In a single day's worth of posts that have sponsored or ad tags on Instagram, about 50% are fake engagements, according to data from the anti-fraud company Sway Ops.
Influencer fraud is, unfortunately, a real part of social media. Countless influencers use fraudulent practices to make their influence seem more widespread than it is. Whether fraudsters buy followers or use Instagram pods, fake or stolen content, or bots, avoiding those types of partners is an issue that many companies and brands face.
So, how do you spot a fake Instagram account? What should you look out for when searching Instagram accounts to ensure you're working with an authentic influencer? Check out our tips for spotting fakes and ensuring you work with real influencers.
Methods That Fake Influencers Use
To discern fake influencers from authentic ones, it helps to take a closer look at the methods they use to gain followers and engagement.
If your influencer has a multitude of followers, that can signify he or she is pretty popular in the Instagram community. But taking a closer look at the followers and the types of engagement can help you determine the authenticity of that influencer.
Often, people purchase followers to boost their numbers. There are actual sites where people can purchase a certain number of influencers. For a set price, you can purchase bot-followers. Does that boost the influencer's number of followers? Sure. But the followers are not authentic, and they don't engage with your content.
Take a look at the individual followers. Do you notice spammy names? Do they have minimal activity on their pages (no pictures, no posts, no followers)? Have their accounts sat dormant for years? If any of those are true, those accounts are likely fake followers—also called dead accounts—that the influencer paid for.
Stealing or Buying Content
Another method that fraudulent Instagram influencers use involves stealing other peoples content or photos. Some influencers will directly steal content and then post it as their own without attributing to the original poster.
In addition, there are sites where influencers can buy photos. Often, fake influencers will purchase photos of food, places, and other Instagram-worthy images, and then post those to their own accounts.
Engagement Rate and Quality
Typically, fake influencers have a high number of followers, but their engagement rates will be low. That is usually because purchasing followers is cheap, but purchasing engagement is much more expensive.
You can easily spot an unbalanced follower-to-engagement ratio by comparing engagement rates with follower rates on at least 10 of the influencer's posts.
The limited engagement they do have might not be high-quality engagement. For example, bot engagement responses are nonspecific and typically vague or general statements. Look for comments such as "this is awesome!" and "great picture!"
Real engagement from real users will typically be specific to the content that's posted. Do the comments on the influencer's posts seem spammy? Do they seem nonsensical? If so, those are probably spam comments from bots or fake followers.
Account Details That Might Point to a Fake User
Various distinct details on Instagram accounts can help hint at whether an influencer has an authentic account with a legitimate following, or a fake account with purchased followers or stolen content. Here are a few ways to get a better idea about the legitimacy of a specific influencer.
This is one of the go-to signs you can look for. A verification badge is a blue symbol with a white checkmark next to an influencer's or celebrity's name when you search for them. The badges verify the authenticity of celebrities, public figures, and companies. They can help you with larger, macro-influencers and celebrities, but they might not be beneficial for micro-influencers or others.
The length of time an account has been around is a great indicator of an influencer's authenticity. Niche subject-matter accounts aside, the influencer's account should have consistent, quality content that's been posted for a reasonable length of time on the platform.
You can trust influencers who know how to grow their followers—and their engagement—over time. They can often do the same for your brand. In most cases, your authentic influencer in question should have a long, detailed history on the platform.
Though there are some exceptions to this rule, most popular, notable Instagram influencers have had a gradual rise in influence, followers, and engagement. If an Instagram influencer has had a sudden, significant jump in followers—whether recent or at some point in history—it's possible that they bought their followers during that time. That means they're not authentic, they have purchased their influence, and they are likely followed mostly by bots. Viral success does happen, but often it can take years of unpaid, demanding work to grow a dedicated, loyal following.
Quality of Content
Look at the quality of an influencer's content or the number of posts the influencer has. Is there a lack of photos or posts but still thousands of Instagram followers? The likelihood of an influencer's having thousands of followers with few posts and unengaging content is slim, so if that is the case, the followers are likely purchased.
Does the influencer have a profile picture? Does he or she have posts but unengaging content? You should know quality content when you see it (we know that what people like is subjective, but, often, substandard quality is simply apparent). If an influencer has bad content but a large following, working with him or her likely won't help your brand. If the quality is bad but the audience is vast, again, it's likely that the followers were purchased.
This area can require a little bit of digging, but it's worth it to help you determine the authenticity of your influencer. Once you've determined your influencer has a real following, look at past campaigns, past partnerships, and past sponsored posts. If your influencer is authentic and worth working with, examples of those will be fairly accessible.
Check out how the influencer promoted past products on his or her account and tagged those posts. Also explore how the followers reacted to those posts and photos, who sponsored the posts, and how they contributed to the success of the sponsoring brand.
Instagram Influencers: The Real Deal vs. Fake Accounts
You know the saying: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. That certainly has a place in the Instagram influencer sphere. So check authenticity, do your due diligence, and know who you're working with before you partner up to have an influencer represent your company or brand.
Choosing your influencers wisely is important for your social media presence and your digital marketing tactics. Stay up-to-date with up-and-coming influencers, keep new potential influencers on your radar, and keep your critical eye sharp to determine fake influencers from authentic ones.
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