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Paid fame on Instagram : Every tenth German influencer buys followers

Doubtful tricks when doing business on Instagram are no longer uncommon. Every tenth German influencer now clearly or very likely buys fake followers or likes. This is based on a calculation by the Berlin marketing agency Media-Part, which is available exclusively to the Tagesspiegel. Conversely, it was only possible to rule out unequivocally in less than half of the cases that the profiles of Internet stars had grown unnaturally. The agency examined a total of almost 22,800 channels for its analysis. Your analysis program "Influlyzer" can fall back on 1.8 billion contributions.

A term of its own has already been established in the industry for cheating: influencer fraud, which in German means something like influencer fraud. It's about big business for the industry. Corporations scramble for Internet stars as advertising partners because they enjoy a high level of trust from their fans. In the coming year, the German influencer market is expected to exceed the billion mark.

As recently as 2017, the income of German influencers amounted to a good 500 million euros. In the meantime, four out of five influencers receive not only free products but also money when they hold articles prominently in the camera. This is what the software company Facelift claims to have determined in a survey together with the “Jung von Matt” agency. More than a quarter of influencers collect more than $ 500 per campaign, sometimes as high as $ 25,000.

Anyone who artificially boosts their success could face legal consequences

With the Internet provider “Social Media Market”, 1,000 new followers cost just under 20 euros. The operators promise authentic users who would hardly differ from real subscribers. The "delivery" is also quick and discreet. "We already serve many large and well-known customers for whom discretion is the top priority," it says on the company's website. But so-called bots, i.e. automated fake profiles, can also be quickly bought online. If an influencer uses a certain hashtag in his post, the bot automatically clicks on the "Like" button or comments with preprogrammed sentences.

However, anyone who artificially boosts their success on Instagram could face legal consequences. Because they act commercially, influencers also have to adhere to the rules of the game of fair competition, explains Berlin media lawyer Tim Hoesmann. If the Internet stars now buy fake followers, they could fake potential advertising partners that they are better known than they actually have. Competition law prohibits misleading business practices that induce another market participant to make a decision that they would not otherwise have made. As a rule, there are warnings and cease-and-desist requests. "But if the cease and desist declaration is violated again, a fine of several thousand euros could be imposed," explains the lawyer. In addition, it is also conceivable that advertising partners can reclaim fees that have already been paid.

How great the damage is for the client can only be roughly estimated. According to a recent study by the US IT company Cheq, global losses from faked reach could amount to $ 1.3 billion in 2019. That would be 15 percent of the entire turnover in the industry. A prominent example recently showed that followers are not just customers. Influencer Arii is said to have failed to sell a mere 252 specially designed items of clothing to her 2.6 million fans. A fashion company had apparently set this requirement in order to sell its collection. Although Arii later stated on Instagram that she had never bought followers - there was no other way industry observers could explain the disastrous sales figures of the influencer, who is at least popular in terms of numbers.

The influencers themselves hardly seem to burden the tricks of their colleagues

While so-called influencer fraud is only emerging in this country, fraud with faked reach seems to be widespread in other countries. In the USA and Great Britain, studies assume that between 20 and 25 percent of influencers in their home markets now pay for fake subscribers and artificial like clicks. "German influencers think differently," says Media-Part managing director André Mörker. “There is more of a worry that something will come of it.” But: With a growing market, business with fake followers could also become more lucrative. “It is likely that influencer fraud will continue to increase in this country too,” says Mörker. In the last quarter alone, his agency was able to observe an increase of 20 percent.

However, the influencers themselves hardly seem to burden the tricks of some colleagues. "I don't see any threat to the industry's credibility," says Stefan Doktorowski, Chairman of the Board of the German Influencer Marketing Association (BVIM). There are now enough opportunities to find out where there is organic or technically supported growth, for example through fake accounts. Even though Doktorowski admits that there is certainly still a gray area. Another part of the truth is that not everyone who takes money into their own Instagram channel deliberately wants to deceive. Sometimes fake followers also join influencers who have never commissioned a bot provider themselves. You can also increase your number of followers with paid ads. The internet stars advertise their posts, Instagram plays them out in its app - and the normal user comes across the influencer's profile. The difference: With paid ads, real users decide for themselves whether they want to follow that influencer. And when in doubt, they only do that if they are interested in the topic. The growth is - despite the payment - real.

If you look at the current plans of Instagram, a lot could soon change in the influencer scene anyway. The network started an experiment three months ago in Canada. Since then, the likes of other people's posts have been hidden for selected users. Followers should focus on the photos and videos shared and not on how many likes they get, Instagram said at the start. Now the company apparently wants to roll out the function in six other countries, including Ireland and Italy. Whether the hidden likes will also come to Germany will depend on the results of the ongoing test phase.

In any case, the company's declared goal seems honorable: less competition for the most beautiful picture, less envy of others. Marketing experts like André Mörker see the test as an attempt to advance their own business. If data such as like-clicks are no longer publicly available, a range analysis for external agencies becomes more and more difficult. "It looks like Facebook, Instagram and Co. want to reap the profits from marketing themselves," says the Media-Part managing director. Be it through your own offers or the sale of the data to third parties. So far, the networks have been earning primarily from advertising revenue and the paid advertisements of their users.

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