The term growth has a positive connotation when you think about it. No wonder people say “The more the merrier”, right? But if it is fake growth, the term does not seem to be that alluring any longer – fake growth sounds inauthentic and forged! In this article, we will discuss organic versus inorganic follower growth rates: How can fake and organic follower growth rates on social media affect your influencer marketing campaigns and how can you detect them?
We will focus on three different types of growth which are important for brands to be aware of in the sphere of influencer marketing: Organic growth, inorganic or fake growth AND the betwixt and between.
What is organic follower growth?
An organic follower growth rate means that an influencer attracts more followers over time with his or her content, gains more attention, and becomes more popular. Follower growth of a brand account can also be an indicator of attracting more potential customers!
Example of organic follower growth © InfluencerDB
Organic follower growth is key for collaborations. Steady follower growth rates are highly advisable for influencer marketing campaigns.
What is inorganic growth?
Inorganic growth refers to follower growth that is not natural but forged. In contrast to organic growth, inorganic growth is faked by buying followers. Most of those fake followers are bots. Some might argue that it is still growth, no matter what. The main concern though is that those accounts are not genuine followers who are honestly interested in the content the influencer shares. So it is unlikely that an influencer with fake growth is reaching your potential customers.
For detecting inorganic growth, it is helpful to analyze an account more extensively. The first indicator for purchased followers from a quantitative point of view can be a sudden follower drop followed by a negative growth rate.
Example of fake follower growth © InfluencerDB
Instagram deleted bot accounts in September 2016. The deletion of thousands of fake channels affected the follower numbers of those accounts that had purchased fake followers beforehand. We assume that this is what caused the sudden decrease displayed by the graph above. It seems likely that the influencer continued to purchase fake followers in the aftermath of the Insta Purge, but lost some of them again soon after. Only a few months later was the influencer able to reach a regular, organic follower growth again.
Are some growth rates too good to be true?
Another indicator for fake follower growth are growth rates which just seem too good to be true!
Example of fake follower growth © InfluencerDB
This influencer has currently about 45k followers on Instagram and her growth rate of 61.6% is skyrocketing.
If you read our blog post about sussing out growth, you already know that we evaluate growth rates from as low as 2% (poor) to >7.5% (very good). Thus, a growth rate of 61.6% seems rather unrealistic and quite suspicious.
As the graph above shows, the influencer’s follower growth is quite erratic and shows striking upwards spikes, some drops, and stagnation. This is everything BUT organic!
To validate this assumption, an analysis of the daily follower changes is essential because another indicator of fake follower purchases are drastic ups and downs in the daily follower changes.
Daily follower changes © InfluencerDB
The right column represents the daily follower increase (green) and follower loss (red). For this influencer, the numbers do not only differ drastically but are unrealistically high, especially the two metrics indicating a follower increment of 24k in only two days.
Additionally, nothing is indicating that she was mentioned by other huge channels. Being mentioned by extremely popular channels and thus raising awareness of one’s channel could explain a certain amount of follower growth. Also, there is no sign of a giveaway which could be another possible reason for sudden follower growth. But yet, this amount of follower growth is highly unrealistically and cannot be organic.
In the case of most influencers, it can be difficult to tell that their follower growth is not organic when just taking a look at the content and the follower numbers. As Instagram only displays the status quo of a channel, an in-depth analysis is necessary for the detection of forged follower growth rates.
For other influencers, a simple look at the quality of content is enough to become suspicious about the authenticity of follower growth.
Neither FAKE nor ORGANIC – The betwixt & between
We differentiate a third group regarding follower growth: Those influencers who are neither fake nor 100% organic. They use certain strategies to grow their account. Those strategies include follow-for-follow abuse .
The upside of channels using this method is that the gained followers are actually real human beings and no computer generated bot accounts. So they are, to a certain extent, more valuable than purchased follower bots.
The downside is that those followers are not necessarily authentic fans of the influencer’s content. They might follow for a while but might just as well jump off anytime due to lack of interest for the channel.
Furthermore, social networks like Instagram and Twitter do not approve of these strategies. Instagram emphasizes: “don’t participate in any “like”, “share”, “comment” or “follower” exchange programs”. Especially Twitter is quite distinct about prohibiting those actions and refers to the follow and unfollow strategies as “aggressive follow churn”.
How to detect the strategic player
Those influencers usually have a constant, linear growth rate. So the best way to distinguish channels that use the follow-unfollow strategy is to take a look at the daily follower changes.
Example of follow-for-follow abuse © InfluencerDB
Usually, the follows numbers are suspicious by showing remarkable shifts. To learn more about how to detect follow-for-follow abuse, have a look at this blog post.
Organic growth, fake growth or betwixt and between – what does it mean for your brand?
DON’T PANIC, IT IS ORGANIC: We do not need to tell you that it is best if an influencer has an organic follower growth. Generally, those followers are genuine fans who are interested in the content. In this case, the influencer is likely to be a successful testimonial for your brand because the channel has a rather high influence on the followers.
FAKE GROWTH RATES, in contrast, are a bad catch because the followers are not real. Influencers with fake follower growth rates will not reach a wide range of people even though the number of followers might seem promising at first. But the truth is that the audience is smaller than you think. If you are just seeking for a good content creator and, thus, reach is not a decisive factor for identifying an influencer, you might just get along fine with those influencers. But keep in mind that people might disdain the influencer after figuring out that the channel’s follower growth is fake.
THE BETWIXT AND BETWEEN: Equally to those influencers that have fake growth rates you need to ask yourself: How can this influencer support my brand, what can he or she do for me? Take the best out of it but consider the circumstances! Followers will not be highly authentic, honest or engaging. This means that the followers do not necessarily match your target group, which, on the other hand, does not necessarily exclude the influencer as a content creator for your brand.
This article is part of our current series which concerns follower growth on social media. This series revolves around the following topics:
- Grow and Develop – Why follower growth is essential on social media
- Sussing out growth – How to interpret follower growth rates
- Follower growth stagnation – How does it occur and what does this mean for an influencer?
- Negative growth – How does it occur and what does this mean for a channel?
- Fake vs. Organic Follower Growth – How to detect inorganic growth rates
- Sources of follower growth – Which factors boost a channel’s growth?