Influencer marketing is pretty hot right now: The industry is set to grow to a whopping $13.8 billion in 2021.
It’s no surprise why — over 61% of consumers report trusting influencer recommendations while only 38% trust branded content.
But as influencer marketing becomes mainstream, marketers are starting to face new challenges. The biggest one? Fake followers.
50% of marketers report spotting fake followers and inauthentic engagement as their top concern with influencer marketing.
Businesses lost over $1.3 billion due to fake influencers in 2019. An analysis by Point North Group even found a large cosmetics brand spent $600,000 on impressions that were not seen at all or were seen only by fake followers.
Luckily, you don’t have to lose millions of dollars to find an authentic influencer with this guide.
- What are fake followers
- How to validate the authenticity of an influencer
- How to conduct a fake follower audit
What Are Fake Followers?
Who are these fake followers? They aren’t real people. But bots programmed to act like them. If you’ve ever seen repeated generic comments from one user like “great feed” or “love this photo,” your account is probably targeted by a bot.
There are plenty of these in the pond. No, seriously:
- There are over 45% fake Instagram followers
- Twitter reportedly removed ten accounts every second in 2019 to get rid of fake accounts. That’s roughly six million accounts every week.
- In the first quarter of 2019, Facebook removed 2.2 billion fake accounts
With the rampant spread of fake accounts on every platform, it’s likely many social media accounts probably have bots following them. For instance, 40% of Kylie Jenner’s fan base on social media is suspected to be fake.
But some influencers will actually pay to have a large number of fake followers. Why? Because in the influencer economy, the influencer is paid in part for the size of their audience — which means that if an influencer’s following is larger, brands will pay more to work with them.
Websites like Famoid help influencers purchase follower growth so that they appear more popular than they are — just pay $129.95 to get 10,000 fake Instagram followers. You could even buy Instagram followers from vending machines in Russia.
Do these fake influencers affect your brand? Yes, immensely.
If you hire an influencer with fake followers, they deliver no tangible results for your brand. They drain your marketing budget and harm your online reputation.
To avoid being a victim of this fraud, you need to learn how to validate an influencer’s authenticity.
How to Validate the Authenticity of an Influencer: Your 5-Step Checklist
Finding the right influencer for your brand is hard enough. But the prerequisite to compatibility is authenticity — how do you even know the followers and engagement on an influencer’s account are real?
Here are five signs to look out for.
#1: Check Their Follower-To-Following Ratio
The follower-to-following ratio — the number of accounts following an influencer vs. the number of accounts they follow — is a primary metric to vet an influencer.
An authentic influencer has much more followers than following. Any unusual ratio here (equal or more) is probably due to shortcuts — like follow for follow or shoutout for shoutout.
For example, if an influencer has 5000 followers and 3500 following, they are likely not an authentic influencer.
They may increase their followers using these tactics, but their community isn’t consisting of your target audience.
#2: Check Their Follower-To-Engagement Ratio
Bots and fake accounts make up a majority of the following for a fake influencer. This is why they may have a meager engagement rate despite having a large follower count.
Do you see 99.5k followers but only 7k likes on their recent posts? Consider this a major red flag.
For instance, in the picture above, you can witness the dirty work in action: How does an account with 143,000 followers get only 4,000 views on its Instagram reels?
Apart from the numbers, you also want to notice the engagement quality.
Does the influencer receive consistent metrics of engagement for different posts? If each post gets the same amount of likes or if each video has the same viewership range, they’ve likely purchased engagement.
Social media algorithms keep updating — so, a slight deviation in engagement from the industry standard doesn’t make someone a fake influencer. But you might want to watch out for signs that point to a drastic difference in followers and engagement.
#3: Watch Out for Unusual Follower Spikes
Unusual numbers are one of the most significant indicators of an inauthentic influencer. It takes an influencer years to build a loyal audience on any social network. So, a new account with few posts but thousands of followers? Likely a fake influencer.
The caveat here is follower spikes do happen when influencer content goes viral, but the growth should look like a curve, not a staircase. Treat big follower jumps with no apparent reason as a cautionary tale.
If an account is gradually gaining new followers every day, they pass the fake follower check.
#4: Search for Frequent Spam Comments
Many influencers also often buy engagement. Here, the water gets a bit murky. There are a few ways to spot this:
- Do they have the same people commenting similar things on different posts? Take 10-15 minutes to check the shares, replies, and comments on an influencer’s posts. Comments like “Great post!” and “Love this!” can be the result of comment bots.
- Do their posts have thousands of likes but only a few comments? Good content garners engagement in likes, comments, shares, and engagement. Not enough comments compared to likes in a post are a tip-off sign that the likes are purchased.
Comments give qualitative insight into who’s interacting with an influencer and how. Out of place or generic comments are likely bots. Watch out for a high quantity of comments such as:
- Comments with only emojis or no context
- Comments with short, repetitive phrases like “cool!” or “hot!” or “great post!”
- Irrelevant comments. For example, “great looking dress!” on a photo of food
While you’re at it, also check the profile of these commentators. Bots are likely users with the following characteristics:
- No profile picture
- Usernames with lots of numbers on them
- Minimal to no followers but thousands of followings
- No posts or tons of stock photos
#5: Check the Quality of Their Posts
Low-quality content is an immediate red flag. Regardless of the follower size, engagement ratio, or analytics, if you repeatedly find yourself thinking, “This is a terrible picture” or “What’s the point of this post?” you’re likely engaging with an inauthentic influencer.
Don’t waste your time on such influencers, and move on.
Pro tip: Check the quality of an influencer’s video content.
Why? Influencers can fake loving your brand or product by taking a fantastic photo or writing a beautiful caption. But their authenticity and passion for a brand can’t be manufactured on video — making video the ultimate authenticity detector.
When assessing an influencer’s video content and salesmanship, ask:
- Is this influencer comfortable speaking on camera?
- Do they create video posts often?
- Are they displaying enthusiasm about products they like and demonstrating their experience well?
While these are tell-tale signs of a fake influencer, tools available in the market can also help.
How to Conduct a Fake Follower Audit: 10 Tools That Have Your Back
Searching through followers, analyzing engagement, and scanning for irrelevant comments is a manual effort. And it’s still no guarantee that you’ll be able to rule out suspicious influencers.
Before you jump into the external tools, learn how to leverage the social media platforms themselves to examine influencers.
Let’s say you like an influencer for your brand and are looking for similar options to comb through. The Instagram dropdown arrow will help you pump out influencers in the same affinity — based on similar aesthetics, features, hashtags, bio, etc.
And just like that, hours and hours of influencer discovery are unlocked.
Another free tool in the same family is Facebook’s Brand Collab Manager. You can apply as an advertiser and start a project brief where influencers can reach out to you proactively. Their search tool is also handy in filtering influencers based on location, gender, age, interest, follower count, and more.
The best part? You can reach out to your shortlisted influencers directly through Facebook messenger.
Once you’ve utilized these native features, dive into the tools. Here are the top ten:
Fohr has several tools for businesses to determine the authenticity of an influencer. Their Follower Health Tool breaks down an influencer’s followers to following ratio, username, bio, number of posts to calculate an overall “score” based on how the influencer ranked in each of those categories.
They also have a Verified Followings tool that gives a badge to influencers who have grown their following organically, without using bots.
#2: Social Blade
Social Blade allows you to track an influencer’s statistics to look for any unusual follower spikes. You can see the number of followers an influencer has gained or lost over a period of time to watch out for any discrepancies.
But remember, not all spikes mean that an influencer has bought follower growth: Maybe one of their posts went viral, maybe they collaborated with a big account, etc. But plenty of such spikes with no reason to back them up is a sign of a fake influencer.
#3: IG Auditor
IG Auditor is a tool that helps you track an influencer’s real followers within minutes. You simply have to enter the account’s name into the software, and it scans 200 followers at random while considering average likes and comments.
You get their followers and following evolution charts, account stats, media stats, average engagement rate, top posts, future projections, and more.
FakeCheck, similar to IG Auditor, scans an influencer’s profile to determine fake followers vs. real ones. They give you a “social engagement rate” to determine if the influencer you’re auditing has the expected amount of likes, comments, followers, and shares.
FakeCheck also analyzes the last 12 posts of the account for social engagement. Red highlights low engagement, and green signals that the engagement is up to the mark.
#5: Social Audit Pro
Social Audit Pro is a paid service that provides analytics for Instagram influencers, depending on how large the account is. It gives you data for suspicious followers, the follower-following ratio, dubious post quality, number of active followers, and more.
HypeAuditor has a free Instagram Audit tool that helps you check the authenticity of an Instagram account. It’ll give you an audience quality score calculated based on the engagement rate, followers, quality audience, and engagement authenticity.
The full report also gives you an insight into the audience’s demographics, audience type, estimated reach, etc.
Analisa is the new kid on the block — an AI-powered tool to help you analyze the profile of Instagram and TikTok influencers. Their follower authenticity score enables you to understand the number of active followers, dormant followers, and suspicious followers an influencer has.
The tool also gives you access to data like follower count, top posts, and engagement rate. You can see their posting activity, audience engagement, average likes & comments, and more.
An alternative is PathSocial — but it’s available only for Instagram accounts.
SparkToro is the ultimate Twitter audit tool. It helps you analyze any public Twitter account and check how many fake followers it has. Fake followers include spam, bots, propaganda, and inactive Twitter followers. It also calculates follower quality distribution, analyzing the quality of followers an influencer has.
You can check up to ten accounts per day for free. Alternatively, you can also use FollowerAudit.
Modash gives you a comprehensive report analyzing an influencer’s average likes, followers, engagement rate, top posts, brand affinity, interests, and more.
It calculates “audience credibility” to determine fake followers from real ones. Less than 75% is typically a sign of fraud.
#10: Social Auditor
Social Auditor allows you to analyze any public Instagram profile for fake followers, likes, comments, and demographics. They give you data on quality followers and quality distribution — giving you a percentage of how many followers are real.
The entire report also breaks down average likes, comments, audience demographics, interests, profile activity, engagement rate, and more.
And there you have it — your ultimate guide on auditing fake followers and weeding out inauthentic influencers.
There are some clear-cut signs like the follower-following ratio, but the several tools listed here can also help.
And when all else fails? Reach out to us! We help brands increase revenue by partnering with the right influencers.