How to Spot Fake Influencers on Social Media

How to Spot Fake Influencers on Social Media

Philippa Dods
17 July 2018

With an estimated worth of 1, 5 billion USD, the Influencer Marketing industry is not going anywhere anytime soon. However, as with any big trend, there are people who will want to exploit it. ‘Fake influencers,’ where so-called influencers artificially increase their followers and engagement to seem more influential, has recently become a popular phenomenon.

Can We Differentiate Between True and False Influencers?

By fake influencers, we mean the accounts that use bots or money to artificially boost their followings and engagement on their social media accounts: this can refer to bots that interact with other bots or real people that buy followers, likes, comments, views and saves.

These accounts look attractive and appealing to brands and other users but, in fact, do not end up genuinely influencing many people.

Influencer marketing agency, Mediakix, decided to test the system by creating two fake profiles themselves. The goal of the experiment was to show how easy it is to create a fake influencer account, and to prove that it’s possible for fake accounts to secure paid brand deals through influencer marketing platforms. They paid $300 and $800 on engagement and followers (30k and 50k respectively) and populated both accounts with free stock imagery. Within a few weeks, brands had offered the bogus Instagram influencers a combination of free products and money that totalled more than $500.

The main social media platforms have been putting in big efforts to stop the use of bots and the recent surge of false influencers; particularly Instagram’s new algorithm updates. But according to a recent North Group Points study, big brands like Ritz-Carlton, Pampers and Magnum have been fooled – they’ve all invested heavily in campaigns involving artificial influencers.

Fortunately, it is possible to differentiate between true and false accounts.

Here are our 6 steps to spot fake influencers on social media:

1. A Verified Profile

The verified tick on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram is the first and probably best sign that you’re not dealing with a fake influencer. Its advantage is that you know for certain you aren’t going to be fooled – this person really does have great influence; social media channels wouldn’t have issued it otherwise.

The downside is that they’re only issued to celebrities, big brands and major influencers. So if you’re working with ordinary or micro-influecners, which is more common, you’ll need more criteria to assess the authenticity of their influence.

Note: Verified ticks are always the same size, same colour and in the same place, regardless of the theme or layout of an account.

emma watson - verified tick - meltwater blogActress and activist Emma Watson’s verified Instagram profile

2. Community Growth Tracking

The quickest way to make it look like you have efficient engagement is to have a substantial following. A following is what brands look at when choosing who to work with, and it can often mean decent engagement.

But a following can be bought – quickly, easily and inexpensively.

And, more worryingly, since social media platforms cracked down on bots, it’s now actual people doing the fraudulent following.

Click farms, or “the social media sweat shop,” pay thousands of people to generate clicks, likes and views, engagement pods enable groups of people to like and comment on a photo as it’s posted to mimic real engagement and plenty more, are all ways to generate fake engagement and fake followers.

The good news is there’s a solution. By tracking the growth of an account, you can get a better idea on the authenticity of it. It’s likely that accounts with a spike in their following overnight have purchased their followers, and the same goes for whether post likes or comments double in quantity. Another way is to examine the followers of the account – if there’s a lot of dormant accounts with no profile pictures, followers or posts, they’re likely fake profiles.

3. The Engagement Rate

Another way to identify fake influencers is to examine their engagement rate. This is the proportion of their likes, comments and shares with their following.

An influencer with thousands of followers but only a few likes on each post is likely to have inflated their following artificially.

Similarly, accounts with an unusually high number of likes compared to their following could be a sign of an influencer having bought their likes.

According to the Instagram Marketing Hub, the average Instagram engagement rate is between 1 and 5%. So, if an account has 1 000 followers, you can expect around 10 – 50 likes.

4. Check the Comments

Another tell-tale sign of a fake following is the quality of the comments. Simply scroll through your influencer’s comments section – if it’s littered with the generic comments such as “Love it,” “Awesome” or thumbs-up emojis, bots have been commenting. This is nowhere close to genuine engagement.

Alternatively, if an influencer’s comments include friends tagging each other, conversations, or notes on the content of the actual post, it’s a sign that this influencer has an authentic and engaged community of followers.

5. Real Reach

If an influencer is purchasing followers or using bots, their content is never going to reach a substantial audience, or a real one. Using an influencer marketing platform can help to detect how many people are likely to see each post by calculating the actual reach of an influencer.

Santoshi Shetty - India Influencer

An example of local influencer Santoshi Shetty’s engagement rates on the Meltwater Social Influencer platform

6. Networks and Interactions

If an account interacts with other influential social media accounts or is mentioned in pictures of other influencers, then they are a real person, with real influence.

The world of true influence is niche, especially in a specific location or industry. True influencers are part of common networks – they interact with each other, go to the same events, comment on each other’s posts and are tagged in posts together.

For a successful influencer marketing strategy, influencer targeting is key.

It is better to contact a few qualified influencers than to target several hundred seemingly influential accounts. This will save you from working with fake influencers, your time, effort and money. In addition, your relationships with the real influencers will be enhanced and maximised.

 India Influencer

Snapshot of local blogger Chichi’s networks and interactions on Meltwater Social Influencers platform

For more information, or if you have any questions, contact the Meltwater Africa team today.