Instagram Fraud! Part 2: Fake Engagement

2. Fake Engagement

As the secrets of inorganically growing your following start to get unraveled, smarter brands are realising that follower count is not the best basis of comparison between influencers due to the prevalence of accounts with fake followers. Many are instead choosing to compare the engagement rate between influencers because it seems like there is no way you can fake your engagement rate. But they may be setting themselves up for disappointment as some influencers are finding ways to inorganically grow their engagement.

One way is to purchase a set amount of likes through one of many websites. You can choose how you wish to allocate your likes among your posts and similar to how fake followers works, a number of bot accounts will be engaged to like your chosen posts.

A website offering Instagram likes for purchase.

Another way is to use bot-driven software such as Instagress (which has now been shut down) and select the hashtags based on the demographic of followers you are targeting. (e.g. #fashion for models, #food for food bloggers, #makeup for makeup artists / bloggers) These software take over your account when not in use and go on a commenting and liking spree, and before you know it, the software would have liked and commented on thousands of posts on your behalf. Some of the Instagrammers that “you” have engaged with would drop by your profile to give a like or two on your posts to return the gratitude.

Hashtags such as #likeforlike and #followforfollow to promote likes and followers.

Some influencers tend to use the traditional hashtag method to gain likes and followers. By inputting hashtags such as #likeforlike or #followforfollow, you post will appear under the hashtags when like-minded people search for it. They will then follow you or like your posts in exchange for you to do the same for them. This method can be used in conjunction with the above bot-driven software to comment and like posts with these hashtags to increase the chances of receiving likes and follows.

Brands might then begin to think that, other than the fact that this practice is immoral, the engagement received no matter organic or inorganic is actually beneficial to them. However, the likes and comments received, being gained inorganically, would not be from users that actually care about the influencer’s content. As a result, they would not be influenced by the collaborated post and the brand would not stand to gain any potential customers. If these individuals do not buy the brand’s product, this becomes lost value to the brand.

Furthermore, in the case of using bot-driven software to like or comment on other posts to earn fake engagement, there is the inherent risk of bots engaging with inappropriate posts or posting comments which are inappropriate for the post. To understand why this may happen it is essential to know that a key step of this method of gaining engagement and followers is to select hashtags that would target the demographic of users that would have a higher chance of liking your posts or following you back.

Posts which the influencer may not have been targeting may appear for the chosen hashtag.

For example, a parenting blogger would use the hashtag #baby so as to target parents that would post pictures of their babies using the hashtag. By liking and commenting on their posts, the blogger would be able to garner likes, comments or even follows from these people.

The danger is that users often have different ideas of when a particular hashtag should be used. The picture on the right shows some of the posts with the hashtag #baby. Some of these posts have not been hashtagged “baby” because they feature a young offspring and are not what the influencer would have wanted to target. However, the bots, being only able to detect the hashtag, may engage with all these unrelated posts as well.

Monitor others’ activity under “following” on the notifications page.

You might be thinking that engaging with all these other posts would not be a big issue as the influencer’s followers would never know but this is a common misconception. Followers are able to monitor the activity of other users under the notifications page by selecting “Following” instead of “You”. They can hence see what influencers are liking or commenting on.

The consequence of this to influencers is possible loss of reputation when followers notice that the influencer is engaging with undesirable posts. In the case where there is no engagement with undesirable content, it could still hurt the influencer’s reputation if followers suspect bot activity due to the sheer number of posts liked in a short time span.


This is part two 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 if you missed Part 1 on Fake Followers. Click here for the final part on Pods & Follow/Unfollow!

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