Business development · 22 June 2018

Unilever cracks down on influencers who buy fake followers

Many businesses use influencer marketing as part of their marketing strategy.

The consumer goods company pledges not to work with online influencers who pay for their followers or have a fake following.

Influencers are only becoming a huge part of marketing strategies, and for brands like Unilever (which spent $9bn on brand marketing last year) illegitimate engagement on social media can become detrimental.

Despite the commonness of fraud, businesses continue to pump their money into influencer marketing, as 75% of marketers paid influencers to promote their products — and half planned to increase their budget for this marketing strategy.

Commenting on this, Unilever’s chief marketing officer, Keith Weed, at the Cannes Lions Festival announced: “At Unilever, we believe influencers are an important way to reach consumers and grow our brands.

“Their power comes from a deep, authentic and direct connection with people, but certain practices like buying followers can easily undermine these relationships.”

This follows a wider push to battle digital fraud, create better experiences for consumers and improve brands’ ability to measure impact.

The three commitments by Unilever are:

  • Transparency from Influencers: Unilever will not work with influencers who buy followers.
  • Transparency from Brands: Unilever’s brands will never buy followers.
  • Transparency from Platforms:Unilever will prioritise partners who increase transparency and help eradicate bad practices throughout the whole ecosystem. 

Weed added: “The key to improving the situation is three-fold: cleaning up the influencer ecosystem by removing misleading engagement; making brands and influencers more aware of the use of dishonest practices; and improving transparency from social platforms to help brands measure impact.

“We need to take urgent action now to rebuild trust before it’s gone forever.”

In the recent years, influencers have driven their prices higher and higher with the top 20 most-follwed Insta idols earning up to $550k per post.

But as these costs rose, Unilever began to monitor follower quality and engagement. What they found was that 20% of mid-level influencers’ followers are fake.

Paul Kahn of Upfluence, an influencer marketing company, said: “Unilever uses followers to figure out how much to pay someone.

“So when people claim to have 50% more followers than they actually do — and Unilever pays them millions — it’s a real problem.”



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Instagram says it blocks millions of fake accounts every day and works hard to build stronger relationships between brands and influencers.

But some influencers who have grown their fan base organically fear that they could get caught up in the conflict.

“I am so against bots,” said New York-based Olivia Rink, 27, a fashion and lifestyle blogger who used to be a cheerleader.

Anti-bot using, New York-based fashion and lifestyle blogger, Olivia Rink, commented: “It’s very discouraging to compete with influencers that make the decision to use bots for fake engagement.”

“I work extremely hard to create unique and authentic content that I know my readers will enjoy.”

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.



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Carly Hacon is a reporter for Business Advice. She has a BA in journalism from Kingston University, and has previously worked as a features editor for a local newspaper.