‘The Biggest Issue Is Validation’: How Unilever Tackles Influencer Fraud

Most of the information brands have about influencers is flawed.

“There’s no validating evidence from the platforms,” said Casey DePalma McCartney, head of PR, influencer marketing and digital engagement at Unilever, at an ANA conference in New York on Thursday. “The biggest issue is validation of the data.”

Since Unilever sparked an industry conversation about influencer fraud in 2018, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have stepped up their efforts to purge fake accounts. Facebook recently said it removed 3.4 billion fraudulent accounts from its platforms in the first six months of 2019.

But brands still need more data on influencer performance to validate their spend. Without third-party verification, or an understanding of how organic engagement impacts paid campaigns, brands can’t really trust the data they’re receiving.

“There are algorithms we don't have access to that are cutting information in different ways,” DePalma McCartney said. “You have to take that data with a grain of salt.”

To navigate these blind spots, Unilever has refined its approach to working with influencers over the past year and a half by both building technology in-house and working with partners. The CPG runs prospective influencers through its internal system to root out those with suspicious activity, then hands those candidates off to partners (vetted through a rigorous RFI process). Finally, it vets influencers manually in house to ensure they’re a fit for the brand.

“The hard metrics on authentic engagement and following is important, but the soft things are really important for us too,” DePalma McCartney said.

As the space becomes more saturated with macro-, micro- and nano-influencers, Unilever is looking for creators it can partner with long term. Relying on influencers that have already been vetted helps root out issues with fraud and fake followers.

And taking a shortsighted approach to working with influencers can cost brands a lot of money.

“If you’re coming into influencer marketing with just a little bit of money, you might as well just light the money on fire,” DePalma McCartney said. “Everything we’re seeing says long-term, holistic relationships is where it’s at in terms of success.”

But even as it curates a trusted network, Unilever is still pushing for more data about influencers from the platforms. DePalma McCartney nodded to FameBit and YouTube, which are allowing brands to beta test a product that shows the combined impact of paid and organic engagement.

But until brands use their collective bargaining power to push the platforms for the information they need, influencer marketing won’t be recognized as a legitimate part of the media plan.

“Brands have a huge opportunity to say what they’re looking for,” DePalma McCartney said. “These are burning platform metrics we need to get to.”

 

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