If your brand is on Instagram, you can’t waste your time on accounts with fake followers.
Because it’s never been easier to find Instagram influencers with engaged audiences to promote your products.
But from bot accounts to click farms, the recent rise of influencer fraud is a real problem.
The good news? If you know what red flags and warning signs to watch for, you can avoid phony creators without second-guessing yourself.
Below we break down how to tell if an influencer is keeping it real when it comes to their followers.
How to Know If Someone Has Fake Followers on Instagram
While there are third-party services that identify bot accounts, they’re not always accurate.
That’s why you should learn how to spot fake Instagram followers in the wild. Below are three ways to tell if a so-called “influencer” is being boosted by spam accounts.
Note: If you’re more concerned with protecting your Instagram account from bots, check out our post on getting rid of fake followers.
1. Fishy Follower Numbers (or Follower-to-Following Ratio)
Follower counts aren’t the be-all, end-all of what makes someone an influencer.
Thing is, many fake influencers and spammers think that inflating their follower count will make them more enticing to brands.
Many phony accounts will use an auto-follow bot to boost their numbers. Here’s how it works:
- The bot follows random accounts based on a set of criteria by the “influencer”
- Parameters for the bot might include specific hashtags, locations and followed accounts
- The bot then gradually unfollows any accounts that don’t follow back.
Mutual followers will trickle in but then get unfollowed over time. The end result is a near 1:1 follower-to-following ratio that’s super high. For example, an “influencer” with 15,000 followers that’s also following ~15,000 accounts is suspicious.
This ratio doesn’t necessarily signal that somebody is a fake influencer but it can be a red flag. Think about it. How many real people actually follow tens of thousands of accounts?
Most real influencers want to maintain a higher follower-to-following ratio to make their accounts seem more exclusive. Authentic influencers typically have follower-to-following ratios closer to 3:1 or 4:1 (if not greater). In short, they follow significantly fewer accounts versus accounts following them.
Below is what an authentic influencer with real followers looks like!
Follower discrepancies are much easier to catch when you’re working with micro-influencers. These accounts grow their following organically over time.
On that note, another red flag is when an Instagram account sees a sudden spike in new followers. This happens when someone buys a bunch of bot accounts in bulk to boost their numbers.
For example, we’ve found services where you can buy 300 Instagram “followers” for $7 a pop. These junk accounts don’t offer any meaningful engagement but they do create the appearance of a larger following.
And hey, that actually leads us to our next point!
2. Questionable Engagement That Doesn’t Add Up
Arguably the easiest way to spot influencers with fake followers? Look at their engagement!
Below is an example of an account that’s been accused of bot activity due to its poor engagement rates relative to its follower numbers.
This is why an account’s follow-to-follower ratio doesn’t tell the whole story. The account in question has nearly 90,000 followers but only a handful of “likes” and no comments on any given post.
And by the way, people can tell when your engagement doesn’t add up.
Although Instagram engagement rates aren’t identical from post to post, they should stay in a consistent range. Will accounts have outlier posts that overperform or underperform? Absolutely. That said, an account with thousands of followers getting such little engagement signals bot activity.
Below is another example of an Instagram account with fake followers. Accounts with 5,000+ followers shouldn’t be getting two “Likes” and 14 views on a Reel unless they’ve been shadowbanned.
Questionable engagement isn’t just about numbers, though.
It’s important to look into the quality of interactions that any given account is getting. Distinguishing real comments versus spam from fake followers is pretty straightforward. Red flags include:
- Random strings of emojis
- Requests for follow-backs or DMs
- Promotions for random giveaways
- Comments with nothing to do with the content posted
- One-word of generic comments (“Cool!” or “Nice!”)
If you see the colors of the rainbow taking over a comment section, you’re probably looking at a fake influencer.
Note: Don’t mistake isolated spam comments with fake engagement! There are plenty of spam accounts out there that target populated or popular comment sections. Authentic influencers get spammed. It happens. Spam shouldn’t dominate an influencer’s comment section consistently, though.
3. Scroll Their Follower List for Fake Instagram Accounts
The funny thing about so many get-followers-quick services is that the “followers” they do provide don’t even look like authentic accounts.
Below is what a bot account looks like!
Classical signs of fake or bot accounts include:
- Usernames that include the word “follow” (example: @followers.plus123)
- Usernames with random letters and numbers
- Accounts without profile pictures, bios or posts
Tapping through an influencer’s follower list, you can tell pretty quickly whether or not you’re looking at real people. Some bot accounts do have randomly curated photos to give the appearance of an authentic account at a glance. Still, these are also easy to spot.
Note: Like spam comments, credible influencers aren’t immune to Instagram bot followers. Don’t be shocked to see seemingly fake accounts that don’t resemble an influencer’s target audience following them.
Why Identifying Fake Instagram Followers is Important for Brands
To wrap things up, let’s review why brands need to be able to tell if an Instagram influencer bought followers to make their account look bigger.
- You won’t see any ROI from your influencer campaigns if you work with fakers. Bot accounts and fake followers don’t generate any real awareness, sales or social proof. You should maximize your marketing budget, not waste it! Given the time and effort required to put together a creator campaign, fake accounts should be avoided at all costs.
- You miss out on opportunities to work with authentic creators. The benefits of hiring Instagram creators are well-documented. If you want authentic branded content and more eyes on your products, you have to hire legit influencers to make it happen.
- You need to protect your brand’s reputation and account. Being associated with spam accounts reflects poorly on your brand. Even worse, falling prey to scammers could result in phishing or other forms of fraud. This could likewise put your brand’s Instagram account in jeopardy.
These points signal the value of vetting Instagram accounts prior to a campaign. This is especially important if you’re using influencer database software. Unfortunately, some services don’t keep their creator lists 100% up-to-date or review accounts individually.
How to Avoid Phony Instagram Influencers in the Future
Sticking to the tips above can help you identify if an influencer has fake followers.
Again, there are countless Instagram influencers out there that’d be perfect to promote your brand. Don’t let a few bad apples keep you from working with creators in the future.
Spotting fakers can be time-consuming, though. This is especially true if you’re trying to vet influencers yourself and scale your creator campaigns.
That’s where Statusphere can help! Our full-service influencer marketing platform vets and handpicks each and every creator in our network. Beyond that, we handle all of the heavy lifting of your influencer campaigns. This includes matchmaking, fulfillment and reporting.
Want to learn more about how the process works? Get in touch with one of our consumer-to-consumer marketing experts to see how we can get authentic influencers posting about your brand ASAP.
This article was first published in February 2019. It was last updated July 5, 2022.