How to Quickly Spot Fake Influencers

Illustration of a social media profile picture and bio with a big red x next to it. Spotting fake influencers on social media, blog post.
Illustration of a social media profile picture and bio with a big red x next to it. Spotting fake influencers on social media, blog post.

Influencer marketing on social media has skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years. With that rapid growth, however, has come the inevitable dark side of fake influencers. Businesses looking to partner with influencers need to be aware of this trend to make sure the people they're working with are who they say they are, and that their followings are genuine. In this blog we'll explore what a fake influencer is and how to avoid fake influencer pitfalls.

Contents

Why Are Influencers So Powerful?

Close of of persons hands on a phone

The idea behind the social media influencer industry is essentially scaling word-of-mouth marketing from social media personalities who have engaged followings, of anywhere from 500-over a million. They promote your products or company to their networks, who trust their endorsement, thereby creating a quick way to reach wider audiences and potential new customers. In return, influencers are compensated either monetarily or with free products and perks from the brand.

There are a few key attributes that successful influencers possess that make them a strong asset for promoting your brand:

Relatability

What really sets social media influencers apart from other types of endorsers is their relatability. Despite their often large followings, influencers are typically perceived as "ordinary people" that their followers can easily relate to. They post about everyday life, are easy to get hold of – some reply to every single comment and DM – and they often have age group, interests and demographics in common with their target audience.

Credibility and social proof

It’s part of human nature to be swayed by our circles. Consumers are 92% more likely to trust their peers over traditional advertising when it comes to purchasing decisions. So, seeing your peer, colleague or someone from your ‘hood speaking highly of a brand, is likely to make you remember it, and agree with it. The large numbers of followings, likes, comments and shares add social proof to the equation — this gives audiences the impression that it is already validated and trusted by many.

Who Are Fake Influencers?

Female influencer sitting in a yellow chair, with face obscured by phone. Fake influencers blog post.

A fake influencer is a person, or a bot designed to interact like a human, on social media whose following is padded with fake followers. Thus it follows that they do not have a genuine relationship with their community — an essential ingredient for influencers to make an impact. These accounts typically buy followers to inflate their numbers and make it appear as if they have more influence than they actually do.

In some cases, a fake influencer might be someone posing as someone else, using a fake bio, fake profile picture, etc. This is a slippery slope, sometimes employed by brands to make it appear like an influencer is promoting them, when in fact the profile has been created by the business itself. Another way this could be used is by participating in forums or comment threads as a fan or brand ambassador. Fake influencers in this guise could be considered a form of guerrilla marketing, but there is a high risk factor. You don't want to accidentally destroy the trust you've built with your audience.

Why is this important?

Encouraging engagement and the ability to grow a community of loyal followers is one of the hallmarks of a great influencer. If their following is simply a bulk purchased number, it means they have no actual connection with the people they're speaking to. Not exactly the kind of representative you want from an influencer who's promoting your products or services. Because it also means they're promoting it to an empty void of bots who have no way of actually making a purchase.

This is why it's always so important to vet influencers carefully before partnering.

What is Influencer Fraud?

Phone showing closeup of a profile icon, with no personalized image. How to spot and avoid influencer fraud, blog post.

If an influencer claims their following is all real, when in fact a substantial percentage of their followers are purchased, and therefore fake, that amounts to influencer fraud. Even worse, influencer fraud can also mean fake purchases on the part of the influencer, a way of tricking their partners into thinking they're getting positive ROI from their relationship with the influencer. This is also sometimes called affiliate fraud.

It's a real problem that many businesses are facing, given the sheer amount of influencers out there. In fact the concern about fake influencers has been steadily growing, with 67% of brands saying they're worried about influencer fraud (Influencer Marketing Hub, 2022).

Spotting influencer fraud

Illustration of a social media bot on a desktop computer screen next to a speech bubble

An easy way to spot influencer fraud is if they have a massive following but either very low engagement or mostly spam comments. Thousands of likes but only 3 comments on a post? Probably not a real influencer. Are the comments all the same? Probably a bot and not a real follower.

You can also keep an eye at follower growth rate. If an influencer achieves 2K additional followers in one day, that's a sign that they are buying followers.

Who Are the Biggest Fake Influencers on Social Media?

The Kardashian name is frequently thrown around in the influencer marketing discussion. But they actually fall into the category of "fake influencer", as do a number of other celebrities and public figures. Which is not entirely fair; due to their stature, it's not unusual that these profiles would have bot-heavy followings, in addition to their actual fans.

It's when they commit influencer fraud, claiming their followings as genuine as a selling point for an influencer deal, that probing into their actual numbers becomes important for brands.

Read more about why you should consider working with micro-influencers.

Curious who some of the biggest social media fake influencers are? This list is from a social audit run by UK based company fasthosts.com:

Name & HandleFollowingEngagement Rate% of Fake Followers
Kylie Jenner (@kyliejenner)223.5M3.50%40%
Kendall Jenner (@kendalljenner)157.6M3.58%37%
Blake Lively (@blakelively)28.3M7.55%37%
Justin Bieber (@justinbieber)168.7M0.37%37%
Rihanna (@badgirlriri)92.8M1.75%36%
Zayn Malik (@zayn)39.8M6.56%35%
Kim Kardashian West (@kimkardashian)212.3M1.32%34%
LeBron James (@kingjames)81.7M1.70%34%
Kourtney Kardashian (@kourtneykardash)115M1.14%34%
Bad Bunny (@badbunnypr)31.7M8.90%33%

Vetting Influencers to Partner With

The success of any influencer marketing campaign depends primarily on your brand’s ability to identify and collaborate with the right influencers. Ask yourself these questions to help optimize your search.

1. Are they trustworthy?

As we've established, the rise of fake influencers and influencer fraud is of concern among marketers today, and with good reason. So, when choosing influencers, you need to ensure they have credibility and are trusted by their fans.

Tip: Google their name and see how they’re known both on and off social media. Check if they’ve ever been invited to speak at an event, received awards or been recommended by anyone in the industry etc to gauge their level of expertise on certain topics.

2. Do they have an engaged community?

Before choosing influencers, you should also be taking note of whether the influencer engages with their community. If they have a large following but are talking into a vacuum, it’s a red flag.

If there are comments, be sure to check them. Remember, if engagement numbers are high, it doesn't always mean those engagements are valuable or authentic. Avoid working with a fake influencer by spot checking the caliber of their post comments.

filming influencer video

3. Who are they reaching?

It’s all well and good choosing influencers who have an engaged community, but if their audience won’t care about our products, we may as well not bother as ROI will be minimal. Deep dive into the demographics of the community to ensure your brand is relevant to them.

4. Have they worked with other brands?

Choosing influencers who have worked with other brands isn’t a no-no; in fact, it can be helpful in a few different ways. Looking at who they’ve worked before is a good way to gauge if your products are likely to appeal to their following. You can also observe how they treat their sponsored segments and content. Lastly, if other brands have chosen to work with them, particularly look at if they've worked with them more than once, it's a good sign that they are legit.

6. Do they post regularly?

Look for someone who posts multiple times a week. Frequency will have a direct impact on other metrics such as engagement rate, reach, loyalty etc. 

An influencer marketing platform like Meltwater's Klear helps brands discover relevant influencers, establish relationships, and manage campaigns. Our clients are able to search through over 500 million profiles in 60,000 different categories, no matter the niche making the process of choosing influencers a whole lot easier! The tool analyses and locates influences on various platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, YouTube in one go.

Ready to get started? Schedule a free demo using the form below.

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