When it’s done right, influencer marketing can return $20+ for every $1 invested. It can also drive sales, boost brand awareness, and increase social media engagement. That’s because we like buying things based on the suggestions of people we trust. After all, nearly a third of us make purchases after seeing an influencer we love posting about it.
But, influencer fraud can cost brands hundreds if not thousands of dollars. We’re talking fake followers, fake engagement, and even fake influencer personas.
It’s a huge problem and it’s intimidating, especially for marketers. That’s why it’s critical you know how to spot fake followers and influencers from a distance before it’s too late. And that’s exactly what we’re going to cover. Here’s a sneak peek inside:
- What are fake followers?
- Why do fake accounts follow influencers on Instagram?
- Why do influencers buy followers on Instagram?
- What’s wrong with working with an influencer who has tons of fake followers?
- How to spot influencers with fake followers?
- How to use a fake follower audit tool
Fake social media accounts (at least, the good ones) look and feel real. They have tons of followers, lots of engagement, and a curated content collection. But when you get down to the data, it’s all fake. The followers, the engagement, and sometimes the persona — it’s all made up. And when Instagram followers aren’t real, the influence isn’t real either.
Wannabe influencers can buy followers on Instagram for as little as $50. There are two types of fake followers:
- Accounts that someone created (usually an agency). Their only function is increasing follower counts for other profiles. And they’re either created by hand, or run by bots (software)
- Paying real people with real accounts in exchange for a follow
Fake profiles go pretty far to look as real as possible. They’ll scrape the Internet and Instagram to find personal information from other accounts. Then, they’ll pose as real people to appear genuine and authentic.
And the reason these fake profiles go so far to look real is that if you can pull it off, IG fraud is a lucrative business.
More on that in a minute …
In most cases, fake followers don’t just happen to appear — an influencer has to buy them. Lots of fake influencers go from zero to thousands of followers overnight, and that’s not by accident. Instead of earning real followers over time, fake influencers buy a following all at once.
When fake influencers buy fake followers, there’s a huge surge and it’s obvious to spot.
But no matter what, fake influencers will never have what the real ones do:
Engagement measures how followers interact with influencers and their content. Think likes, shares, and comments. And in most cases, fake followers don’t engage the same way real ones do. After all, fake followers aren’t actually interested in what an influencer has to say. This brings us to the real question …
We know what fake followers are and we know why they’re bad for business. But what we haven’t talked about is why influencers buy them anyway. So let’s break it down.
Influencers can make a lot of money, and wannabes want in on that. After all, influencer marketing generates millions in revenue across the globe. And if there’s money to make, everyone’s going to show up — the good, the bad, and the frauds.
Influencers want instant gratification. It takes time to build a strong profile and earn loyal followers. It’s a labor of love and it (usually) doesn’t happen at the snap of a finger. But not everyone’s patient, and it’s easier to buy more followers than it is to earn them.
Influencers mistakenly value followers over engagement. Sure, followers are important. But what some influencers don’t “get” is that the game has changed. Now, brands place value in the quality of followers, not necessarily the quantity.
This is why engagement rates are so important. An influencer’s engagement is a strong predictor of ROI (the higher the better). And, engagement is like the new Instagram currency. It’s hard to fake and it’s incredibly valuable for that reason.
Did you know?
Not all fake Instagram accounts are run by just one person. Sometimes there’s an entire team of people trying to force social media clout.
Let’s start by saying that there’s no such thing as an Instagram influencer who has ZERO fake followers. Instagram tries hard to find and get rid of fake accounts, but it’s a tough job because it’s a constant game of cat and mouse.
So when you try to find an influencer with a genuine following, don’t pay attention to fake follower counts. Instead, pay attention to an influencer’s fake follower percentage. And the higher the percentage, the faster you should run away because:
Influencers with high fake follower percentages are fake influencers. If you collaborate with a fake influencer, you get fake results in return. That’s because imaginary people don’t have the ability to make purchase decisions.
Fake influencers can deter authentic influencers from working with your brand. It’s a sad truth, but a truth nonetheless. Authentic influencers invest in curating their profiles and engaging with their followers. This takes a lot of time and effort. So if they partner with a brand that’s associated with fraud, it could hurt their reputation. Not to mention, it’s a reputation that took a long time to build.
Influencers use fake followers to trick brands into working with them. It’s deceptive and manipulative, but it works and it’s everywhere. More than half of all influencers on Instagram engage in fraudulent behavior. This includes buying followers or engagement.
None of this is to say that brands shouldn’t partner with influencers because, in reality, they should. It’s a smart move that can boost sales and improve brand awareness. But that’s only true if you partner with an authentic influencer who has an authentic following.
There are lots of scammers out there. And honestly, they’re getting faster at outsmarting Instagram’s security checks. It’s important you know how to check for fake followers so you don’t end up partnering with someone you shouldn’t. So here are a few ways to spot fake followers from a mile away:
Instagram influencer manual checks
If you don’t have an audit tool at your disposal, you can run some checks “by hand” to spot frauds.
How to spot an influencer account with fake followers (step by step)
- Visit an influencer’s profile and tap Followers
- Choose a few followers at random and visit their profiles
- Fake followers tend to have a small handful of posts, few to no followers, and no original photos
- Run a reverse image search via Google to authenticate photos. It’ll reveal whether they’re stock images or used somewhere else on the Internet
- Compare their follower vs. following counts. Fake influencers usually follow more people than follow them.
How to spot an influencer account with fake engagement (step by step)
- Some influencers buy engagement (fake likes and comments)
- Visit an influencer’s profile and check the comments on a few of their posts
- Look for LOTS of shallow comments like “great!” or “cool!” (The more vague comments there are like this, the more likely it is that they’re fake)
- Make sure the influencer regularly responds to their followers. If they’re not engaging with their audience, there’s a chance they’re faking it
Instagram influencer audit tools
If you’re dealing with lots of influencers or high follower counts, you’re going to need an audit tool. These tools help brands and marketers quickly confirm Instagram influencer data like:
- Real and active follower counts
- Accurate engagement rates
- Fake follower percentage
- And more
Plus, it’ll help you discover whether you’re dealing with a real influencer with some fake followers.
… or a fake influencer altogether …
You can also use the checklist below to verify an influencer’s authenticity:
Fake influencer bios
Spikes in follower counts
Fake influencer pro tips
- Authentic influencers are excited to engage and have conversations with their audience
- Authentic followers express authentic interest in an influencer’s content. They usually leave comments that ask questions or highlight something specific
- Authentic influencers show regular, consistent engagement. While fake influencers show sudden spikes in engagement
- Trust your gut. If something about an influencer feels off, there’s a good chance it is
- If an influencer has thousands of followers, it’s impossible to comb through each one. It would take weeks to get an accurate read on their fake follower percentage
- When it’s time to vet influencers for a campaign, it’s best to use a credible audit tool
What to do if you find a fake influencer:
If you identify any scammers, fake influencers, and so on, keep a list. This will save you time with each campaign moving forward. Make sure you include their username and a reason why they’re blacklisted.
Instagram audit tools like Humanz let you vet influencers and get accurate stats. So if you want to know how ~legit~ an influencer is, you can find out without having to do it all by hand.
For example, you can open up the Humanz dashboard and either:
- Find a specific influencer you already have in mind
- Or filter through a pool of influencers to find the right match
Either way, you can click on someone’s profile photo in Humanz and scroll through their data to verify them. Here’s how:
- Open the dashboard and visit the Discovery page
- Search by username or start using the search filters to pull up an influencer
- Click on a profile
- Use the panel on the right to see their info
- Review follower count, engagement rate, authenticity score, and suspicious follower counts
- Check for follower counts that match the type of influencer you’re looking for. Make sure they have high engagement rates and a high authenticity score. You also want the suspicious follower count percentage to be as low as possible
- Compare those metrics against what you need for a successful influencer marketing campaign
And remember, it’s usually best to go for quality over quantity. Nano and micro influencers have fewer followers than macro and mega superstars. But, they also tend to have:
- Higher engagement rates
- Fewer instances of influencer fraud (fake followers and/or fake engagement)
- Stronger connections with their audiences
Influencer marketing is about so much more than just follower counts. So use audit tools to your advantage and choose the best influencer for your brand’s campaign.
Final thoughts: Real vs. fake Instagram followers
If you do it right, influencer marketing is a game-changer. Many brands see increased awareness, better sales, and high ROIs. But influencer fraud and fake followers are around every corner and they’re tough to spot. So here’s a recap of what to do:
- Before you launch a campaign or sign any contracts, verify authenticity
- If you’re dealing with a fake influencer or someone with lots of fake followers, avoid them at all costs
- Fake followers/influencers waste time and budget
- Plus, it can hurt your reputation and damage your chances of working with truly great, authentic influencers in the future
So verify your influencers. Practice looking for fraud. And research ways to find authentic influencers for your next campaign.