Instagram fake followers – lose $1.3 billion or learn how to detect fraudulent influencers

Fake is a leading candidate for buzzword of the decade and a rising issue for influencer marketers. If you want to partner with an Instagram influencer, how can you learn the tips and tricks to check for fake followers and fake engagement? And why are inauthentic metrics like these even a problem on Instagram?

As influencer marketing keeps on growing, its market size will exceed $8 billion in 2020 and $22 billion by 2024. The quickly-growing market has unfortunately given rise to bad actors who exploit the industry and can damage your brand’s success. 


Estimated growth of the influencer marketing industry by 2020

A recent study published by CHEQ suggested that $1.3 billion in advertising dollars have gone toward fake followers, up from $500 million as InfluencerDB’s CEO Robert Levenhagen presented in his keynote at 2018’s Influencer Marketing Show. Unfortunately, despite the warnings, a black market has emerged within the influencer ecosystem and fraudulent influencers continue to buy fake followers, fake likes and fake engagement.

Instagram tries to combat fake followers  

Instagram has tried cracking down on fake followers but struggles to fully eliminate fraudulent behavior. Instagram has carried out several follower purges over the past few years, and this year brought some rather curious follower fluctuations. Despite this, many Instagram users who want to climb the influencer career ladder have successfully employed strategies to get fake followers and engagements. Without proper vetting infrastructure in place, influencers with more followers are perceived to be more attractive and trustworthy for audiences and brands. Hence, faking followers but also engagement is alluring to many and easily done with a single mouse click.

Engaging in buying, selling or creating fake followers is technically not illegal as long as it does not imply impersonation. Even though fake followers and fake engagement are against Instagram’s terms of use that wants users to “foster meaningful and genuine interactions”, this does not seem to keep users from engaging in fake strategies.

How do influencers fake followers and engagement?

Some influencers purchase fake followers, fake likes, and fake story views via bots and click farms. Buying fake Instagram followers can be as cheap as $10 per 1,000 followers, and despite its questionable legality, the market of vendors offering fake followers is crowded. Russian company Snatap has even placed vending machines for fake followers and fake engagement in Russian shopping malls.

Fake follower vendors online

Another way fraudulent influencers gain Instagram fake followers and fabricate performance is by using automation tools. Platforms like Instamacro or apps such as Captivate and Cleaner can be used to follow a massive amount of Instagram accounts at the same in the hope that accounts will follow back, before eventually unfollowing. With these follow-for-follow tools, ingenuine interactions are automated to fake Instagram followers and boost inauthentic engagement.

A bit more time and effort is invested by influencers who use engagement pods to boost their social media presence or by influencers who fake sponsored content to attract brands and sponsorships. With professional-looking pictures of new products, tagging of a brand, using a brand’s campaign and/or hashtag, and writing a caption that sounds like a testimony of review, smaller, unvetted accounts often misrepresent themselves to appear to have partnered with advertisers for their posts.

Marketers spending money on influencers with a non-existent audience will obviously experience a loss in revenue. So, knowing how to spot fake on Instagram will keep you on the right track when growing your brand.


The Influencer Marketing Cloud - Learn more

How to spot fake on Instagram?

Without the help of influencer marketing software, you can only make assumptions of whether influencers fake their audience or engagement. By using a mix of qualitative and quantitative research, it’ll be easy to detect Instagram fake followers and fake engagement rates. You just need to know the metrics to consider and the behavior to watch out for.

The Influencer Marketing Cloud’s Discovery & Analytics module provides the necessary data to detect such fake-ness by allowing marketers to quickly identify:

  • Rapid growth rates
  • Low audience quality distribution and bad audience quality grades 
  • Inauthentic like follower ratios

Fake influencer's metrics

Savvy marketers can easily flag fake audiences with the Influencer Marketing Cloud. Inorganic follower growth rates and massive spikes in follower numbers are firsts indicators for purchased Instagram fake followers. Sudden drops within the growth rate link back to Instagram’s purges with mass deletion of inactive or bot accounts.

Fake influencer's media metrics

The audience quality distribution and grade assess the value of the influencer’s engaged audience and reveal whether likes and comments come from real people. These grades indicate whether or not your target audience will see your messaging with an influencer.

The overperformance of the like follower ratio can indicate fake engagement or purchased likes while a significantly low like follower ratio is a sign for purchased followers who are – as inactive users – not engaging with the influencer’s content at all. Learn more about realistic benchmarks and know what you can expect from an influencer in your vertical and location from our Influencer Marketing Benchmarks Report 2019!

Social media marketers should consider these metrics in conjunction with a more qualitative analysis of audience sentiment that comes from reviewing the comments on an influencer’s posts. These methods will consistently provide a comprehensive understanding of the authenticity of an influencer.

The Takeaway 

Exciting opportunities always come with a certain risk, so it’s natural for the growing influencer marketing industry to attract fakes and frauds. Social media marketers historically have been unable to rely on Instagram to crack down on the problem, so they have to take matters into their own hands. To avoid wasting your Instagram marketing budget, you should learn how to detect fake followers and likes, as well as all relevant metrics for identifying authentic influencers. 

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