preferred items, sizes, colours, and they were quite quick with responses too. They even clarified their content strategies, proving intent to deceive!
Clearly, their clever behaviour got the best of us, because their only mission was to pretend and portray that they were truthful and ethical people to work with. They are not. Their only intention was to grab free products and then disappear.
These influencers take advantage of the fact that brands cannot do anything afterwards. What is a small business like ours going to do? Fly across the world to get our stuff back? Since content can only be made after products are given to them, they can easily decide not to create content and take advantage of bagging free items.
All of the three influencers we contacted had these traits in common. They did not post the videos which was clearly told to them at the start, they did not send us any links and did not reply back for months on end. We had to waste hours and days in communication, being uncertain about what they were going to do.
We started our Influencer Marketing efforts with them in July 2020 – and for the rest of 2020, we were met with fraudulent influencers who only want free items and nothing else. It is easy to be trapped into Influencer fraud – because you cannot get content from them until they have your product. I would not want to just pay for a review when they have not tried shopping on SM, it would be inauthentic.
What’s important to notice further is that these 3 influencers have quite possible ruined the image of actual, good, ethical influencers! They have caused extreme mistrust in any influencer that we will contact.
The purpose of spreading this news is to safeguard you from trusting these influencers in future. SM can confirm that these influencers have caused us loss of both time and money.
If the followers of these influencers are reading this, now is the time to question your favourites. Everyone seems authentic and real BUT behind the screens – this is what your favourite influencers are doing!
They are quickly in the game to bag free stuff and leave the brands hanging, damaging their marketing campaigns. Hold them accountable for their fraudulent actions!
How to spot fake influencers and save your business:
To ensure this does not happen with anyone again, we need to be vocal about the fraudulent influencers and make sure people and other businesses know who they are. After that, the first step we can take is prevention.
1. Have a detailed insight into the Influencers’ past work
Take a look at their previous posts and stories. The fact that they have branded content over there means they did work for a brand previously and are actually posting content for that brand. Is the content good, though?
Are the influencers producing brand friendly content about the products, are they convincing? How much do people trust this influencer? Look at the comments and the hype.
Does everything seem safe and good or does something seem shady? How can you find out more? The answer sits with data providers. I wish we had pursued this before engaging these horrible ‘talents’. I did not want others to make the same mistake as me.
Go to data providers to get actual information on these influencers. Authentic influencers welcome this. Fake influencers dread this! Check out some of these Top 10 Influencer Marketing Data Tools I found and put together for you:
2. Look for unusual signs of the follower-to-engagement ratio
It has been revealed that bots and fake accounts make up a majority of an influencer’s follower base (the unethical ones!). How would you spot a fake influencer this way? Look for a low engagement rate. A big following rate means every post must have a specific number of comments and likes. But are the comments by real people?
Most influencers can buy thousands of fake followers and these fake followers do not engage with any content. They may be just emojis or very generic comments like “Nice” Or “Amazing shot” Some influencers even buy fake engagement tools and to front the perception of great engagement. Click on the commentor’s profile.
Is there an image? Is the content real? Bots typically have private accounts and constantly go around making the same type of comment. Tools I shared allow you to sniff this out, including unnatural growth picked up by the system. Example, one post published and in 30 seconds has 50 comments and likes!
This now means a much more careful, detailed analysis is needed to analyze who is a true influencer to differentiate them from these fake ones we have engaged with.
3. Maintain a close look at the follower count
Take a look at the follower count of the influencer you are hoping to work with. Is there a sudden spike in the follower count? If yes, these additional numbers are probably bot accounts. Sometimes, real influencers get spikes too – but the reasons are evident. Maybe their video went really viral. But if there is not much explosive activity, and the follower spike is evident – then there is a problem.
4. Keep a track of fake influencers
Make a grand list and a record of fake influencers you encountered. Another wise idea is you can probably ask around other businesses and people if they know of any fake or fraudulent influencers. This will help you save a lot of effort, time and money. You won’t have to partake in a big research process all over again either. Keep this ‘blacklist’ along with their social media handles and the reason why they were blacklisted. You can do through this list and refer to it before embarking on another influencer campaign. This list has a purpose as well. I want to make sure that no one suffers the losses that we did by the hands of these fake influencers. I’m also trying to build a list for everyone to contribute to. I hope this can be completed in the next few months and I will then update this blog once again.
Due diligence is important when it comes to hiring an influencer. Every brand needs to be stricter with their engagement policies. Remember to do the following and ask yourself important questions before contacting anyone to work with you on an influencer campaign:
Influencers have enormous social media power and popularity. Anyone could have a public persona, grow a following, and serve as the person for your brand and its content. But we at Owl Media Group have seen the true faces of the same so-called influencers.
Is it okay to let them continue to enable fraud with many more businesses? Should they pay for their damages? While these are the important questions to ask, you need to make sure that before you consider running any sort of influencer marketing campaigns, if an influencer is trustworthy; since many of them are dishonest, fake and offer nothing more than a mirage which will bring you losses in multiple forms.
We hope you can help make sure that the influencers who scammed us get super popular with your help so everyone knows the truth about what happens behind closed doors. We truly hope their acts of dishonesty and fraud spreads like wildfire. Did they think they got away with their deceptive actions? Well, I certainly hope not!
“It’s my new favourite website that has everything I need when I feel like shopping and the best thing about it is that it’s free shipping!!!” View this post on Instagram A post shared by SuperMyca (@supermyca) View this post on Instagram A post shared by SuperMyca (@supermyca)