With Instagram, a photo could receive tens of thousands of likes within the first seconds it’s published. Well-performing influencers could attract anywhere from a few thousand to millions of engagements from their followers. With their massive community reach and social influence, influencers have been excellent marketing opportunities for brands.
However, not all influencers have claimed their followers authentically. Instead, many have chosen to buy fake followers, resulting in major loss for companies that decided to work with them. (Learn from Ritz-Carlton, who once hired influencers with 78% fake followers!) In order to avoid risky investment in influencers, what do companies need to know about fake followers, and the tools to detect them?
How to Manually Detect Fake Followers
By definition, fake followers’ engagement is worthless. Behind thousands of likes and/or comments, there is no actual audience to be interested in your products. Sourcing out authentic influencers who have a genuine connection with their audiences is one of the most important tasks of influencer marketing. While looking for influencers to collaborate with, it’s important to keep an eye out for these characteristics:
Low Engagement Rate
At first sight, influencers with large numbers of followers could look authentic. However, many of these followers could be bought, and these purchases could be a mix of real people and bots/fake accounts. Instagram has tried to stop this phenomenon by blocking suspicious behaviours (large number of likes or followers in a day), but many still fall through the cracks.
A good first step to detect fake followers is by calculating one’s engagement rate, which is the ratio between likes/comments and total followers. An influencer with an engagement rate of less than 1% most likely has purchased followers.
Spammy & Irrelevant Comments
In addition to fake followers, influencers may also buy likes and comments on their posts, which would give them a normal to high engagement rate. To weed out these bots, brands should look at comments as “proof” of the followers’ engagement.
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 a generic or random instagram handles, no bios, and oftentimes private accounts – dead giveaways for bots!
Number of Followers to Following Ratio
Another indicator, immediately visible, is the following/followers ratio (The number of accounts someone follows versus the number of accounts who follow them.) An authentic influencer account should have many more followers than following.
Unauthentic influencers usually have an equal amount of followers/following, and there are many reasons leading to this phenomenon. In order to increase followers, many people seek for 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 irrelevant to the content of their account.
Free Tools to Spot Fake Followers
Other indicators may identify suspicious accounts, such as the number of new followers each day and the number of people who unfollow. But it is not possible to make this observation yourself. Fortunately, there are simple yet effective online tools available to detect these data in order to reflect real/fake profiles.
Upfluence offers a free Chrome plugin that gives users insight to an influencer’s social media performance. Works on Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, Twich, blogs and Pinterests, the plugin can analyze a profile’s engagement rate, reach, audience demographics, and more. You can download it here.
IG audit is a free and easy-to-use tool. Simply enter the name of the account you are interested in, and the algorithm delivers the percentage of real followers within minutes. To do this, the tool scans about 200 random followers for reference, all the while taking in consideration of the account’s average likes and comments. Real influencers reach more than 70% of real followers.
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.
Don’t let a large number of followers be the only indication of how you choose your influencers. Identifying an authentic influencer could seriously determine the success of your marketing campaign, hence directly impacts your ability to obtain a good ROI.