How To Spot Fake Followers on Instagram

Fake Followers On Instagram How To Identify

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Spotting Fake Followers on Instagram: A Must-Know For Brands

Instagram's massive network of over 400 million engaged users makes it an ideal platform for brand sponsorship opportunities and digital influencer partnerships. As investing in influencer marketing continues to surge, however, some digital stars are purchasing fake followers on Instagram to artificially inflate their perceived reach and boost their appeal to companies. According to recent findings by a group of Italian security researchers, as many as 8% of Instagram accounts are fake ("spam-bots" to use industry jargon), while up to 30% of Instagram accounts may actually be inactive.

These findings raise pressing questions for marketers, chief among them: Are my Instagram marketing efforts reaching real customers or spam-bots, and how can I differentiate between fake followers on Instagram and real ones?

What Are Fake Instagram Followers?

Fake Instagram followers are accounts that have been created using fictitious email addresses and sold to real Instagrammers as a way to exaggerate a social media influencer's or celebrity's popularity and social reach. As the aforementioned research shows, these fake accounts are becoming better at acting like real users - some will even autonomously follow other accounts based on a user's hashtags, for instance - but there are a number of ways to tell if an Instagrammer has purchased fake followers from one of the internet's numerous "black market" offering sites.

UPDATE August 3, 2017: Fake followers, engagement, and bots continue to be common occurrences on Instagram, and though the influencer marketing industry is often abuzz with talk of micro influencers -- those influencers with fewer than 100,000 followers -- because of their purportedly higher engagement, micro influencers are some of the most likely candidates for bot use. Building a loyal, engaged following on Instagram is difficult, and Instagram's reordering of the feed courtesy of its algorithm. As a result, a number of smaller accounts have turned to bot use to help them move to the tops of feeds and onto the Explore page.

How To Identify Fake Followers on Instagram

The most efficient way to tell if an Instagrammer has purchased fake followers is by manually reviewing the accounts that follow each digital influencer. (Hint: to see who is following a particular account, go to the Instagrammer's account page, click on the number over the word "followers," and scroll down.) If hundreds or thousands of an Instagram influencer's followers have no profile pictures or have posted little or no content themselves, they are likely fake. As Bryce Gruber, founder of The Luxury Spot, shares "if you are not willing to spend an hour or so vetting your investment, get out of the game."

Spam-bot accounts typically have a high ratio of people they follow to people following them, as well. While authentic accounts usually have a 1:1 follower-to-following ratio, fake accounts follow an average of 41 Instagrammers for each one that follows them.

Low or no engagement can also be a sign that an Instagrammer has purchased their followers. Before partnering with an Instagram influencer, marketers should monitor each post for likes and comments, then weigh these statistics against the total number of followers an Instagram account claims. If a particular Instagram account boasts 500,000 followers but only receives 5 or 6 "likes" per post, for example, that digital influencer may have paid for followers in order to entice brands and attract sponsorship opportunities.

Why Fake Instagram Followers Are Detrimental To Marketing Campaigns

For companies trying to assess a campaign's return on investment (ROI), scrutinizing an Instagrammer's "vanity metrics" (i.e. number of followers, likes per post, comments per post, etc.) can give brands insight as to how successful a campaign will be. If an influencer has purchased fake Instagram followers, however, the branded content or sponsored campaign will not actually reach the number of real consumers the statistics promised, and the campaign will likely underperform as a result.

How Marketers Can Guard Against Fake Followers on Instagram

Though Instagram has taken steps to remove the scourge of fake accounts from the photo-sharing platform, it's unlikely that Instagram will ever completely eliminate these spam-bot accounts or prevent fake Instagram followers from overinflating the reach and popularity of dishonest Instagrammers. To ensure the success of future campaigns, brands need to choose their Instagrammers carefully and monitor each digital influencer's account for the following signs of fake followers:

  • The majority of followers have no profile photos
  • An Instagram follower has posted less than 10 photos or videos to their account
  • Follower accounts have a skewed follower-to-following ratio
  • Instagrammers that claim a large number of followers but have relatively low engagement rates
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March 1, 2016 By Evan

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