Here’s the complete guide to identifying Instagram fraud for influencer marketing professionals. We show you how to detect fake influencers and keep your influencer marketing money well-invested in nine easy steps.
To demonstrate how to easily separate fake influencers from those with real value, we compare the fake Instagram account @calibeachgirl310 to the fake-free channel of top influencer @leoniehanne. The fake channel we use for the following analysis was set up by influencer marketing agency Mediakix for their sensational fake influencer experiment.
Nine easy steps to detect fake influencers on Instagram:
- Check for a high audience quality to detect fake influencers.
- An authentic influencer’s follower growth is stable and consistent.
- Daily follower changes can reveal whether an influencer has purchased followers.
- The like-follower ratio shows how active an influencer’s audience is.
- Check the earned media value – the ultimate metric to define an influencer’s value.
- Video views should show a reasonable reach.
- Comments should be rich and diverse.
- Genuine influencers are also visible on other social media platforms (e.g. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter).
- Google results should show valuable external mentions.
1. Audience Quality
An influencer’s audience quality grade is the best parameter to detect fake influencers and is a must prior to every brand partnership. The higher the score, the better. InfluencerDB offers access to every influencer’s audience data with a premium subscription. This metric alone will reveal whether an influencer reaches valuable users or fake, inactive or unsuitable users.
Here’s a comparison of top influencer @leoniehanne (left) and Mediakix’s fake channel @calibeachgirl310 (right), which has now been disabled. The difference in audience quality is striking!
Audience Quality of @leoniehanne vs. @calibeachgirl310
At first glance, you can see that Leonie Hanne’s audience is much higher in quality and that the majority of her followers are of very good and good quality, while @calibeachgirl310’s audience is mostly bad or very bad.
2. Follower Growth
Tracking an influencer’s follower growth helps you reveal whether they purchased followers. Ideally, their follower growth graph should proceed like @leoniehanne’s – evenly and without major upwards or downwards spikes.
Follower growth graph of @leoniehanne vs. @calibeachgirl310
In contrast, @calibeachgirl310 shows a choppy channel growth. The account gained most of its followers during the first two months of its existence and growth is stagnating ever since, indicating inorganic, paid influencers.
3. Daily Follower Changes
Another way of spotting fake influencers is tracking daily follower changes. Because Instagram only displays the status quo of a channel’s follower count, comparing follower loss and gain with the aid of InfluencerDB helps you detect Instagram fraud.
Daily Follower Changes of @leoniehanne vs. @calibeachgirl310
While @leoniehanne shows natural follower changes by gaining similar amounts of new followers each day, @calibeachgirl310 adds large numbers of followers – in this case through buying them – and then loses them again over time.
Apart from the followers, the follows are worth having a look at as well. If influencers constantly follow and unfollow high amounts of channels, they probably abuse follow-for-follow tactics to increase their follower base.
4. Like-Follower Ratio
An influencer’s general activity and the engagement of their followers reveal if the influencer is truly able to inspire their audience. But our examples show that the like-follower ratio alone is not enough to detect fake influencers.
Engagement metrics of @leoniehanne
Engagement metrics of @calibeachgirl310
Leonie Hanne’s like-follower ratio of 4.9 % is decent considering her exceptionally high amount of followers. In general, the like-follower ratio decreases with the amount of followers an influencer has. In this case, @calibeachgirl310’s engagement rate is higher than @leoniehanne’s like-follower ratio. Considering the other indicators, it is most likely that the channel not only bought followers but likes as well.
5. Earned Media Value
Real and successful influencers have a great standing within the influencer universe. Thus, they are frequently mentioned by other channels – both influencer and brand channels. This is reflected by the accounts’ earned media values (green and red columns in image below). Leonie Hanne’s earned media value clearly mirrors this fact.
Earned Media of @leoniehanne vs. @calibeachgirl310
Having no earned media value at all (that is, not being mentioned by other channels ever), as is the case with @calibeachgirl310, is rather uncommon for influencers and should ring your alarm bells.
6. Video Views
In an exclusive InfluencerDB interview with fitness brand Paragon Fitwear’s Jeffrey Serini, the marketer highlighted the importance of video views:
“Videos are a good indicator of how authentic the audience is. If an account supposedly has 300,000 followers and only 5,000 views on a video, then that is a red flag and could be a problem. While someone with 50,000 followers and 40,000 views on a video, that is fantastic!”
But as with any other kind of audience engagement, video views can be bought on the cheap, so that marketers must be wary when interpreting view counts.
Leonie Hanne gathered over 200,000 views for the video displayed below. This equates to over 11 percent of her followers, which seems valid considering her followers’ general engagement and her like-follower ratio of 4.9%. As @calibeachgirl310 did not post any videos, a direct comparison is not possible in this case.
Looking at the comments that influencers get on their posts can be a qualitative way of detecting fraud. However, we highly advise against solely relying on this method but considering it in the mix of data points.
Comments on @leoniehanne’s profile vs. @calibeachgirl310’s profile
While @leoniehanne’s followers are very engaged in the comments and directly refer to her content, the majority of comments that @calibeachgirl310 gets are unrelated and disposable. Comments like these might be an indicator for an influencer’s use of fake comments or engagement groups. Additionally, when clicking through some of the commenters’ profiles, you might spot fakes pretty fast.
Also, pay attention to whether a lot of commenters are influencers or users with audiences of a similar size. More and more “wannabe” influencers engage in groups with other upcoming influencers to exchange comments in order to increase engagement on their channels.
8. Other social media profiles
Most influencers do not limit their presence to just one social media platform but are active in numerous social networks.
Social media profiles of @leoniehanne
Besides Instagram, Leonie Hanne has a strong following on her blog, Facebook and Twitter, which mirrors her high value as an influencer. Not surprisingly, @calibeachgirl310’s only social media presence is her (fake) Instagram channel.
9. Google Results
It might sound almost too easy but a simple Google search might do the trick to detect fake influencers (or at least raise suspicion). When searching for Leonie Hanne on Google, almost 1.5 million results come up.
Compared to that, searching calibeachgirl310 results in 25,000 hits, but apart from the fake Instagram channel, all of them revolve around the news coverage of Mediakix’ experiment.
When following these 9 steps with the support of InfluencerDB, detecting fake influencers will no longer be a mystery! But we highly advise always following more than one step as looking at only one of them might lead to wrong assumptions. Visit @leoniehanne’s index page on our InfluencerDB platform and explore her influencer marketing metrics yourself. It’s completely free!
This article was originally published on August 21, 2017. It was updated on July 13, 2018.