What You Need to Know About Fake Followers on Social Media

Fake followers robot
Fake followers robot

When it comes to influencer marketing, brands commonly assume that a high follower count points to a popular influencer profile or an expert in their field. The truth is quantity doesn't always mean quality. From TikTok to LinkedIn, fake followers are rampant on social media, where fake influencers (and even high-profile celebrities and public figures) use them to inflate their follower lists. 

Marketers often go to Instagram and Twitter first to find influencers, experts, and leaders to partner with for various campaigns. With that in mind, we're focusing on Instagrammers and Twitter users to explain what you need to know about fake followers. Use our tips and guidelines to recognize the red flags and avoid falling into a fake influencer trap.

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Table of Contents

What are fake followers on social media?

As the name implies, fake followers are profiles on social media that are used by other accounts to give a false impression of how 'real' or important they are. And while some are ghost followers that don't interact or engage, others are bots that do automated functions like retweeting, sending friend requests, or posting fake comments and replies. 

How do fake followers work?

Established companies sell fake followers, as well as likes and retweets, to any person or company that's interested. Buyers who pay anywhere from a few pennies to a few hundred dollars can get big batches of followers that can have a huge impact on their online presence. 

Why are fake followers bad?

Accounts that buy fake followers also have fake social media metrics, which marketers and brands use when scouting influencers for marketing campaigns. In 2019, brands lost $1.3 billion to influencer fraud, which included influencers with fake followers as well as outright fake influencer accounts.

Scammers also use malicious bots disguised as fake followers to spread spam and malware, as well as engage in phishing attempts for personal information. Do a regular audit of your brand's own social media accounts as part of your regular cybersecurity measures.

On the flip side, many fake Instagram and Twitter accounts feature profile pictures of real people who have had their photos and/or identities stolen. That's one detail any brand, company, or aspiring influencer should remember if they're tempted to buy fake followers of their own.

How many social media profiles are fake?

These numbers may shock you! In 2017, researchers found that up to 15% of Twitter accounts are actually Twitter bots. That's 48 million accounts. Four years later, another study determined that only 55% of Instagram profiles are real people with legitimate accounts. Not all bots are bad — the bots that tweet daily weather reports, for example — but the flood of malicious bots and fake followers on social media doesn't look like it's letting up any time soon.

How to spot fake followers and avoid influencer fraud

Wondering if a potential influencer has a follower list full of fakes? Use these methods, guidelines, and tips to vet their profiles and the accounts that follow them.

woman wearing black sunglasses and looking at her phone

Manually spot fake Instagram followers

Start with looking at the username and profile pictures on their follower list. No profile pictures or usernames that look automatically generated (with nonsensical characters and a long set of numbers) are telltale signs of fake profiles. 

Also, look at the account's profile and content. Has it posted anything? Is there any engagement under the posts that make it seem like a bot or a scam? Use your intuition and do all you can to avoid reporting and blocking the accounts of actual followers and potential consumers. 

Some Instagram fake followers will seem like real followers or active users. However, once you have followed them back, they will send you a direct message or comment with an offer to buy additional fake followers. This shows that the account is automated. 

Manually spot fake Twitter followers

Like on Instagram, a follower list full of empty profile pictures and suspicious usernames is a giant red flag for fake followers. But since this platform is more geared for conversations than images, there are a few different elements to look at. Survey their tweets and replies to tweets. Are they engaging with other accounts in an authentic way? Are they using the reply function and hashtags to spam? Have they ever talked about or tagged your brand? How old is their account? Like the method above, this one is time-consuming and may not be scalable depending on how big of a social media presence your brand has.

Use influencer marketing platforms and social media analytics tools

As the influencer marketing industry grows, so does the market for influencer fraud. Brands who want to take an efficient but strong approach use influencer marketing platforms and social media analytics tools.

A handful of free online tools and apps can help you see, one by one, whether or not social media profiles are fake. Others can help you analyze follower lists to weed out fake social media accounts or show you if a profile got a large number of new followers or friends suspiciously fast.

Meltwater's social influencer marketing platform helps you not only scout and manage influencer campaigns, but also understand an influencer's true reach using advanced analytics and AI-powered algorithms that weed out the bots and ghost accounts. With advanced tools like these, you can get more detailed audience insights and take potential influencer fraud out of the picture.

How to get rid of your fake followers on social media

Think your brand's own follower lists might be riddled with bots? Bought fake followers in the past? It is always a good idea to do Twitter audits and IG audits to review your brand's social media networks and block and report any fake, spammy, suspicious, or fraudulent accounts. How often you decide to check for fake followers is up to you but a good rule of thumb would be to do these audits monthly or quarterly. You'll be surprised at how even regular purges of social media followers can get rid of large numbers of bots.

Using the tips above, you can go through and unfollow confirmed fake followers one by one. Here are some free tools you can use to help you identify fake followers or follower bots on Twitter and Instagram:

  1. TwitterAudit
  2. SparkToro
  3. Influencer Marketing Hub
  4. HypeAuditor

Also, go through the list of who you follow and confirm that it is still up to date. The last thing you want to learn is that your brand follows spam accounts, lending them some of your company's hard-earned credibility. You can even make follower audits like this one part of your larger social media audit process. 

Conclusion

Fake followers and influencer fraud isn't a popular topic, but that is all the more reason to evaluate your social media accounts and influencer marketing strategies. In the process, you might even gather some valuable audience insights or see the need to take a deeper plunge. Fill out the form below to learn how Meltwater's all-in-one marketing solutions can get the job done.

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