Marketing in today's world is a complicated task to say the least. Consumers, particularly within the millennial audience, are hyper-aware of when they are being marketed to. Even when the message is delivered through the more accessible method of social media, only the most effective strategies manage to avoid coming off insincere and soulless.
Influencer marketing is one solution to this problem, and in particular, brands employing micro-influencers is a trend that has risen over the last couple of years. Micro-influencers are not big celebs, but they are individuals with a relatively large following who often cater to a more niche audience. As a result, they often have more engaged audience, even if the follower number tends to be somewhere between 10,000 to 500,000 (compared to, say, Kylie Jenner's eyewatering 117 million).
The marketing world will spend $1.6bn on Instagram influencers this year alone, and this is set to grow to $5–10bn by 2020.
So, what's the problem with micro-influencers? The rise of influencer fraud.
As the popularity of influencers has grown, so have services that sell followers, meaning that many micro-influencers appear to have loads of followers and genuine engagement, when in fact their numbers are made up largely by bots. This is a huge problem, as up to 25% of influencers today have paid for followers from illegal bot farms.
Here is where entrepreneur Steven Bartlett and his brain-child Social Chain's new tool Like-Wise step in to tackle influencer fraud.
Meet Steven Bartlett
Steven Bartlett is an impressive 26-year-old to say the least. The Portsmouth, UK-born entrepreneur dropped out of university when he was just a teenager to pursue his business dreams and set up Social Chain, an award-winning social media marketing agency in 2014.
In the early days, Social Chain was run out of Bartlett and two friends' flat in North London. Today, it has a reach of more than 200 million millennials and such high-profile clients as Spotify, Microsoft, 20 th Century Fox and Just Eat, to name just a few.
The whole motivation behind Social Chain is to create communities by combining the aspects of a marketing agency with elements of a media house, all using social media to bring people together.
Bartlett believes that social media is still undervalued in the media world. "Our play," he stated in an interview with Enconsultancy, "is we've seen how comms have changed, from print to radio to TV to internet, and now we’ve got social media. In all of those key moments, some of the most influential companies in the world have emerged and become media houses to represent that media – in print there's Condé Nast, in radio there's Global, in TV there's Viacom, then in the social media world who owns the voice of a generation and also the voice of influence? We are endeavoring to be the modern-day media house."
And it works. Last year, Bartlett was voted the most influential agency figure in 2017 by his peers in Econsultancy's Top 100 Digital Agencies Report.
Like-Wise and influencer fraud
After cracking the world of social media marketing, Bartlett has now set his sights on tackling influencer fraud which he considers "one of the most widespread scams in the history of marketing".
He's not alone in considering this a huge problem, as earlier this year, Unilever CMO Keith Weed called on the industry and platforms such as Instagram to take "urgent action now to rebuild trust before it's gone forever". He pledged that Unilever will not work with influencers who buy followers.
Social Chain dedicated six months and all of its global resources to building an AI tool, Like-Wise, which identifies accounts that buy followers.
"In simple terms, the tool collects data from all of the largest bot farms and builds a database of tens of millions of fake profiles," Bartlett explains. "Then simultaneously scans hundreds of thousand so influencers to see which influencers are getting engagement from these apps."
When the tool identifies suspicious activity from an influencers account, it uses AI technology to map out an engagement graph to analyze their engagement over time when compared with real organic graphs. "It understands what paid promotion looks like, shout outs and other known algorithmic factors," he added.
Bartlett outlined one particularly alarming case whereby the software discovered that one fashion influencer, who has 230,495 followers and had partnered with 22 companies this year so far, only registered 4% organic engagement on her account. That meant that the companies that paid for her to post about their product, which included giants such as Unilever, only getting 4% engagement out of their investment.
"It's time to clean up the industry," concluded Bartlett.
Steven Bartlett, CEO of Social Chain, is speaking at Innovation Enterprise's Content Marketing Summit in New York on December 6–7, 2018, about "The Power of Social First" and sharing his inspiring story. See the full agenda and book tickets HERE.