Best Practices

Spotting Fake Instagram Followers Using 6 Data Points

By Editorial Staff

Working with social media influencers can be an excellent way for your brand to augment social proof, connect with your core audience, and expand your brand reach. But, as these opportunities become more lucrative for the influencers, some may be looking to inflate their numbers with fake followers, often referred to as “bots”.

Since reach and engagement with real customers is the primary motivation for any brand engaging in influencer marketing, this deceptive practice can be detrimental to campaign ROI, as highlighted by a recent HuffPost article:

What do customers [influencers] receive with such a service? Well, to sum it up: just a number. In actuality, these followers won’t be reposting any of the user’s content, initiating a conversation, or favoriting tweets and posts. All it does is show an immense following.

In particular, Instagram follower inflation is on the rise. So, it has become increasingly important for brands and agencies to vet the influencers they plan to activate. To help, we’ve pulled together six data points you can use to determine if your brand influencer is on the up and up.

The Law Of Averages

Data Point 1: What is their average audience engagement rate? Once you have identified the social media personalities that are right for your next influencer marketing campaign, it’s important to review their average audience engagement rate. Specifically, you are looking for huge discrepancies between high follower counts and low engagement rates. Since engagement rates vary from platform to platform, and there are exceptions to every rule, you’ll want to use your best judgment here. But, if you notice that an influencer is averaging  low engagement across all of their social media posts, then it may be possible that there is an inflated or fake following and you may need to examine their audience more closely.

Pro tip:

Use this formula to calculate an influencer’s average engagement rate on Instagram:

Now, to help you determine how an influencer’s average Instagram engagement rate stacks up against industry standards, we’ve compiled the following chart:

Number of Instagram Followers Average Expected Engagement Rate
0 – 1K 14.01% Engagement
1K – 5K 10.84% Engagement
5K – 10K 6% Engagement
10K – 50K 4.07% Engagement
50K – 100K 2.83% Engagement
100K – 500K 1.21% Engagement
500K – 1M 1.05% Engagement
1M – 10M 0.98% Engagement
10M+ 0.95% Engagement

Do The Fans Have Profile Images?

If you notice an influencer’s Instagram account is on the thinner side of engagement, it’s time to take a closer look at the fans’ profiles. This will help you determine if engagement is naturally low for this influencer or if your assumptions are valid.

When reviewing follower accounts, it’s important to keep the following questions in mind:

Data Point 2: Can you match a face to a name?  This one should be pretty easy to notice. Not having a profile picture is an indicator the account is either not in use or is a bot — Equally detrimental to a campaign.

But, doing this one-by-one can be cumbersome. That’s why  we created a tool that easily checks an influencer’s entire audience.

Pro tip:

You can email us at anytime to get a free report for an influencer’s account.

An Instagram Account By The Numbers

Data Point 3: Is there a disproportionate number of follower? For instance, if a user has only 200 followers but is following 15,000 people, you should be concerned this is a fake user account.

Data Point 4: How old are the accounts? New accounts are created everyday for the purpose of mass following, provided by a number of online service providers…. Arrrrgh! Although a low account age does not make a profile fake, it definitely raises a flag.

Checking an account’s age is simple and a variety of tools allow you to do so. The only bottleneck is that they would have to be checked one-by-one. Luckily, we have also created a tool that checks the account age of an influencer’s entire audience (email us and we’ll send you a report for free :))

Data Point 5: Are the accounts active? Posting frequency is another easy way to know if an account is active. Low activity does not necessarily mean fake. But, you may ask yourself, “Why are they even here?” There are many that browse Instagram without posting too often. So post frequency should only be used to support other red flags.

Data Point 6: Are the accounts posting too much? It’s also a good thing to know if a fan is posting 10-15x a day. This means they are spending most of their time posting and not engaging with the influencer(s) they are following. Another ROI killer.

Using An Automated Tool

If calculating engagement rates and searching through follower accounts aren’t your thing, there are some great tools available to help you determine whether an influencer’s followers are real or not (Again, you can shoot us an email with a username to analyze and we’ll send you a free report on any Instagram influencer).

*Data from NeoReach

If you have suspicions about an influencer, you can review their average engagement numbers directly from the NeoReach dashboard or dive deeper into each influencer’s audience makeup. Things like demographic composition, reach, and even past campaign performance are discoverable within our platform.

Final Note

As a disclaimer, there are going to be exceptions to the rule, so be sure to do your homework before jumping to conclusions.

This is why we highly recommend using your best judgement alongside powerful tools to research and verify your influencer audiences before initiating any campaign. Doing so effectively ensures you are on your way to partnering with a valuable brand ambassador and sets your campaign up for maximum success.

This article was written by Editorial Staff

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