The 5-Step Guide to Spotting an Influencer with Fake Followers: Step 1

Using Audience Growth

In our previous article on Instagram fraud, we spoke briefly about the ways one can spot fake followers on an Instagram influencer’s account. To ensure that brands (and other influencers) are armed with the right tools for spotting those who have decided to purchase followers, we have decided to write a definitive 5-step guide on how to spot them.

Although the concept of fake followers is hardly new, we have noticed that the nature of fake followers and the services provided by those selling them have evolved over time. No longer do fake followers necessarily have no profile picture, with no posts and with a random string for a username. This is why we have decided to teach you 5 different methods, which you can use in conjunction, to identify an influencer with fake followers. The more warning signs the influencer exhibits, the more likely they are to have fake followers.

Step I: Look at Audience Growth

Watch out for: sharp peaks & slow drops

A sharp increase in audience number is one of the signs that indicate that an influencer may have purchased followers. One of the simplest ways to spot such increases is by using web services or applications that allow users to track audience growth over time. Such increases would appear as sharp peaks just like the one shown below.

Sharp peaks in audience growth over time [Image generated via Popular Chips‘s proprietary platform]
These sharp peaks are a result of follower-purchasing services providing all of the followers the influencer purchased within a short period of time (usually a single day). It is important to note, however, that peaks could also occur for a variety of other reasons, such as when the influencer is mentioned in the press, or has just been featured by a large brand account.

Knowing that sharp and sudden increases in follower count may be an indication of fake followers, many follower-purchasing services, such as the one below, have begun to offer packages that mimic real follower growth.

Web service offering to add a number of followers a day.

In cases like these, sharp peaks would not appear on the audience growth chart as the followers purchased would not be delivered in a single day but over a stretch of time.

Another way to spot an influencer who has purchased fake followers through their audience growth chart is by looking for slow drops in follower count, such as the one indicated below.

Slow drops in audience growth over time [Image generated via Popular Chips‘s proprietary platform]
These gradual decreases in follower count are a result of Instagram regularly cleaning up (read: deleting) accounts they have deemed to be fake, hence resulting in a drop in the number of an influencer’s followers over time. At this point, some of you may ask if it is not possibly the case that the influencer has, over time, produced content deemed boring by their followers and it is these followers deciding to unfollow the influencer that has resulted in this drop. While this is possible, think about your own Instagram usage patterns for a second. Excluding the times where an influencer produced truly objectionable content, how often have you unfollowed them? And even in those cases, don’t forget that the content you find objectionable may be perfectly acceptable or even laudable to some, resulting in others following the influencer even as you unfollow them.

While looking at audience growth is a decent way of finding out if an influencer has bought fake followers, this method does not provide one with 100% accuracy in their determinations. This is why we have four more steps for you to check out over the next few days.

This is part one in a series entitled ‘The 5-Step Guide to Spotting an Influencer with Fake Followers’. The aim of this five-part series is to provide you with five foolproof methods of identifying an influencer who has purchased fake followers.

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