Brands are losing $1.3 billion (£1.04 billion) every year in social media advertising thanks to influencer’s growing armies of fake followers.
According to new research from cyber security company Cheq and University of Batimore professor and economist Roberto Cavazos, fraudulent likes represent around 15 per cent of the $8.5 billion (£6.8 billion) predicted to be spent on influencer marketing globally this year.
Cheq’s report, which forms part of a series the company is releasing looking at bad actors on the internet, suggests that even “micro-influencers” with 10,000 followers can make $250 for a sponsored post.
For influencers on Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat with between 1 and 2 million followers, a post can make them as much as $250,000.
This has led to aspiring influencers turning to bots and “click farms” to boost their following, and brands often pay out without checking the authenticity of their following.
Cheq’s chief strategy officer said that it is no longer the case that you have to “be a Kim Kardashian or Kylie Jenner kind of person to be an influencer”, and now there are many “tiers of influencer” that even people with a niche following can make money.
He added that brands should begin introducing their own vetting processes to ensure people they hire have legitimate followings.
“It’s quite easy to understand if their followers are bogus,” he said.
Some social platforms are already moving to try and counter this culture, with Instagram announcing earlier this month that it was to begin trialling hiding likes on its platform, so only the user posting content can see how many people have engaged with it.