Influencer marketing is built on authenticity, so identifying fake followers is the first line of defense against fraud, and misrepresentation in the industry. Before launching a new campaign, brands need the ability to detect (and avoid) influencers with fake followers.
Brands can identify fake followers by looking out for: extreme engagement rates (very high or very low), spam comments and an uneven number of follower to following ratio. They can also use free tools to analyze influencer profiles and reveal the level of audience authenticity – but more on that later.
First, brands need to be clear that in order to get real results, they need to invest in influencers who have real followers that are genuinely engaging with their content. Unfortunately, not all influencers follow the rules, a small number have purchased fake followers, while others fall victim to Instagram bots. In any case this is incredibly damaging to an influencer’s reputation and authenticity, not to mention a highly expensive mistake for brands to make!
In order to avoid investing in influencers with fake followers, let’s go through in detail what a brand needs to know to check for fake followers and choose the most valuable influencers.
What are fake followers?
Fake followers are social media accounts that don’t belong to real people. They may have been set up by a business or agency that sells fake followers to influencers. Fake followers also include social media bots that are computer programs automatically set up to like and comment posts – but don’t be fooled there is no human engagement there!
The presence of fake social media accounts will inflate an influencer’s number of followers and make it appear as though they have a larger reach and a higher engagement rate than they do in reality. The presence of fake followers is a huge problem for brands who risk wasting money on influencer partnerships that don’t deliver results. In order to drive brand awareness and sales, brands need to prioritize working with influencers who have built up a genuine audience that matches their target customer profile. The bottom line is fake followers and bots are not going to buy products from your brand.
How to identify an influencer with fake followers?
Sourcing authentic influencers who have a genuine connection with their audiences is one of the most important tasks of influencer marketing. By definition, any engagement an influencer receives from a fake follower is worthless. Behind thousands of likes and/or comments, there is no actual audience who is interested in your products. This is why investing in influencers with a lot of fake followers is a huge waste of money for brands.
While looking for influencers to collaborate with, it’s important to keep an eye out for these characteristics that suggest they have fake followers:
Very Low or Very High Engagement Rate
At first sight, influencers with large numbers of followers could look appealing as they seem to offer huge audience reach. However, when looking at mega or macro-influencer profiles be sure to look for discrepancies in their engagement rate. Very low engagement rate indicates they have fake follower accounts whereas a very high engagement rate suggests they have automated engagement bots among their followers. Instagram has tried to stop this phenomenon by blocking suspicious behaviors (a large number of likes or followers in a day), but many still fall through the cracks.
You can calculate the engagement rate with the formula: number of engagements/number of followers x 100. A very low engagement, i.e less than 1% would hint at fake followers. This happens when an influencer may have a very high number of followers, but few genuine engagements and not many likes or comments as the followers are not real people! You would expect at least 1% or more of an influencer’s audience to be actively engaging with their posts.
Similarly, be wary of very high engagement rates as this could indicate influencers are buying likes and comments to artificially boost engagement levels. Repetitive likes or engagements on every post is a sign on Instagram bots.
Using Upfluence’s chrome plug-in, we can seefor example that this influencer has 32K followers, yet they have an average engagement rate of 193.91%. Sometimes engagement rates are unusually high because a post went viral and received a lot of likes from real social media users. But as a rule, any metrics that looks suspiciously high (or low) warrant further investigation.
Having a huge number of followers usually dilutes an influencer’s overall engagement rate, because they need a higher number of people to be consistently engaging with their content. Therefore if you spot an unusually high engagement rate it could be a sign that an influencer is buying fake followers and bots to inflate their engagement rate.
Check out this blog about how to analyze influencer engagement for more tips!
Spammy & Irrelevant Comments
To assess whether an influencer has real followers it’s a good idea to dig into the comments section! This gives great qualitative insight into who is interacting with them and how. You can usually spot genuine comments easily as they’ll directly reference the content or respond to comments in the thread. Comments that are spam or seem out of place are usually due to fake followers and bots.
Here are some suspicious comments to notice:
- Comments with only emojis/no actual context.
- Comments with short, common, and repetitive phrases (e.g. “Hot!!!”, “Beautiful”, “Great shot!!”, etc.)
- Irrelevant or out-of-context comments (e.g. “Beautiful girl!” on a photo of food)
The final thing to check is the actual accounts that make these comments: They usually have very few or no followers, most likely with generic or random Instagram handles, no bios, and are often private accounts – dead giveaways for bots!
Number of Followers to Following Ratio
Another indicator that’s immediately visible, is the following/followers ratio. This ratio is the number of accounts someone follows versus the number of accounts who follow them. An authentic influencer account is likely to have more accounts that follow them than people they follow.
One thing to watch out for is if an influencer has an equal amount of followers/following. There are many reasons that could lead to this. For example, in order to increase followers, many people seek other accounts to “follow for follow” (f4f) or “shoutout for shoutout” (s4s). While this increases the number of their followers, their community of followers is usually irrelevant to the content of their account.
Free Tools to Spot Fake Followers
It can be incredibly time consuming to rely on manually checking an influencer’s engagement rate and comments to spot fake followers. There are some key metrics that would be much easier to analyze with the help of a tool. Fortunately, there are simple yet effective online tools available that will help you check if your influencers have fake followers.
By combining insights about influencer engagement, unfollows, comments, and other data these tools can detect influencer accounts that are likely to have a high number of fake followers.
Upfluence offers a free Chrome plugin that gives users insight into an influencer’s social media performance and helps them run a fake follower check for their selected influencers. It works on Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, Twitch, blogs, and Pinterest. The plugin can analyze a profile’s engagement rate, reach, audience demographics, and more. Download Upfluence’s Chrome plugin.
The plugin will display the percentage of real followers an influencer profile has to help you select only the profiles that have the highest number of real followers. A good practice is to avoid profiles with less than 90% real followers (in other words those who have 10% or more fake followers).
Dive deeper with this blog explaining 7 steps to detect fake followers and fake likes on Instagram.
FakeCheck helps you to identify fake followers for Instagram accounts. Simply copy and paste the name of the Instagram account handle that you want to analyze and they’ll take care of the rest!
Social Blade allows you to check influencer data on all social networks. With this tool, you can easily and quickly find the engagement rate, the number of followers won or lost each day and the number of followers.
While a sudden spike of followers is suspicious, it does not always mean that they are purchased accounts (the influencers may have gone viral, mentioned in a much larger account, etc.), but many sudden increases or irregular patterns could be an indication of fake/bought followers.
The industry as a whole has been moving away from using vanity metrics as the only way to identify successful influencers. The rise of micro-influencers, who are far less likely to have fake followers, goes to show that choosing influencers for their large number of followers isn’t always the way to go. As a brand looking to work with influencers, you should turn your attention to finding influencers that deliver a high ROI and generate sales. These conversions are much more difficult to artificially replicate and are a much stronger indicator that an influencer can help you meet your goals.
Learn more about how to find authentic influencers for your brand in this free guide: