From ex-Love Islanders to Kardashians, influencer marketing has exploded over the last few years to become a $5-10 billion dollar industry. For many people being an influencer is a full-time job, and those with over 1 million followers can expect to earn around £50k per post. But why is influencer marketing so successful? Well, influencers are often seen to be more ordinary and authentic than traditional celebrities, which makes their recommendations more persuasive. Being an influencer sure sounds good, right?! Unfortunately, you’re not the only one thinking this – recently there’s been an influx of people trying to enter the influencer market through illegitimate means… fake followers! 

If you’re thinking of running an influencer marketing campaign fake followers can be catastrophic. Therefore as part of your background research, you need to check whether an influencer and their following are genuine. This blog post will outline 5 easy-peasy ways to check for fake followers. 

What Are Fake Followers?

Fake followers are the opposite of real followers (duh). They’re empty, spam and bot accounts that are sold to Instagrammers who want to inflate their following and look more popular than they actually are. A study into Bot Traffic by Imperva shows that in 2016 51.8% of website traffic came from bots. Bots are everywhere and it feels Black Mirror is slowly coming to life! On Instagram, 500 fake followers will cost you around £7 and providers can easily be found on the App Store and Google search results. Having a large following is desirable because it opens the door to brand deals and influencer campaigns. £7 seems like a worthwhile investment when you take into account that influencers typically make thousands per post. 

How to Spot Fake Followers

1. Calculate Engagement Rate

If an ‘influencer’ has 10,000 followers but they average 100 likes per post, something is wrong. According to Iconosquare, the average Instagram engagement rate is 4.7% but this differs depending on the industry.  An influencer with 10,000 followers should, therefore, achieve around 450 likes per post. If an influencer’s engagement rate isn’t up to scratch they may have bought their followers. Either that or their posts are really, really boring. When people purchase fake followers they’re only purchasing a higher follower count – bot accounts typically won’t interact or engage with posts. However, this method doesn’t account for the fact that Instagrammers can also purchase likes and comments. 

Engagement rate:

Number of likes / number of followers x 100

2. Social Blade

Social Blade is a statistics website that allows you to track and monitor growth across social platforms. It’s completely free to use, just input somebody’s username and select which platform you want to monitor. Typically, an influencers following will grow organically by the same amount each day. To demonstrate this here are the statistics that Social Blade pulled for Love Island star, Molly-Mae Hague:

This data shows that Molly-Mae typically gains 4000-7000 followers per day. Her account is growing consistently and there are no anomalous jumps to suggest she has bought her followers.  
This line graph visualizes the last screenshot. The line ascends upwards consistently with no dips or spikes. Of course, dips and spikes may occur organically from time-to-time e.g after a notable appearance or a controversial headline. 

On the other hand, the social blade statistics and graphs for influencers who have bought fake followers will fluctuate up and down drastically. Buying followers is an instant process, which means followers arent added gradually, they come in one big chunk. Using social blade, therefore, means it’s easy to spot them as they are anomalous to days of organic growth. 

In this screenshot the influencer is consistently losing hundreds of followers each day. But on Saturday they gained over 8000? This seems shady to me. 
3. Spam Comments

The third method of detecting fake followers is the easiest. All you have to do is look through an influencer’s Instagram comments. Although fake followers generally don’t engage with your posts, there is evidence that this is changing. Bots are getting smarter and have started commenting on posts in order to appear more genuine. The problem is that these comments are generic and don’t relate to the picture in question. They will say things like ‘Great post 🌸’ or ‘very inspiring’. Sometimes these comments can appear through innocent means i.e through engaging with a hashtag. However, they’re usually a telltale sign of something more sinister. It’s hard to dictate exactly what to look for, but if a comment feels contrived or robotic it’s probably fake. 

4. Look Through Their Followers

On a similar note, if you want to establish whether an influencer has fake followers the first logical step is to actually look at their followers (maybe this should’ve been tip number 1). The people who create fake accounts aren’t bothered about how human the accounts look. They’re looking to create fake accounts as quickly and as easily as possible. This means they usually have silly names like ‘@az01847536283’, have no profile picture, no bio and no posts. 

Sorry for singling you out @da.rya3294
5. IGAudit.io

The final method involves another tool, this time from IGAudit.io. Unlike other tools on the market, IGAudit doesn’t analyse follow/unfollow behaviour patterns. Instead, the algorithm works by taking a random sample of 200 followers and allocating each account a quality score. This score is based on whether the account has value. From this, IGAudit generates a percentage of how ‘real’ somebody’s followers are. According to IGAudit’s creator, Andrew Hoque, a good score is anything about 50%. Our account @DigitlHQ score 80%, which suggests that 80% of our followers are real and the other 20% are fake. However, this approach isn’t overly reliable. IGAudit randomly analyses 200 accounts each time it is used, rather than an accounts entire following. This may mean that results will differ depending on the accounts which are randomly selected.

There you have it, 5 ways to spot fake followers. I told you it was easy. No there’s no excuse for working with influencers who have bought their followers!

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