How to check for fake followers of an influencer?

Unfortunately, the attractiveness of the influencer “job title” and intense competition in the field has led to the fact that marketers can’t choose their creators blindfolded – you may pay for big numbers, but the end result could turn out not so great. That’s why it might be smart to check for fake followers before agreeing on a collaboration with the influencer.

Here are some of the most common techniques used to grow Instagram accounts in unfair ways and tips on how to detect them. 👇🏼

First things first: check for fake followers

Purchased followers are one of the most common problems marketers face. It’s a fairly simple and affordable way to grow your account: Google’s first search result offers 1,000 followers for $ 12.99, but with more in-depth searching, you can also find better deals.

Additionally, fake follower providers do quite active sales by themselves: in a survey that we ran in Estonia, almost 20% of respondents admitted they had been offered to buy followers.

Fortunately, purchased followers are relatively easy to identify. Here are four ways to help you check for fake followers of an influencer!

1. Check the engagement rate

The first thing to look at is the influencer’s engagement rate which shows how many of their followers are actively liking, commenting, sharing, and saving their posts.

However, remember that as the number of influencer’s followers increases, the engagement rate tends to decrease – this is completely natural and does not necessarily indicate the purchase of followers. While for micro-influencers, a good engagement rate would be at least 5-10%, for bigger influencers it’s often 1-3%.

Additionally, you can check the number of views of video posts – if it’s very low compared to the number of followers, it’s also a warning sign.

2. Quality and the origin of followers

If the influencer’s engagement rate is significantly lower than average, you can open the list of their followers and see if they are real followers. If there are many accounts without a profile picture and with just a few posts, or the usernames consist of numbers and symbols, this is a danger sign.

The easiest way to find out the origin of followers is to use an influencer marketing platform: for example, in Promoty, you can see the distribution of creators’ followers by gender, age, country, and city. Because the data runs directly from Instagram, the influencer can’t change it by themselves.

a screenshot of the influencer audience demographics view on Promoty

Influencer audience demographics view on the Promoty platform

Another option is to ask the influencer for a screenshot of their followers’ demographics on Instagram before starting the collaboration.

⚠️  Keep in mind that Instagram is an international platform, so almost all users have both local and foreign followers – that does not always refer to purchased followers.

3. Changes in the number of followers over time

If you suspect that an influencer has increased the number of their followers dishonestly, you can check this with tools that show the change in numbers over time: HypeAuditor and Social Blade, which both have free features to check the changes in graphs and numbers.

When it comes to growing an Instagram account, it’s common to gain more followers on some days, fewer followers on others, and even lose some from time to time.

If you see that the number of followers has raised in thousands, or just in suspiciously round numbers, you can be quite sure that these are purchased followers. Of course, there may be exceptions here as well – for example, giveaways, media coverage or collaboration with bigger content creators can similarly lead to an unusual increase in the number of followers.

4. Common sense

If in doubt, take a look at the influencer’s previous posts. Good photos do not guarantee an authentic audience, and vice versa – even an account with low-quality photos, but with very good captions, can be very popular on Instagram!

At the same time, competition on social media is intense: growing your following organically requires distinctive, engaging content and consistent posting. Therefore, it is worth thinking critically about whether the number of followers of an influencer and the value they create is in balance – and if not, then how has he gained so many followers?

An account with content that tells nothing, but has a lot of followers may not immediately refer to purchased followers. On the other hand, as a marketer, do you want to work with an influencer whose previous posts you don’t see much value in?

Buying likes and comments

Since low engagement is one of the main signs of detecting purchased followers, likes and comments are sometimes bought to hide the gap.

The easiest way to identify this is to look at the influencer’s latest posts and evaluate the quality of the comments: whether they are followers who sincerely engage with the influencer or rather random comments in the style of “Cool post, check out my content”. You can also take a look at users who have liked the post to make sure that they are real!

In addition, you can see the change in the number of likes and comments across posts: if one post has thousands of likes and another just a few, it might refer to suspicious behaviors.

⚠️   It is obvious that giveaway posts have a higher engagement. The post may also be ad-supported (appear in feeds as a sponsored post) to reach more people.

Let’s analyze two Instagram profiles

In order not to make the guide above purely theoretical, let’s look at two creator profiles on Promoty and check for fake followers! As Promoty is founded in Estonia, we’ll analyze both creators in the perspective of an Estonian marketer.

1. An influencer who, at first glance, shouldn’t be trusted:

a screenshot of an influencer with potential fake followers

What can indicate that the influencer’s followers aren’t all authentic?

•  Low engagement rate: the number of their followers is 4302, but the number of average likes is only 142. Therefore, their engagement rate is 3,9% which is pretty low for such a small account;

•  11.21% of the followers’ countries is unknown;

•  The average number of comments is 21, but when we look at her Instagram profile, we see that most of the pictures have no comments. The high average number of comments is due to one successful giveaway post with almost 400 comments.

•  They follow almost 6500 accounts while only 4300 people follow her – which could refer to the “follow for follow” method.

2. An influencer who seems to be trustworthy:

a screenshot of an influencer with no fake followers

Why would we trust this influencer?

•  The average engagement rate – 5.30% – matches the number of their followers – 11,163;

•  The influencer herself is following only 163 people;

•  The influencer is located in Estonia and 94.24% of their followers are also from Estonia;

•  The average number of comments is 48, which is quite high – but when we open their profile, we see that the high number is due to the regular giveaways.

Using Promoty to check for fake followers

Since all Instagram users can join Promoty, we might also have some creators who have not grown their audience in a fully organic way.

To some extent, the algorithm of Promoty can identify influencers with suspicious followings: in the marketer’s view, they are marked with a yellow warning sign. Furthermore, we take warnings about influencers who might have bought followers very seriously, and we manually mark them accordingly.

Unfortunately, the problem cannot yet be identified with 100% certainty. Technically, this is a rather complex problem – we need to review all the followers and profiles of all users who have joined the platform, analyze the growth of the influencer’s following over time, and find unusual patterns there.

Therefore, we also expect marketers to pay attention to follower demographics, engagement rates, and previous posts when choosing influencers.

If you need help with finding the right influencers for your brand and running effective influencer marketing campaigns, feel free to contact us – we would be happy to think along!

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