You’ve heard the hype around influencer marketing as a top-performing digital marketing strategy, but naturally you want to know about the potential pitfalls before launching your first campaign. You’re not alone, 67% of brands are still concerned about influencer fraud. Avoiding working with influencers that have fake followers and fake likes is a must for brands that want to get the most out of their investment. Fake followers used to be prevalent on the platform, but luckily technology has advanced quickly to help us stamp out the problem.
Identifying fake followers on Instagram is an essential skill for laying down the base for a successful campaign. Instagram is one of the more popular platforms to find influencers, but you need to be cautious before diving into a professional relationship. Influencer fraud can come at a great cost to your ROI and overall marketing budget. Influencer fraud has cost brands $1.3 billion.
That’s why we’re sharing our top tips to help you launch a successful Instagram influencer campaign. From learning how to detect fake followers with our free tool, to insight on new Instagram features, we’ve got you covered!
- 1 How fake Instagram accounts look so realistic
- 2 Why fake accounts exist
- 3 How to detect fake followers on Instagram
- 4 Tools that detect fake followers and likes on Instagram
- 5 Case study: how to read the results
- 6 Identifying your most authentic influencers
How fake Instagram accounts look so realistic
First let’s examine how people are creating fake accounts so that you know exactly what to look out for. You may think that telling the difference between a fake and a real account in your Instagram influencer search is simple, for example, they might have zero followers but follow thousands themselves, or they may not have a profile picture or bio. However, there is much more to consider when it comes to fake Instagram accounts. It’s very difficult to tell the difference between a real and a fake account when the imposter knows what they’re doing!
There is a typical approach that these people take when creating a fake account:
- The first stage is that they purchase followers. Usually around 3,000-5,000 per day for a month. This technique ratchets up their followers to 100k relatively quickly.
- Next, they join a ‘like’ engagement group. With this paid service, the account owner will put up a post and get instant likes from real accounts. Each post will get 600-800 likes from accounts with 50k followers or more. The same can be achieved with comments.
- They’ll also use an automated growth bot alongside an Instagram management tool. This system helps draw in around 300-500 followers per day. Their account will begin to attract real followers, some of which are organic.
However, it’s still only a small percentage of the thousands of fake followers used to trick businesses looking for genuine influencers. Here at Upfluence, we display the percentage of followers that are real for every influencer in our database. Without knowing this figure, you would have to do considerable background research before placing your trust, and capital, in an Instagram influencer.
Why fake accounts exist
All you really need to start out as a fake influencer and start making money online is a few hundred dollars cash and a bundle of good-quality photos. After that, all it takes is investing this money in buying followers and likes. It can become extremely lucrative for these people as they essentially get paid to market products to a ghost audience. The barrier to entry to earn money with a fake account on Instagram is incredibly low. So, it’s easy to conceive why people want in on this way to make a quick buck.
Understanding the motives of fake influencers allows you to sidestep them when sourcing a suitable Instagrammer to optimize your reach.
How to detect fake followers on Instagram
Check to see where their traffic is coming from
Authenic social media influencers will usually be active on other platforms as well as Instagram. If you’ve spotted an Instagram account of a creator you want to work with, you can look at their presence on other social media channels such as Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok or YouTube. Many influencers will also have an official website or blog that links to their official social media accounts. Double check their website is linking to the correct Instagram account as another sign of authenticity.
A general Google search is also a good idea. Google isn’t a reliable source by itself. It’s all too easy for a fake Instagrammer to create a fake Wikipedia page, for example. However, look for evidence of this person collaborating with other influencers or try and spot if they recycle the same photos over and over again. Not all influencers have a strong presence off Instagram, nevertheless, finding activity outside of the platform is a good indicator of authenticity.
Look through ithe influencer’s recent posts and comments. Do they comments share meaningful content, relate to earlier comments or refer to the topic of the post? Or rather is it a stream of thumbs up, love hearts and smiley-faced emojis? It’s time to raise eyebrows if it’s the latter that you’re consistently seeing.
Again, large accounts cannot realistically identify every bot or fake account among their followers, so it’s not unrealistic to see a certain level of spam. However, as long the majority of responses are written by a human follower and not a bot, then you have a green light!
Another measure you can take is to scroll through the comments and see if you can spot the poster responding to questions or compliments. This activity is a great sign as it reveals to you that they have valuable insight into your target market’s desires, habits, and characteristics.
Instagram Story metrics
Image via Buffer
Fake Instagrammers can cover their tracks in many ways, just as we’ve discussed above in their measures to create a phony account. However, Story views aren’t publicly visible. Therefore these fake accounts don’t invest money or time into altering and improving these stats. That’s why asking them for a screenshot of their last story is a clever move.
Also, it’s also an accurate yardstick to check how much information they are willing to divulge or withhold. Can this influencer provide you with metrics to back up their potential value to your brand?
You’ll see that despite their enormous follower base, their stories will only attract around 3,000-4,000 views. It goes without saying that if they give you some excuse on why they’re unable to send you this information, then alarm bells should be ringing.
Real Instagram influencers know that in order to maintain high engagement rates and gain new followers organically they need to show consistency with regular posting. It’s not uncommon for influencers to take short breaks from social media, but creators usually announce this to followers ahead of time. They know the importance of regular, authentic communication with their audience.
On the flip side, fake influencer accounts will often post a large volume of content in a short amount of time and show highly inconsistent posting patterns. When scrolling through an influencer’s feed, look to see how often they’ve been posting (by checking the dates) and if there’s been a big, unexplained gap in activity.
Previous brand parnterships
Another insightful measure is to look through their past paid sponsorships. You’ll find these are posted with #ad, #spon, or #sponsored hashtags.
Look to see if they are consistent with their brand choices. An influencer looking to forge a long-term community won’t spam followers with irrelevant content that clearly provides no value to viewers and cheapens their image.
Real followers don’t stick around long when an influencer pushes every affiliation that comes their way. Successful influencers are cautious in their selection process and have to find brands that align with their community. Influencers will share content and paid promotions around their specific niche. You can be reassured about an influencer’s credibility by looking to see if their sponsored content aligns with their organic content. Look to see the kinds of brands they are working with. Do they fall into the same industry niche? Are their followers engaging enthusiastically with the content? These details about their recent brand collaborations will reveal if they’re a genuine influencer or a fake account.
Do they understand their audience?
If after the above steps everything is looking positive and you’re sure that the account holder is, in fact, real, you might want extra reassurance by reaching out to them directly. Having a conversation with them about their community will show how invested they are in building up a genuine online audience. Do they know what their followers want? Do they care? Or is it a matter of posting selfie after selfie without much thought as to their audience’s desires.
A clear sign of a genuine influencer is that they understand their audience, have high engagement levels, and perhaps do meet-ups to strengthen their community. An Instagrammer who hasn’t attained their followers organically won’t be as in touch as they should be with their followers, and may struggle to back up the legitimacy of the community they’ve created.
The reason to check geographic location is often fairly obvious. If your potential influencer is a fashion blogger based in Melbourne but the majority of their followers live in Asia, there’s a high chance that they’ve purchased these followers. It’s not always the case though, digital nomads and jet-setters often attain followers globally without any shady purchases along the way.
We recommend that you identify the geographic location of an influencer’s followers. You can achieve this through our free chrome plugin; we created this article to explain the capabilities in more detail.
Tools that detect fake followers and likes on Instagram
This software enables you to take control of your influencer marketing campaign. Think of it as a fake Instagram followers audit. Below, we give you the steps to download the free Upfluence Chrome plug-in to attain stats on an Instagrammer’s reach. Not only that, but you’ll also be able to identify their followers’ geographic location, gender, and age bracket of any Instagram account.
Here’s how to get started:
- Download the plug-in
- Using Chrome go to the profile of the account that you are investigating
- Click the plug-in icon at the upper left corner of Chrome once you are on the user’s profile
- Check out their stats including:
- The percentage of their followers that are real. Our algorithm calculates the proportion of real to fake followers. A low percentage strongly indicates that they have a high level of fake followers. Conversely, Instagrammers who score highly here have a healthy proportion of real followers.
- Their followings’ demographic breakdown, from countries in which they are most popular to age range and gender split.
- Gauge Instagram influencers cost based on their engagement rates. This figure helps you find Instagram influencers within your budget. You can also start visualizing how to split your budget between micro-influencers and post frequency.
This tool measures social engagement rather than social reach by collecting and analyzing your influencer of choice. The software compares the likes and comments of the resulting data against the industry.
Their pricing system is based on the number of influencers you wish to test but it’s worth it to make sure that no bots or fake influencers end up costing your business in an unsuccessful marketing campaign.
In HypeAuditor, you can check comment authenticity, inorganic spikes in followers as well as engagement rates to test the legitimacy of an Instagram influencer. Like Fake Check, the pricing model is on a per search basis. The audience quality score and follower quality analytics are highlights of this fraud detection system.
These applications help the processes of weeding out fake accounts. It’s not easy as there are 95 million of them lurking around Instagram. That’s right, 1 in 10 Instagram accounts are fake or not operated by a human. This fraud makes for approximately $500 MILLION in ad revenue losses annually!
Case study: how to read the results
So, let’s pull all of this information together with a case study. I’ve included a screenshot below of an Instagrammer with a genuine following. I’m using our Upfluence software to get these statistics.
This influencer, Anna Saccone, is an Irish-American fashion and lifestyle YouTuber who lives in the UK. Firstly, our software’s algorithms come with a guide on the authenticity of their reach, and at 91% that’s a promising indication.
But, even without this fake followers Instagram check, you can see that the majority of her followers are from English speaking countries. Since she specializes in beauty and fashion, the fact that 89% of her following is female is another indicator of this influencer’s reach. Anna Saccone is thirty years old, so the fact that her followers are primarily in the 25-34 age category is yet another promising sign.
These are the dream stats you’re looking for when searching for a promising influencer. You can see how valuable it is to discover this data before entering into a contract with a rogue influencer. Within seconds, you can see an influencer for who they are; whether their follower demographics match up with their content, and whether they really do have the reach that they claim.
Identifying your most authentic influencers
If all this chat about fake influencers has put you on edge, here’s one final thought: when you’re searching for the coveted authentic, real influencer, don’t forget about the power of your customer base. Consider activating partnerships with your most influential customers, they are, after all, your best influencers! By using a tool such as Upfluence Live Capture to analyze data about their customers you’ll be able to identify your most influential brand advocates. The best part is, you know they’re real people who have a genuine appreciation for your brand and significant social reach. Your influential customers are far less likely to have fake followers, in fact their audience will be made up of friends, family and colleagues who could also be interested in your brand.