Let’s talk about fake influencers. 

We know Instagram (and most other social media) is against users buying followers to inflate their numbers. And they do work to remove such fake accounts. 

But it’s nigh impossible to remove all accounts suspected of using the follow/unfollow method, having bot followers, or spamming comments. On top of it, people will always find a loophole and continue to scam.

That’s why brands need to know how to spot fake influencers. 

What are fake influencers? 

A creator who buys followers instead of developing them organically through commitment and great content is a fake influencer

  • They stuff their follower numbers with dummy accounts or bots.
  • They purchase likes and comments to appear as authentic creators with real engagement. 

Why should brands learn how to tell if an influencer has fake followers?

As a marketer, when you see a creator with a large follower number and seemingly great engagement rate, they catch your attention. Enough to rope them in for paid collaborations. 

However, collaborating with them does not:

  • Increase your reach
  • Guarantee more awareness of your product or services
  • Get more leads

It boils down to this. When marketers don’t pay attention to fake or bought followers and randomly collaborate with creators, the influencer campaign fails. 

It results in ad spend being completely wasted and leaves marketers wary of influencer marketing. 

How to spot a fake influencer?

So, the question now is how to spot an influencer who buys fake followers. You look for these four signs.

We’ll get one #thng out of the way. Almost every creator on Instagram, even the genuine ones, will have bot followers. It’s a given. Why? Because bots follow real accounts to fudge the fact that they are fake. So, don’t expect influencers to have a 100% real following. Given the spread of bots, it’s not practical. 

How do you separate the wheat from the chaff? You look for these four signs. 

1. The follower number

The best way to expose a fake influencer is to check for a sudden rise in followers

A real creator’s followers increase slowly and steadily over time. Yes, they may get 10,000 or 100,000 followers overnight, but that happens only after they post a great piece of content that goes viral.

That’s not the case with a fake influencer. With them, follower growth is in abrupt spikes and drops. 

2. The engagement rate

Another easy way to spot fake influencers is the engagement rate (ER). While there are many ways to calculate ER, the most used is the total likes and comments on a post divided by the total number of followers. 

Say a fitness influencer has 100,000 followers. And the average comments and likes they get on a post are 1,000 and 5,000. Then their ER is 6%, which is good enough and proves that the fitness influencer is not a fake.

Of course, the definition of a good engagement rate differs from social media to social media, industry to industry, content format to content format, and influencer type to influencer type.

So, an Instagram lifestyle nano-influencer will get better engagement than an Instagram micro-influencer. A Reel will get more than a static post. A YouTube video will always have more ER than a tweet.

But the crux still stands. 

If the ER of an influencer is too low, be wary. It’s a sign of buying followers and bots that don’t engage with the content the creator posts.

Similarly, if the ER is through the roof for that particular niche and social media, be suspicious. There is a high possibility the influencer is boosting the numbers. 

One example is engagement groups, where influencers band together and decide to like and comment on each other’s posts to increase the ER.

Average ER on Social Media

Average ER on Social Media

(source: Adobe)

3. The comments

This method to spot fake influencers requires manual effort (unless you use an influencer marketing platform), but it is worth it. Go through the comments and look for

  • Single emoji
  • Generic responses like “great pic”
  • Reactions that don’t match the post or caption

Bots don’t want to spend a lot of time typing comments. So, the responses are often short, repetitive and have no meaning

If you consistently see this pattern in an influencer’s posts, then their followers have been bought and are fake. 

Again, do keep in mind that most accounts will have such comments. But they’ll be few and far between.

4. The follower list

The last approach to spotting fake influencers is combing through all the followers and exposing bots. Fake accounts have certain ‘tells’:

  • No profile pictures
  • Blank or vague bio
  • None or few random posts

If you see a creator account that is chock-full of followers with these tells, then stay clear of the creator. They’re likely fake. 

What if your team doesn’t have the time or resources to do this? Then look at the follower vs following rate. Real influencers have more followers than the people they follow. 

Such accounts are made for ‘follow for follow’ gimmicks. They follow back people merely to increase their follower count, even when their interest doesn’t lie in it. 

Spotting fake followers: take the easy way with platforms

Building a substantial community of followers with authentic engagement takes hard work, time, and commitment to content creation. That is why a lot of creators fall prey to the easy way out. They buy followers. 

So, while it is tempting to collaborate with influencers with a massive following, bigger isn’t always better. If the creator turns out to be fake, no engagement is the least of the brand’s worries. It can mar your goodwill and image.

Therefore, marketers need to learn how to tell if an influencer has fake followers.

We know brands rarely, if ever, have the time to do it.

That’s why we offer a better alternative. 

Tie up with an influencer marketing platform (and, yes, here’s our shameless plug) like Do Your Thng

A platform takes on the strenuous work of weeding out influencers who buy fake followers. It ensures that you run an influencer campaign with legit content creators, creating real engagement and outcomes. 

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