How to Find Out If An Instagram Influencer Has Fake Followers

How to Find Out if an Instagram Influencer Has Fake Followers

Have you ever wanted to work with Instagram influencers but worry they might have a community of fake followers?

Instagram influencers can be great for your brand, from expanding your audience to finding new ways to engage your current customers and even creating user-generated content. Since Instagram hit the magic 1 billion monthly users in June 2018, it should be a regular channel in any marketeer’s toolbox. So, what makes a good or bad Instagram influencer?

There is no good or bad influencer.

There is only an influencer with a fair price for reaching their audience.  Sure, a high number of engaged followers is a good sign, and an audience type that aligns with your target market is a big step in the right direction… but how do you know that the influencer is offering you an audience of real, engaged people?

With the rise of Instagram influencers has come the rise of fake followers, falsely inflated stats and spam accounts. That major influencer you’ve been thinking about partnering with might have a much smaller ‘real’ audience than their numbers first suggest.

Sharing your product or service via an influencer who has a high percentage of fake followers is like broadcasting your message to a room full of cardboard cutouts. The seats are taken but there’s no one really there. A closer look can reveal whether the Instagram influencers you want to work with are reaching the real, interested audience you‘re paying them to. Let’s get started with 5 simple ways to find out if they have fake followers.

Who are their followers?

Taking a look through an influencer’s followers is the obvious place to start checking for fakes. But what do you look for?

It’s easier than you might think to see the first signs of fake followers, so long as you are willing to take the time to do more than a surface check.

First off, do their followers look like they have real, active accounts to you? For example, if your influencer is followed by accounts which don’t have a profile picture and have never posted anything themselves, you can make a fair assumption that they are fake followers.

instagram fake followers check

So you should check if followers:

  • have ‘real’ names. @_i_am_your_love looks real, but @petergriffin7895f looks like a bot name
  • have profile pictures
  • have more than 6 posts
  • posted real photos with the same person
  • are private
  • followers/followings. If a follower of our influencer or blogger has 100 followers and follows 1769 accounts, it’s suspicious
  • have likes and comments under their posts

Maybe some followers have a profile picture but have never posted anything and have usernames that sound an awful lot like spam. A high number of questionable followers coupled with a high number of private accounts is a sign that this influencer’s audience quality is probably not what you first thought it would be.

As you check the influencer’s followers, go a level deeper and see who they are following. This is where you look out for any followers who are following ‘fan buying’ accounts, which should ring alarm bells for you that this influencer could be using fake followers to boost their numbers.

What’s their followers’ engagement like?

You can calculate the engagement rate of an influencer’s account with a simple calculation. Divide the total comments and likes they have by their number of followers. Voilà, you’re looking at their engagement rate!

You can expect an engagement rate to sit anywhere between 1.7% for accounts with very high followers to around 8% for a smaller follower base.

With these indicative benchmarks in mind, carry out the same simple exercise on your influencer. Still not sure how? Just take their last 12 posts and average however many likes and comments they received. Now divide this by their total followers and times by 12 again. There you are, that’s their average engagement rate.

Those Instagram accounts which have lots of followers and an unusually low engagement rate are more than likely to have lots of followers who are fake.

If you find their average engagement rate sits around the same as the benchmarks, this is a good start. But you should still read their comments to check they are genuine reactions. Bots aren’t too good at making personal, considered comments so you’ll be able to separate the reals from the fakes by ruling out any ‘cool pic’, ‘great’ and ‘insert-short-impersonal-comment-here’ type comments as the work of a linguistically-challenged bot.

So we should check comments for:

  • the number of short comments
  • the number of author’s comments
  • comments/likes rate – it should be 1 comment per 100 likes or higher

For example:

Instagram engaged vs. unengaged followers analysis

I know what you’re thinking – there are so many things to check! How long will this take? The good news is that there are already great online tools like this one to do the work. One way or another, better to know the quality of your influencer’s audience before working with them!

Where are the influencer’s followers located?

Knowing the location of an influencer’s followers is a great way to check not only for fake followers but also for the right kind of audience for you.

Let’s imagine you want to engage a food-loving customer base in France. You find a Paris-based pastry blogger as the influencer account you want to work. You take a look at their followers and see that most of their audience is based in… Asia? You can assume in this case that these followers have been purchased and are fake, since the location of the followers doesn’t match up with the location of the blogger and their Parisian pastry-based posts. Even if there was an unusual but legitimate reason for this (maybe this pastry blogger focuses on Vietnamese-style croissants and has gained a loyal following from Asian tourists over the years?) they are still not the right audience for your business since you are looking to engage a customer base in France.

Instagram followers audience analysis by location

Audience location of blogger from New York.

You should only be looking to engage an influencer’s follower base if they are in the right place for your product or service, so be sure to know who you want to target and why before you start the search.

How much have their followers grown by?

You’d expect a successful influencer to grow their Instagram followers steadily over time by posting engaging content that resonates with their audience. This is organic growth, and on a graph, this would show as a consistent and gentle upward curve of followers over time.

If you can see the influencer account’s growth, it’ll be easy to spot a sudden spike if they have made a bulk purchase of fake followers.

Instagram followers growth analysis

There are free tools online to check follower growth in this way. Just remember, even if their growth looks consistent, you should still check out who their followers are and the engagement quality to make sure they aren’t finding convincing ways to boost their numbers. If this is starting to sound like a lot of work, you’re in luck as we’re about to cover off the best way to check all these different angles quickly and thoroughly!

Use an automated tool

So now you know some of the ways you can find out if an Instagram influencer has fake followers, but you might be thinking right about now that the time it’s going to take you is daunting…

Well, enough people have thought the same that there are now some great online tools to do the work for you. Sometimes it’s enough to understand what to check for without having to do all the manual work yourself.

The trendHERO Instagram analytics checker currently lets you check some accounts for free, and produces an in-depth report so you have clear evidence for yourself, your team and your client to show you know your stuff before taking the next step with an Instagram influencer.

Showing a well-designed, professional report like this to key decision makers suggests you take these checks seriously. You would always check the quality and legitimacy of a new supplier before bringing them onboard to work with your business, and now that influencer marketing is a regular tool for SMM and digital agencies, you need to find a way to quickly and reliably run more than a surface check on your Instagram influencer partners.

Conclusion

Instagram influencers and bloggers can be a powerful asset to your brand, but only if they’re the real deal. Some influencers increase their followers and engagement rate with fake followers and bots, which undermines their ability to influence the relevant audience and their true value. Working with them would be wasting your brand’s time and money.

You can check who the influencer’s followers are by looking more closely at their profiles and who they in turn are following.

There can be tell-tale signs in the numbers when an Influencer’s engagement rate is way off the benchmark, or the location of their followers doesn’t make sense with their own location.

If an influencer’s growth has enjoyed a sudden unexplained lift that makes the gentle curve of a graph spike upwards, you’re right to ask questions.

Most of all, given the potential benefits of finding a good influencer for your brand, it is essential to make these thorough checks one way or another. If you don’t have the time or the expertise to do this, make an Instagram analytics checker like trendHERO a regular part of your marketing process so you have clarity and confidence in who you’re working with. And remember, despite all the checks for fake followers you need to make, the right influencer for you and your brand is out there! You just have to find them. Good luck!

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

This is a post written on behalf of one of my marketing partners. All opinions are 100% mine.

Neal Schaffer

Neal Schaffer is a leading authority on helping businesses through their digital transformation of sales and marketing through consulting, training, and helping enterprises large and small develop and execute on social media marketing strategy, influencer marketing, and social selling initiatives. President of the social media agency PDCA Social, Neal also teaches digital media to executives at Rutgers University, the Irish Management Institute (Ireland), and the University of Jyvaskyla (Finland). Fluent in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, Neal is a popular keynote speaker and has been invited to speak about digital media on four continents in a dozen countries. He is also the author of 3 books on social media, including Maximize Your Social (Wiley), and in late 2019 will publish his 4th book, The Business of Influence (HarperCollins), on educating the market on the why and how every business should leverage the potential of influencer marketing. Neal resides in Irvine, California but also frequently travels to Japan.

Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer

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