On June 20th, Instagram announced that it crossed a major threshold into 1 billion users. They capitalized on this momentum by launching IGTV, a platform that enables creators and influencers to share long-form video content with their fans.
This move was a direct swipe at YouTube, as Instagram aimed to entice video creators to share their content via IGTV instead. This also suggests more robust opportunities for branded influencer marketing, which is predicted to reach nearly $2.4 Billion in spend by 2019.
But in the wake of all of this growth, concern over fake Instagram followers continues to rise—especially amongst brands, who fear investing money and effort into influencers with artificially inflated follower numbers.
Research suggests that this worry isn’t entirely unwarranted. Last year this fake Instagram influencer study proved it was all-too-easy to create a fake Instagram persona, buy fake followers, and get offers for products and even money in exchange for sponsored posts. This year, the numbers show that demand for fake followers has only risen.
Based on data from Google Trends, it appears that the market for fake Instagram followers is rising more rapidly than any other social network.
Compared to searches for followers on other social networks (for example “buy youtube subscribers” or “buy facebook likes”) searches for “buy instagram followers” had at least three times more search interest over the course of the year — more recently even five times more searches than the second-highest term, “buy facebook likes.”
Perhaps even more alarming, search interest in fake Instagram followers rose by 71% since the same time period last year, from 64 (August 20-26, 2017) to 90 (August 12-18, 2018), weighted by Google Trends on a scale out of 100.
As more people seek a quick way to boost their follower count, a slew of companies has cropped up to offer cheap solutions. A quick Google search reveals companies like Buzzoid, Instaboostgram, iDigic and Poprey, which guarantee followers for as a little as $0.80 a pop.
The Google Keyword Planner, traditionally used by businesses to identify opportunities for advertising, also suggests that searches for “fake instagram followers” get significantly more impressions and clicks than similar searches for other social networks. Based on the rising tide of interest, this market (and the number of companies willing to supply fake followers) will likely continue to grow in coming months.
In reaction to this surge in fake followers, brands and consumers alike are more keen to distinguish “real” influencers from the fakers. There is no silver bullet, but there are several indicators that suggest artificially high followers or engagement numbers. For the full list of fake influencer red flags click here, but here are the top telltale signs:
Related Post: How To Spot Fake Followers On Instagram
Although a spokesperson from Instagram stated to the New York Times that “internal estimates show that spam accounts make up a small fraction” of their user base, the increasing search interest, advertising market, and industry-wide scramble to solve this problem suggests otherwise.
As Instagram continues to grow, the problem of fraud will likely grow with it. Brands will become savvier at identifying fake influencers, but fake follower companies will probably respond with more complex and subtle engagement tactics that are trickier to spot.
That being said, brands will always have options when it comes to identifying authentic influencers. They can partner one-on-one with an established influencer, who they meet and collaborate with in person. For more involved and strategic campaigns, they can also partner with an influencer marketing agency, who will have the experience, technology and industry knowledge to avoid fraudulent influencers.
As IGTV opens up an exciting new channel of influencer content, brands will want to remain vigilant for the next iteration of bot accounts and fake engagement. So, proceed with caution and do your due diligence to avoid falling prey to the Instagram phonies.