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Fake Instagram followers have been around since the birth of Instagram and continue to haunt the minds of current influencers eager for an uptake of their most cherished currency: attention. The number of followers on Instagram might be an indicator as to how popular someone might be, but it is usually the number of those followers that engage with posts that really determine the truth.
It may seem like a cheap trick that’s easy to catch, but you may be surprised as to how many people still use fake Instagram followers today. Here we dive deep into the advent of using fake Instagram followers and the various uses that it might have.
Why fake followers?
The sale and use of fake followers started to stir controversy in the news back in 2014 when a public site called Rantic.com was exposed for providing fake likes, followers, and views to a slew of popular figures in many industries after they had just registered themselves to be official internet marketers. In the years since, major social media companies like Instagram and Facebook have increased their mediation of these artificial accounts. But this didn’t stop companies from sticking around to provide these “services” for many of your favorite celebrities today.
Fake followers are mainly used to promote an inflated sense of popularity in order to acquire the perks of being an influencer. With a wider audience, many ad companies will look your way to give you a sponsorship so they can promote their own products. You can quite literally “fake it ‘till you make it” using either inactive accounts or bots, which are algorithms that pretend to be a real person on the internet using stole images or names.
The market extends even beyond fake accounts, with fake bidders on eBay listings, fake song downloads, fake sales, in addition to fake engagement. They can be as specific as gender, race, and political persuasion. You can pay for their fake likes, follows, and comments that can be used to amplify a certain opinion or agenda.
While these websites are abundant, influencers require a broker in order to skimp the heightened regulation of fake Instagram followers. Certain vendors have now started to offer “drip followers”, which means that once ordered, followers come in only a handful at a time for a couple hundred days. If there’s a sudden spike in engagement and followers, then this will obviously be fraud.
How common is it?
It’s impossible to delineate when exactly the first-ever use of fake followers was, but it is a widespread phenomenon that has even reached the world’s most popular influencer accounts. As of a 2021 study, Brazilian soccer player Neymar Jr., singer/rapper Nicki Minaj, and influencer Kim Kardashian each have more than the purported 25% average of Instagram influencer fake followers.
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Accounts like these are often used to promote big brand products on the regular and can play a part in swaying audience opinion on sensitive subjects like the pandemic or the election. With 79% of marketing specialists considering Instagram as important for their influencer marketing according to a report by Hypeauditor, it’s important to know how much of that is real.
Continuing in their report, Hypeauditor discovered that about 55.39% of all influencers, from nano to mega, are still involved in fraudulent advertising such as fake Instagram followers. Of all Instagram’s followers that they’ve surveyed, only 55% of them were verified to be real. The other 45% could be either bots or inactive accounts used to sway the real users.
More followers are not always better. Read more about what nano influencers are and why you want to work with them here.
What are companies doing about this?
Since 2014, Instagram has been deactivating “spammy” accounts from their platform, but the business has only grown more resilient in recent years. In 2018, Instagram gave an official notice to third-party companies that create apps for influencers to artificially grow their audience. In the notice, they decreed “We’ve built machine learning tools to help identify accounts that use these services and remove the inauthentic activity.
Instagram only recently released a statement revealing their intent to take cracking down on fake followers more seriously. “We want the content you see on Instagram to be authentic and to come from real people, not bots or others trying to mislead you. Starting today, we will begin asking people to confirm who’s behind an account when we see a pattern of potential inauthentic behavior.”
This was to be done by users confirming their existence using IDs, which would be stored until an internal investigation has concluded. If an account under suspicion doesn’t choose to confirm their information, reprimands include reduced distribution or the disabling of their accounts.
As of a 2019 report by Cheq, $1.3 billion was lost from advertisers and companies’ marketing budgets due to fraud. This was 15% of the predicted global influencer market gross of $8.5 billion. It increased to $1.6 billion in 2020. If this continues, influencers can make a lot of money off the backs of fake accounts given that having 1 or 2 million followers can make them up to $250,000 per post, and micro-influencers with 10,000 followers or more can make up to $250 per post. The detriment this has to the influencer market is only growing, and legal action will continue to take place given the amount of fraud still happening today.
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How to spot fake followers
In order to prevent wasted expenditure on fake popularity, there are certain indicators that you can look out for to identify if accounts are lying to you. There are three main methods of how an influencer can scam you.
One, as mentioned earlier, is automated bots, which can be used to like, follow, or share other accounts acting as a stolen identity. This inflates user metrics and provides a fake image of high engagement on every post. Bots are primarily used to sustain an appearance of authenticity for real audiences and possible sponsors. The image of high engagement and lots of followers will make people think that your influence is real, and will join in with the fake accounts on the likes, shares, and comments. Spotting bots can be tricky. You can click on their profiles to determine if the accounts look legit or not, or you can pay for a social media audit.
Perhaps the most common way to inflate popularity is by simply following fake inactive accounts. These accounts sit in your follower count and only serve as an enticing hook into your credibility. But users with only fake followers usually have a terrible engagement ratio. If you have 100k followers and only get 20 likes on your posts, this is obviously fraud. Usually, these companies are shooting themselves in the foot as they aren’t securing their ROI or increasing their sales.
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False popularity can also come from the efforts of real users with fake motivations. Groups of real accounts can group together without even knowing each other for the sole purpose of dishing out likes and comments in return for the same on their accounts. This isn’t necessarily as bad as the prior two methods, but it is still fake engagement and doesn’t provide you with any substantive addition to your profile.
Are you trying to engage with the followers you’ve built up? Check out our guide to using Instagram Stories to connect with followers here.
We can help
If you need to spot fake followers fast, look no further than NeoReach’s own fraud-detection software. While we have been cultivating a brand safety environment, our AI-based software has proven to distinguish frauds with no monthly commitment required.
Our algorithms can confirm the relationship between an influencer and their audience by studying the fake followers/likes of known bot farms and comparing them to the followers/likes of your suggested account. We verify whether engagements are real before recommending you the right influencers. All you need to do is send us a profile or URL of an account and we will begin scanning their numbers. You just need to buy the credits for the data you’d like analyzed and we will email you the report. If you watch out closely for those fake Instagram followers you will soon know how to distinguish the frauds from the rest yourself!