How to spot fake influencers on Instagram

It’s well known that many Instagram influencers will do anything — including buying fake followers — in order to increase their appeal to potential brands for partnership.

Influencer marketing has exploded and today, nearly every B2C brand has done some kind of collaboration or sponsorship with an influencer or at least considered it. It has been estimated that the industry will reach $10 billion by 2024. And naturally, when you use the force and impact of an influencer, you can make your brand seem more authentic and reach potential customers in a new way. One of the significant values of influencer marketing is the audience that the influencer brings, so naturally, a larger following was worth more to brands. It didn’t take long for at least some influencers to realize that buying cheap followers (as low as $50 for 10,000) could make them more money.

The idea of being sponsored by big brands and getting paid for posting branded images in social media can be enticing. And shady companies have found ways to build a whole business around fake engagement and fake influencers. So before you get started with influencer marketing, make sure you find the most relevant influencers for your brand and above all — that they are real and authentic.

Here’s a checklist to help you spot fake influencers on Instagram. Some of the tips can work for other social platforms too, but we’re focusing on Instagram here:

  1. Look at the followers to following ratio

Real influencers often don’t follow more than a few percents of their total following. For example, if an account has 25,000 followers and is following 7,000 accounts, it can be a sign that the account isn’t real.

Most genuine influencers only follow 4-5% or less of the total number of their followers.

A common tactic to get a lot of followers is to follow other accounts, then unfollow after a certain period of time. So following a large number of accounts can be an indicator of foul play.

  1. Calculate their engagement rate

Calculate the engagement rate in terms of percentage of likes, comments or shares compared to the number of followers. The engagement rate should be proportional to the number of followers.

If an influencer has a lot of followers but no engagement, it probably means the followers are fake. And if they do have high engagement on posts, the comments are probably spam comments. Let’s dive into this topic further in the next section.

  1. Analyze the comments on the posts

Real accounts have real comments of value — comments that say something relevant and specific about the photo itself or the context. Of course, even real accounts can have a certain amount of spam comments from bots.

But if an influencer is truly fake, they will have an excessive amount of emojis or nonsense comments on their photos, such as ”love this”, ”great photo”, ”awesome”. Why? Because a fake account will have a hard time generating real engagement and will likely take shortcuts to get a lot of likes and comments in order.

So keep an eye out for generic comments. A true influencer has a real community and followers that are engaged.

  1. Evaluate the quality of the content

As basic as it might sound, remember to simply just check the quality of the content that is being posted.

  • Are the photos unique, real and authentic?
  • Does the influencer have his or her own style of imagery?
  • Are there a lot of stock photos?

Using stock photos is not a sign in itself that the account is fake, but in combination with other signs, it could be. Do a quick search in some of the most common stock photo libraries.

  1. Is the influencer active on other social platforms?

If an influencer is real, he or she will be present on several platforms, not just Instagram. Check if the influencer is present on for example Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or has a blog.

A lot of influencers might have one or two platforms they focus more on than others since maintaining a presence on multiple platforms can be difficult. But if you find an influencer with several hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram but has no Facebook page at all, that’s a warning sign.

  1. Check their earned media value

Earned media is publicity gained through word-of-mouth, reviews, news, articles, shares, mentions, comments. In other words, any kind of publicity created by a third party that is not paid for and that isn’t owned media. If an influencer is real, they will most likely have a certain amount of earned media value. If they aren’t mentioned or talked about online at all, but just have a big following, they are probably not genuine.

Final thoughts

As brands set their 2024 influencer marketing plans, the lessons learned from the past are easy to incorporate. By paying either flat fees for assignments or employing affiliate compensation models, by checking influencers’ saturation rates and moving away from the worst offenders, and by demanding clear and conspicuous disclosures, the industry can continue to improve.

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