With influencer fraud on the rise, Unilever bans paid followers to cut down on bots

As big brands like Unilever reluctantly embrace influencer marketing, they are being forced to grapple with fake followers and influencer fraud.

Unilever, one of the world’s 5 largest consumer goods companies, is attempting to crack down on influencer fraud by banning influencers with paid or fake followers, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Influencers are only becoming more influential, and for brands like Unilever (which spent $9B on brand marketing last year) shady social practices are an expensive problem.

Cashing in on Kardashian

As consumers increasingly lean on social media to discover new products, Beyonce’s blessing has become big business. Brands pay influencers big bucks to evangelize their products, lest they end up in a $1.3B hole on the wrong side of a Kylie Jenner tweet.

But, influencers are only as valuable as their followers — making the top 20 most-followed celebrities powerful enough to walk away with $550k+ per post. As influencer costs skyrocketed, Unilever began to monitor follower quality to see what the hell was going on. 

What it found couldn’t be fixed with a Valencia filter: Turns out, about 20% of mid-level influencers’ followers are fake.

An industry full of fake friends

“Unilever uses followers to figure out how much to pay someone,” Paul Kahn of Upfluence, an influencer marketing company, told The Hustle. “So when people claim to have 50% more followers than they actually do — and Unilever pays them millions — it’s a real problem.”

A recent New York Times investigation also revealed that 15% of Twitter users were bots and that “paid followers” often ended up being fake profiles.

But, despite the prevalence of fraud (78% of Ritz Carlton’s followers are fake) brands continue to invest in influencer marketing. A poll last year showed 75% of marketers paid influencers to promote their products — and half planned to increase their influencer budgets.

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