Unilever Cutting Ties With Social Media 'Influencers' That Buy Followers

Damir Mujezinovic

Unilever, the British-Dutch consumer goods company co-headquartered in London, United Kingdom, and Rotterdam, Netherlands, is cutting ties with social media "influencers" that buy followers, Reuters news agency reports.

All big brands advertise on social media platforms, sometimes with the help of so-called influencers, individuals with large social media followings. While this has, Reuters noted, become somewhat of an industry standard, with many big bands paying prominent social media figures to promote their products and services, an Econsultancy study has shown that identifying the right influences is the biggest challenge for businesses advertising on social media.

For influencers, following numbers dictate fees, so many resort to purchasing followers; fake followers, bots, and automated social media accounts. Some of these accounts are sophisticated enough to engage with the content, leave "likes," and comments.

"Trust comes on foot and leaves on horseback, and we could very quickly see the whole influencer space be undermined. There are lots of great influencers out there, but there are a few bad apples spoiling the barrel and the trouble is, everyone goes down once the trust is undermined," Keith Weed, the chief marketing officer at Unilever, told Reuters.

According to Weed, as much as 40 percent of social media influencers have bought fake followers at some point, some accidentally. Peter Stork, the co-founder of influencer marketing measurement firm Points North Group, told Reuters that many companies spend money on influencers whose follower numbers are artificially inflated, and therefore advertise to bots.

This is not the first time that Unilever has taken a public stance against online manipulation. As the Inquisitr reported in February, the company planned on pulling its online advertisements if companies such as Google and Facebook don't clean up their platforms from sexism, racism, and fake news.

According to Unliever's head of marketing, the company has already discontinued the collaboration with some influencers, and it no longer has a major issue with fake followers.

Unilever spent $8.9 billion on marketing last year, and only "tens of millions" of that, as Weed told Reuters, was on influencer marketing. However, that number is expected to grow, the chief marketing officer at Unilever predicted.

Fake followers and automated accounts remain a problem. According to research from the University of Southern California and Indiana University, up to 15 percent of Twitter accounts are bots. Meaning, approximately 48 million Twitter accounts are, in fact, automated software.

Some social media platforms have attempted to crack down on bot software. In April, 2017, Instagram shut down a popular bot program called Instagress, The Verge reported, vowing to purge fake accounts.