The Dark Side Of Influencer Marketing

dark side of influencer marketing

In a disturbing trend for influencer marketing, two Indian start-ups, Meesho and EaseMyTrip were targeted by trolls on Twitter.

The smear campaign against Meesho was routed via genuine social media user accounts. However, the Twitter handles used for the campaign against EaseMyTrip were opened very recently. Most had no or very few followers.

Testbook VP Mr. Ravisutanjani Kumar brought these two smear campaigns to everyone’s notice. He rightly pointed out that it is “high time influencer and paid marketing needs to be regulated“.

The Dark Side of Influencer Marketing

Misuse of Influencer Marketing to Defame Competitors

In the case of Meesho, it is alleged that a prominent person from the social media marketing industry asked genuine social media users to publish posts targeting Meesho.

However the smear campaign against EaseMyTrip looks like a competitor’s attempt to defame the publicly listed travel tech start-up.

EaseMyTrip is planning to pursue legal action against the trolls.

Such campaigns cast a doubt on the growing popularity of social media influencers.

Fake User and Followers

While influencers have given brands and businesses excellent ROI, the rising number of fake influencers is a matter of concern.

A New York Times article explored the rise of fake accounts and just how common the practice has become.

According to the story, roughly 15% of Twitter profiles are fraudulent accounts designed to appear like real people. These followers are purchased by celebrities and “fake influencers” for the appearance of a wide social reach.

According to twitteraudit.com, the most-followed person on Twitter – singer/songwriter Katy Perry – has more than 41 million fake followers. That’s more than one-third of her total follower count.

Past Cases

In a 2020 case, the Criminal Intelligence Unit (CIU) of Mumbai Police’s crime branch had cracked India’s first international social media influencers’ fraud after receiving complaints.

The cops had nabbed one person in connection with this case who created around five hundred thousand fake followers for social media influencers on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook.

The accused was a part of a larger international fraud racket, which functioned by creating millions of fake identities on various social media platforms and thereby creating fake performance statistics such as fake followers, fake comments, fake views etc in order to inflate influencers’ performance statistics.

Influencers on social media are increasingly becoming new tools used to shape narratives, fight political, legal, and business wars on social media.

Regulations for Influencer Marketing?

Controlling such smear campaigns and narratives can be tricky for law enforcement agencies. As they introduce regulations, the genuine influencers may get caught in the crossfire.

In one of the first by governments, Uganda had introduced a scheme in 2019 to register and monitor social media influencers.

Influencers on Ugandan social media and others with large, commercialised online followings were asked to register their activities for monitoring by the state.

While the authorities maintained that the scheme was designed to clamp down on immoral or prejudiced content, critics viewed it as part of an escalating campaign by the government to suppress online content disapproving of the President and his government.

They called it a negative move that “infringes on the rights to freedom of expression“.

It is going to be a tricky challenge to separate the good from the bad.

While governments in India, USA, UK and elsewhere have introduced guidelines that make it mandatory for influencers to add a disclosure label to clarify if a post includes paid promotions and advertisement, that falls short of stopping the likes of recent smear campaigns against Meesho and EaseMyTrip.

With the global market size estimated to be more than $16 Bn and growing steadily, there will be lots of debate on how to control the dark side of influencer marketing without infringing on the rights and freedom of social media users.


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By Nitesh Verma

Founder - Business Management Blog. I am an independent business strategy consultant, helping companies take data driven business decisions. My mission is to find and implement simple solutions for complex business problems.

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