How to tell if an influencer has fake followers

There’s no denying that we’re often swayed by the opinions of people that we consider to be experts in a specific field. Whether we’re looking to purchase a product or subscribe to a service, we look for valuable, authoritative and trustworthy reviews to make sure we want to go ahead with the process.

Which is why it’s no surprise that brands have long embraced the power of influencer marketing with both hands in order to increase brand trust and awareness. However, like all things, it’s not always plain sailing, and there are some aspects of influencer marketing that you need to be aware of. One of the major drawbacks is fraud, and it involves working with fake influencers. This can be detrimental to your marketing campaign and your budget, so you need to know how to recognise them, so we’re here to help.

Having zero influence over an audience, fake influencers won’t deliver any results and can damage brand rep and drain your marketing budget. Here’s how you spot them…

Who are fake influencers?

Before you know how to spot them, you need to at least have an idea of who they are, as it will help you recognise the traits and characteristics that separate them from genuine influencers. 

Essentially, fake influencers are people who look like real influencers on social media. They will post high-quality images, videos and believable captions, and from a first glance, their grid would look very unsuspecting. However, the primary difference is that their following does not comprise of real accounts – they’re made up of fake ones and bots. So, they won’t have a valid influence over a real audience. 

Plus, in many cases, it’s not just one person behind a single fake account. It can often be created by a person who doesn’t actually exist. The perpetrators will typically use stock photos or hire a model as well as buy both followers and engagement to make it seem as if the person is influential.

How can you tell the difference? 

Now you know what a fake influencer is, let’s find out how you can identify them. Here are the most common signs:

A spike in followers

If you notice an account suddenly has way more engagement than normal, this is a red flag and suggests that bot accounts are involved. It may mean an influencer has paid fake social media users to like, comment, share, and basically engage with their posts. What makes them different from real influencers, is that those with huge followings have built their growth organically over a long period of time, and will have experienced infrequent deviations in the process. It’s a shame, because a real following takes years to build and it’s a lot of hard graft.

And when it comes to those who have had an increased following after a piece of authentic content has gone viral, their numbers will continue to gradually rise, even after the initial spike. In contrast, a fake influencer will have a drop in followers because they purchase the bot accounts rather than organically building a following.

Basically, if you can analyse the engagement ratio and follower count, it’s a good starting point to find out if the account is authentic before you partner with them.

The audience isn’t varied

The ‘social media influencer’ job title was created to describe a person who has the ability to manipulate the decisions of a large number of people and turn their attention to a particular brand, service, view, or even political stance. This means that the quality of the audience can help to identify whether an influencer is authentic or not.

For example, most fake influencers do not have a varied audience, and if you look at their posts, the same profiles will distribute similar engagement methods. This means you’ll notice the same comments, shares, and likes by the same accounts on every post without variation. This begs the question: how often do you see identical interactions by the same accounts on every post, as well as being the first people to interact each time? 

Whereas established influencers will always attract a varied audience – their posts will attract a larger number of social media users who all have different likes, dislikes, and opinions. So, if a fraudulent influencer uses bot accounts to generate likes and comments, there are many patterns that will become noticeable that will help you to identify such.

Irrelevant and spammy comments

In order to figure out whether an influencer’s followers are real or not, you’re going to want to put your detective hat on and delve into the comments section. Here, you’ll be able to see who is interacting with the influencer, and how so. Genuine comments are pretty easy to spot because they’ll reference the content directly or respond to comments within a thread. Those that look like spam or out of place are usually the culprit of fake followers.

Want to know what to look out for? OK…

  • No actual content or comments with just emojis.
  • Comments that mirror short, repetitive and common phrases. We’re talking “Beautiful!”, “Hot!!!”, “Gorgeous!” etc.
  • Comments that are out-of-context or completely irrelevant. Things like “You look gorgeous” on a photo of some scenery. 

Lastly, you want to make sure you check out the accounts of the “people” who are making these comments. Typically, they have zero to just a few followers and usually have random or generic handles. They never really have bios and they’re usually all on private. 

Followers to following ratio

Another dead giveaway is when the following/followers ratio looks off. (This is the number of accounts someone follows compared with the number of accounts who follow them.) As a general rule of thumb, genuine influencers should have more followers than a following. 

Those influencers who aren’t authentic typically have an equal ratio when it comes to following vs followers, and there are a variety of different reasons for this. To increase the number of followers, a lot of people look for “follow for follow” (f4f) or “shoutout for shoutout” (s4s) accounts. Granted, this increases the number of followers they have, but it doesn’t make them relevant followers.

You’ve identified them – what next?

Avoiding a fake influencer partnership naturally seems like the first step to take once you’ve actually identified them, wouldn’t you say? Once this step’s been done, make sure you keep a record of the ones you’ve found and blacklisted, along with their handles and why you blacklisted them, too. This stops you from having to repeat the lengthy process each time you launch a new campaign, and you’ll easily be able to refer to your list before you decide to take on the influencer marketing route again.

Smash your influencer marketing campaign

So we know how beneficial influencer marketing can be, and we also know how to avoid the fakers, so now’s the time to utilise its (literal) influence and take your campaign to new heights. We’ve actually written a blog on EYNYK about influencer marketing – from its history and where it started to the powerhouse it is today, and examples of who’s done it well. It also touches on the different types of influencers – from micro to mega so you can see where your brand would fit in best.

Your influencer marketing phase? Activated.

Sophie Crosby
Head of Content @ Minty Digital.
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