Instagram Fraud! Part 1: Fake Followers

In the budding market of overnight stars, there is so much at stake with advertisers splashing huge sums on influencers to raise the profile of their brand. With so much money going around, influencers are trying their best to snag the best deals and advertisers are forced to carefully pick influencers that would allow their brand to reap the most benefit. With the recent change in the Instagram algorithm that favours posts with higher engagement over chronology, influencers are forced to adapt to stay on top of the game.

With most influencers’ popularity and credibility being pegged to their followers and engagement rate, it is no wonder that some are resorting to underhand methods to boost their statistics to increase their appeal to brands. Hence, it is important for brands to know of the fraud that can go past unnoticed in the influencer marketing world! In this three-part series we will discuss the different types of Instagram fraud. In this part of the series we will be discussing the issue of fake followers.

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Fake followers are a big concern for brands. With the amount of money being thrown into influencer marketing, even a small percentage of the vast sum could mean a lot. It comes as no surprise that brands take fake followers very seriously as there is potentially a large amount of money lost when companies pay influencers based only on their follower count and forget the possibility of fake followers. For example, if an influencer’s percentage of fake followers is 20%, its means that 20% of the influencers followers will not see any sponsored collaborations. This means that if any brand pays $1000 to the influencer for a sponsored post, they are losing $200 worth of value.

The primary method of buying fake followers is through applications that employ automated software to follow an Instagram account specified by the buyer. These fake followers are accounts that have been created for the sole purpose of following other Instagram accounts. As a result, you will notice certain distinct characteristics of these bot accounts such as having an incredibly high “following” count. As the purpose of these accounts is only to follow, you will realise that they have almost no posts.

Bot accounts usually follow many accounts and have a relatively small number of followers.
A website offering fake followers for sale.

The question you may ask now is how do you identify accounts that have a large fake following? One indicator is that these accounts typically have an unusually large following despite having only a few posts with low-quality content. An account will usually take time to grow its following organically through the user’s regular production of carefully curated content over a period of time. Such accounts may also have an unusually low engagement rate despite having a massive following as the purpose of most of these fake bot accounts is just to add to the follower count without contributing to the engagement.

A possibly fake account due to the large number of followers despite having almost no posts.

If you track the follower count of an influencer’s Instagram account over a period of time, you may realise that some accounts have unusual spikes in follower count. If there have been no special events or promotions that could have led to the sudden increase in popularity, this may be a result of a one-time immediate purchase of fake followers.

Websites offering daily subscriptions of fake followers.

However, it is important to note that some followers bypass this method of detection by purchasing multi-day subscriptions of fake followers which add a steady number of followers each day over a period of time which leads to a gradual increase in follower count.

The audience demographic of a Korean influencer shows that majority of her followers are Brazilian.

The audience demographic of a particular influencer will also be able to provide clues on the presence of fake followers. Influencers with a large fake follower count usually tend to have a large following from unusual countries that they typically would not be associated with. An example would be a Korean influencer with all content in Korean having large percentages of followers from Brazil.

Most of this information cannot be obtained accurately by manually sifting through an influencer’s Instagram. Instead many brands rely on influencer analytics platforms to provide them with the data. Popular Chips is one of these platforms that uses its proprietary software to not only provide the above-mentioned statistics on an influencer, but also the exact percentage of fake / inactive followers detected.

This is part one in a series entitled ‘Instagram Fraud!’. The aim of this three-part series is to inform you of the various types of fraudulent activities that can take place in the world of influencer marketing. Click here for the next part on Fake Followers or click here for the final part on Pods & Follow/Unfollow!


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