This piece was originally published in November 2018 and was last updated in July 2020.
You’re thinking of adopting Influencer marketing techniques in your next marketing campaign and, naturally enough, you want to know the potential pitfalls before starting. Fake followers on Instagram is a massive problem. That being said, there’s a lot for businesses to gain by entering into an alliance with an online personality, as influencer marketing gives a return of 11x the investment. You too can see returns like this so long as you can identify and avoid Instagram frauds.
If Instagram isn’t part of your marketing strategy, it should be! Engagement with branded posts is growing, with 1/3 of the most viewed Instagram stories coming from businesses. This fact makes the social media hub a dominant form of customer acquisition. Micro-influencers are now crafting partnerships with businesses that connect them with high engagement rates. It’s not surprising that casual browsers are more likely to commit to a purchase if they have seen a product recommended by an influencer!
How to identify 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. More than half of mid and senior-level advertising and marketing professionals believe that 10-50 percent of their ad spend is lost to fraudulent accounts of this nature.
That’s why we’re providing you with these steps, as well as a free software tool, to ensure that fake influencers won’t be able to pull the wool over your eyes. We’ve got your Instagram campaign covered from getting verified to quick simple steps for finding your ideal influencer.
Too often, those new to the game of influencer marketing barely break even or actually make a loss from venturing into an affiliation. And a big reason for this is fake followers. It’s all too easy for social media users to buy friends and likes which is harmful to your marketing strategy. Your campaign may be reaching out to very few genuine people.
So here’s how to separate the wheat from the chaff on Instagram
How fake Instagram accounts look so realistic
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.
Check to see where their traffic is coming from
Many authentic Instagram influencers are famous, or at least present, on other social platforms or active online in other ways.
They’ll probably have a link to their website in their Instagram bio. Rummage online for activity elsewhere; it could be Youtube, Snapchat, Twitter or a blog. Investigating their status in the social media world as a whole, and not just Instagram can give you insight into whether your investment will be worthwhile.
Very few influencers exist solely on Instagram which makes sense. If you’re reaching high levels of success on one platform why not create a richer, more engaging brand by dipping into other mediums?
A Google search doesn’t go astray here either. 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.
Influencer’s Engagement quality
Look through recent posts and their corresponding comments. Do they possess 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 pull every bot or fake account weed from their garden of followers, so it’s not unrealistic to see a certain level of spam. However, as long the lion’s share 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.
Creating an Instagram influencer network requires consistent content posting. And when they are MIA, they’ll generally come back with an apology and a reason for their absence. On the other side, fake accounts often generate a huge volume of posts over a short period of time and become silent again. As a general rule of thumb, they tend to post intermittently.
This technique doesn’t work if you are playing by the rules on Instagram. There are over 500 million active Instagram accounts every day, so an influencer needs to keep providing content for maintaining traction with their followers and gaining new ones along the way. That’s why red flags should prop up when you see irregular posting patterns on an influencer’s account.
Promotion track record
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. 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. Products they put their name to must enhance rather than detract from user engagement. The quality management of paid content an influencer enforces is a telling sign of their credibility.
Do they understand the game?
If after the above steps everything has come up positive and you’re sure that the account holder is, in fact, real, you may think that you’re in safe waters. However, there’s another way to fish out their authenticity.
This method involves having a conversation with them about their community. 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.
An influencer won’t bang on about themselves and their achievements for too long. They’ll know it’s not all about them. A clear sign of an influencer is that they understand their audience, have high engagement levels with them, 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 90% 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.
You are now equipped with a complete checklist of what to look out for when sourcing a credible influencer on Instagram. Although Instagram announced that it would start cracking down on fake accounts, the relentless creation of new, fake accounts means that there are few signs of change.
Hopefully, we haven’t converted you into a complete skeptic on Instagram because there is a lot of potential to reach out to your target market, capture leads, and increase sales! A whopping 90% of all influencer campaigns include Instagram as part of the strategy, and engagement rates on the platform are 15 times higher than on Facebook and 20 times higher on Twitter. We want to give you a map of potential potholes, so your business isn’t left out of pocket because of an influencer who on the surface looks to be just that, but in reality, has no influence whatsoever.
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! Your existing loyal customers love your brand and lots of them have the social reach to raise awareness of your brand amongst new audiences. Upfluence Live Capture is a tool designed for eCommerce sites to help brands collect and analyze information shared by their customer community in order to recruit brand ambassadors, affiliates, and influencers.