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Are Fake Instagram Influencers Deceiving Brands?

Are Fake Instagram Influencers Deceiving Brands?

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How Anyone Can Get Paid To Be An Instagram Influencer With $300 (or Less) Overnight

The Instagram influencer market size is currently $1 billion. That figure is set to double by 2019. With brands investing heavily in the influencer marketing space to reach millennial and Gen Z audiences on Instagram, some influencers are taking advantage of this market demand by buying fake followers and engagement to artificially inflate their clout.

While influencers both large and small are suspected of purchasing fake followers and engagement, this practice can be more lucrative and commonplace for smaller, starting, or micro influencers. To prove whether or not it's possible for accounts with fake followers and engagement to secure brand sponsorship deals, Mediakix created two fictitious Instagram influencer accounts grown completely with bought followers and engagement (likes and comments) and applied to campaigns on popular influencer marketing platforms.

To prove whether or not it's possible for accounts with fake followers and engagement to secure brand sponsorship deals, Mediakix created two fictitious Instagram influencer accounts grown completely with bought followers and engagement (likes and comments) and applied to campaigns on popular influencer marketing platforms.

How To Build A Completely Fake Instagram Influencer Account

We created two fake Instagram influencer accounts: 1) a lifestyle and fashion-centric Instagram model and 2) a travel and adventure photographer.

Step 1: Generate Content (or Source Content) 

For the first Instagram account, we hired a local model and generated the entire channel's content through a one-day photo shoot. The fake persona behind the account was a fashion and lifestyle influencer and Santa Monica local who went by the username "calibeachgirl310".

Instagram Influencer Fake Followers Study CaliBeachGirl310

While the first Instagram account featured a real subject, we constructed the second Instagram account completely from free stock photos. The fake persona behind the account featured a travel and photography influencer who went by the username "wanderingggirl" sharing mainly landscape photographs from scenic destinations such as Paris, Yosemite, and Maui.

Fake Instagram Influencer Account Wanderingggirl

To make the account more personalized, we also included a few photos of "wanderingggirl" herself—we accomplished this by using stock photos of blonde girls that showed only the back of their heads.

Step 2: Purchase Fake Followers

Within a day, we had enough content to build two entirely fake accounts. Next, we posted daily and purchased followers. We started with buying 1,000 followers per day because we were concerned that purchasing too many followers at the onset would result in Instagram flagging the account. However, we quickly found that we were able to buy up to 15,000 followers at a time without encountering any issues.

The pricing for followers ranged from $3-8 per 1,000 followers, depending on the reliability of the service. Websites that sold followers on the lower end of that price range often did not deliver in a timely manner, or sometimes at all, so we switched to more expensive follower providers later in the project. Even at $8 per 1,000 followers, we were able to accumulate over 30,000 followers for the travel account and over 50,000 followers for the fashion account with minimal investment over the course of just two months.

Step 3: Purchase Fake Engagement 

Once we had accumulated a few thousand followers for each account, we started buying likes and comments. We paid around 12 cents per comment, and between $4-9 per 1,000 likes. On the lower end of that price range, it took around 24 hours for the likes to appear, whereas, on the higher end of that price range, likes were delivered instantly. For each photo, we purchased 500 to 2,500 likes and 10 to 50 comments.

We scaled up engagement as each page's follower count increased.

Getting Brand Sponsorship Deals On Influencer Marketing Platforms

Many influencer marketing platforms require a minimum number of followers in order to sign up for and partake in brand deals. For this reason, we weren't able to register for certain influencer marketing platforms until each account had 10,000 followers. Once we hit this threshold, we were able to sign the accounts up for a wide range of platforms.

Once we had the accounts on a few platforms, we applied for new campaigns daily. The application process ranged from simply clicking a button to writing a short message to the brand, depending on the platform's requirements.

Results. We secured four paid brand deals total, two for each account. The fashion account secured one deal with a swimsuit company and one with a national food and beverage company.

The travel account secured brand deals with an alcohol brand and the same national food and beverage company. For each campaign, the "influencers" were offered monetary compensation, free product, or both.

Fake Instagram Influencers Are A Problem For The Industry

Due to its efficacy, influencer marketing has become an extremely crowded space on all fronts. On the influencer end, everyday people with follower accounts of 5,000 or more are getting paid by brands — it's not just the Kardashians of the world. Influencers of all sizes know brand dollars are pouring into the space, and in order to compete and secure these sponsorships, influencers are increasingly inflating follower counts and engagement artificially.

Brands and advertisers eager to reach audiences on popular social media channels and seeking quick entry into the influencer marketing space, are turning to platforms, automation and micro-influencers in hopes of making the media buying process more turn-key and easier.

However, akin to the ad fraud that's afflicted display ads, Instagrammers with completely or partially fake followings and/or engagement present advertisers with a unique form of ad fraud that's becoming more and more commonplace and could be siphoning tens of millions of dollars from brands.

Also See Our Posts On:

Instagram Influencer Marketing Is A $1 Billion Industry [INFOGRAPHIC]

Guide: The Pros vs. Cons of Marketing With Micro Influencers

The 6 Most Popular Types Of Instagram Influencers

 

August 4, 2017 By Mediakix Team

  • Chrissy

    The question really is this: how wide of a problem? Also, there are plenty of websites and software out there that can detect fake instagram and twitter accounts.

    • http://mediakix.com/ Mediakix

      Our experiment shows just how easy it is to build an entirely fake account, suggesting that this is a much larger problem than people realize. While it’s true that websites and softwares can detect fake accounts, the fact that we were able to fool platforms and brands shows that the available tools aren’t doing a good job of preventing this form of ad fraud.

      • Chrissy

        Do you know if any of the companies that made brand offers used those tools? Also, these are really small micro-deals. I think all the big ad agencies do a great job screening out fake influencers. When it’s a small company or PR agency, they don’t have the tools or the knowledge.

        • http://mediakix.com/ Mediakix

          We absolutely agree! Large agencies know the industry well enough to protect against this. However, in this experiment, we received all the brand deal offers through influencer marketing platforms. We’re not sure if they use any tools for screening for fake followers, but if they do, they certainly aren’t working.

          • Chrissy

            Can you share what platform you were using?

          • http://mediakix.com/ Mediakix

            We can’t disclose that, but we used several of the top popular ones.

          • Nicholas Paschal

            TBH this isn’t an issue if you use a smart platform. You can still buy display ads from fraudulent malware driven publishers… 99% of real marketers will use something like: https://swayops.com/marketer/influencer-fraud-prevention.html

            case closed. cool experiment though.

      • https://www.youtube.com/user/ruthven78 ruthven78

        I think the article will encourage others to do just this sort of thing, cept the run the risk of being found out and charged with larceny-by-trick which is a criminal charge, and also fraudulent misrepresentation which is a charge in civil court

  • fizzle

    how much were the paid deals worth?

    • http://mediakix.com/ Mediakix

      The paid deals were worth around $130 total for wanderingggirl and $400 for calibeachgirl310.

      • https://www.youtube.com/user/ruthven78 ruthven78

        lol so you spent $1000, and made $530, for a net loss of $470?

        • eminemisdead

          Are you bad with math or somethn? LolOLOLol the advertisers will keep on paying every day, every week, every month, while you pay for the followers ONCE

          • Richie

            Are you bad at reading comprehension or something? The followers may be “pay once”, but the engagement will be an on going expense. Also don’t you think advertisers will think something is up if the follower counts suddenly plateau?

  • edlyn

    Where did you buy the fake followers and likes???

    • http://mediakix.com/ Mediakix

      We purchased the fake followers and likes through a variety of apps and websites.

      • Sunday Ant

        Can you please name some legit ones? I work for marketing and I have to find some. Thanks!

        • Enric Pedró
        • http://mediakix.com/ Mediakix

          We’re not able to disclose that, but a quick Google search will point you in the right direction!

          • IG:DopeSellsEverything

            BOO!

        • Steve Taylor

          Surely by definition there *are* no legit ones?

        • Sara Mills

          The point of this article is that buying fake followers is a horrible tactic…soooooo don’t do that ;) It makes it more difficult for the rest of us!

    • https://www.youtube.com/user/ruthven78 ruthven78

      you dont want to do that, well not for finanicial gain, google “larceny by trick”, yeah, there is a criminal charge for that

  • http://heyitsbkay.com BK

    I’m a new blogger at heyitsbkay.com eager to grow my social channels and page views. Like most millennials, social media comparison can really kill my vibe. This was a great reminder that there’s a good chance some of the very bloggers/accounts I admire more than likely bought some of their followers. I want to do it the right way and be as authentic as possible. I need this as a reminder.

  • http://beeinfluenced.com Matthew Ankerstein

    When I was growing up as a kid I used to play online games, and people used to create bot accounts for leveling purposes. In the game there was even currency from the real world to the game. Kind of funny how this applies to social media and influencer marketing. I don’t play the game online any more, but needless to say it still has these problems. This might be a problem that follows the life cycle of the industry.

  • Olivia

    Is this activity on instagram technically illegal? Did you actually go through with any of the deals or were you just offered these microdeals?

    • http://mediakix.com/ Mediakix

      We didn’t go through with any of the deals, we were just offered them.

  • Wendy

    how come I get blocked by Instagram for following 100-200 people even…it’s so unfair when I’m a real user. now every time I follow 30 people, I get blocked for some while, then I can do it again. life is a conundrum. I really don’t know how it can be faked when real accounts are even temporarily blocked for the minimal action…

    • Chanchal Nihore

      don’t use instagram for two days. don’t do anything. let it reset then follow 5-10 followeres per hour and 100 per day only.

  • https://www.youtube.com/user/ruthven78 ruthven78

    google “crime of false pretenses” or “larceny by trick” also “fraudulent misrepresentation” – once learning of the deception the deceived party can sue or even press criminal charges against the deceiver

  • http://bulkan-evcimen.com/ Bulkan Evcimen

    I’m assuming the “fake followers” mentioned are just fake accounts and not real accounts ?

    • http://mediakix.com/ Mediakix

      When we refer to “fake followers”, we mean followers that are purchased online rather than obtained organically on Instagram. These followers are predominately bot accounts that do not engage with any of the accounts they follow, which is why we purchased engagement as well to make our accounts believable for the experiment.

  • Jessi Viscoza

    So followers were real but they were bought or they were just a bots?

    • http://mediakix.com/ Mediakix

      The followers were all purchased online and almost all appear to be bot accounts.

  • Andrew Young

    Do you have any recommendations for tools to audit accounts to see how many of their followers are fake, etc.? We’ve found a few but they don’t work very well – and this is a big concern for our agency as well.

  • http://eatdrinkstaydubai.com Eat Drink Stay Dubai

    great article on a very topical issue… do you have plans to look into the fake engagement groups issue sometime?

    Reason being, agencies and PR were quite slow cottoning to fake followings/likes s etc. (as your article proved) but many simply starting looking for ‘engagement’ as in no of comments, rather than if the same repeated commenters/likers.

    Bottom line is, as long as there is an incentive, there will always be those that look to bend the rules

    • http://mediakix.com/ Mediakix

      Glad you enjoyed the article. We’ve got a number of projects in the works—stay tuned!

  • IG:DopeSellsEverything

    What company did you use?

  • Hazel Evans

    But what did you learn? Wasn’t the point of the experiment to find out if a fake influencer actually influence real people?

    • http://mediakix.com/ Mediakix

      The point of the experiment was to see whether an entirely fake influencer would be able to secure brand sponsorships and we learned that they certainly could! This brings to light the potential severity of ad fraud within the influencer marketing industry.

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