NEW YORK: A lack of profile pictures, the language used in biographies and the rate at which ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ are hit are all potential signs of a fraudulent social media account that may be artificially boosting the number of followers an influencer claims.

Concerned marketers are turning to companies like Dovetale, a small software business that has come up with more than 50 metrics to analyze the Instagram followers of popular accounts.

Its research has suggested that, on average, 16.4% of the followers on Instagram’s top 20 accounts were fraudulent. Separate research has found that as many as 15% of Twitter’s users don’t have an offline identity.

“The amount of bot activity that’s happening on these platforms is pretty insane,” Mike Schmidt, co-founder of Dovetale, told The New York Times. “Just the amount of new accounts and times these folks are liking and commenting with spam and positive comments and happy-face emojis.”

Back in January, the NYT reported on a firm that had collected millions of dollars out of selling fraudulent social media followings.

Both advertisers and agencies are now looking more sceptically at follower numbers when recruiting influencers to promote products and showing more interest in engagement metrics. But “the actual pay and compensation that influencers are getting is still based on the follower numbers”, according to one influencer.

Payment is a grey area – a recent survey from Rakuten Marketing showed that marketers are unclear on how influencer fees are calculated and whether such campaigns drive sales.

But the spotlight is being turned on this channel, acknowledged Krishna Subramanian, a founder of Captiv8, which connects brands with influencers. “Everyone is definitely scrambling because they don’t want to be held responsible,” he said.

Jeff Semones, head of social media at MediaCom, pointed to the inaction of social media networks. “In the absence of direct pressure on the platforms, it’s a way for advertisers to take more control of their own spend and not be at the mercy of the platforms themselves,” he said.

Sourced from The New York Times; additional content by WARC staff