Brands: How to fight “Fake Influencers” on Instagram

Brands: How to fight “Fake Influencers” on Instagram
16. April 2019 Falk Rehkopf

Brands: How to fight “Fake Influencers” on Instagram

Brands: How to fight "Fake Influencers" on Instagram

Fake influencers have been buying followers, likes and comments on Instagram for years now – and as influencer marketing becomes a more lucrative space, these influencers (or influencer hopefuls) aren’t letting up.

According to a MediaKix report, the demand for fake Instagram followers increased by a whopping 71% in 2017. As PR pros, our job is to ensure that our clients engage genuine influencers who have taken the time to grow their audience organically, not fake influencers who simply bought their 15 minutes of fame.

How do you deal with fake influencers on Instagram? Read on to find out more.

Fake influencers on Instagram vs other networks

Interestingly, fake influencers are the most rampant on Instagram and they’re not as much of an issue of other social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

While there aren’t any official statistics that estimate what share of each platform’s influencers are fraudulent, Google Trends shows that there’s a significantly higher number of people looking to purchase Instagram followers (as opposed to followers from other platforms):

What’s the motivation for fake influencers?

At the end of the day, most fake influencers are hoping to make their account look legitimate and attractive, to the point where brands will start knocking on their doors and offering them sponsorship deals. To do this, some Instagram users formed groups where they commit to engaging with each other’s content in order to increase impressions and engagement.

Other than simply buying followers, likes or accounts in total, some Instagram users have taken to faking sponsorship deals and sponsored content in order to “boost their appeal” to brands. On top of that, it’s also common for influencers to buy followers specifically to hit their 10,000 follower mark – when they do this, they’ll be able to embed links in their Instagram Stories and this allows them to drive traffic to their clients’ brands if necessary. 

According to Gil Eyal, CEO of Influencer search and discovery directory Hypr Brands, this huge market for buying followers exists and many “influencers” use those services because most of them are very cheap – but also very easy to spot.

Examples of fake influencers on Instagram

There are countless fake influencers on Instagram but two notable examples are @wanderingggirl and @calibeachgirl310 which are fictional accounts created by influencer marketing agency Mediakix.

Here’s the story: Mediakix created these two profiles from scratch and after paying for fake followers and engagement, the agency secured four paid brand endorsement deals worth US$500 for the two profiles. Mediakix later published a case study talking about the methods they used to create content for these fake profiles (and secure the brand deals for them). Here, they cautioned brands to carefully evaluate the influencers that they choose to work with.

Also falling into the category of “fake influencers” are Instagram celebrities like @lilmiquela and @shudu.gram – these are virtual and CGI influencers designed by real humans in the fashion industry. To learn more about these virtual influencers, read our article: Virtual influencers: PR gag or next level influencer marketing?

Risks and threats for brands investing in influencer marketing

The biggest risk for brands investing in influencer marketing? Brands may very well spend on the wrong influencers; if this happens, they’re essentially flushing their money down the drain.

Exactly how much money are we talking about? According to a study from New York marketing company Captiv8, brands are paying more than ÂŁ157 million for fake influencers on social media – that’s worrying, to say the least.

Now, note that it’s not just the smaller, less savvy brands who are falling prey to fake influencers: even reputable brands such as The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company have been duped into working with these influencers. According to estimates from experts, the influencers that Ritz Carlton worked with have approximately 78% fake followers.

How to spot and fight fake influencers

To identify fake influencers, take note of any abnormalities in influencers’ engagement rate, comments and ‘Following/Follower ratio‘.

First and foremost, most influencers have an engagement rate (more specifically, likes-to-follower ratio) of 1% to 3%. If an influencer’s engagement rate is lower than that, it might be that they’ve bought fake followers who aren’t interacting with their posts. And if their engagement rate is drastically higher, it’s also possible that they’re paying for likes and comments.

On top of that, also look at the comments that an influencer’s fans leave on their posts. If you see a ton of generic comments such as “nice”, “cool” or comments with emojis, then that’s a red flag. If the majority of the comments on each post sound like they come from an actual person, though, then you can take this to be a good sign.

Last but not least, if an influencer has a ‘Following/Follower ratio’ that’s almost 1:1, then they might be trying to game the system. Many influencers use bots to automatically follow people and when this happens, these people might follow them back to return the “favour”. Obviously, this isn’t the best way of growing an Instagram account, because these followers aren’t truly interested in content that the influencer is putting out and are likely to be disengaged.

Using tools to identify fake influencers

Other than simply keeping a lookout for the above abnormalities, you can also use several tools to help you identify fake influencers.

First, use tools like SocialBlade to track an influencer’s follower growth over the years. If you see sharp spikes in the graph (see below), then that’s a clear sign that the influencer bought followers.

Next, you can also use IG Audit to analyse the percentage of real followers on an Instagram account. Simply plug in an influencer’s Instagram handle and the tool will tell you approximately how many of the influencer’s followers are real.

Last but not least, check out Instagram’s new ‘About This Account’ feature which is available for all accounts with a large audience. To use this feature, navigate to an influencer’s Instagram profile, tap the ellipsis menu and click on “About This Account”. Here, you’ll be able to see account information such as the date the account joined Instagram and which country the account is based in.

A final word on fake influencers on Instagram

The way we see it, influencers with fake followings and engagement are essentially misrepresenting themselves and engaging in ad fraud. As PR pros, our job is to ensure that we’re one step ahead of these fake influencers at all times. If you haven’t already done so, go ahead and equip yourself with the knowledge and tools to recognise fake influencers, so that you can ensure that your and your clients don’t fall prey to working with these influencers.

Chief Marketing Officer