This year’s Olympics have been hit hard by athletes trying to boost their performance through drug use. All of Russia’s athletes are competing under a generic white flag because the Russian team was banned over its intricate doping program. We see the same kind of deception happening in the field of influencer marketing – when accounts buy Instagram likes.
On Instagram, a platform where more than 100 million pieces of content are posted every day, the competition is as stiff as in Pyeongchang. And just as some athletes turn to doping to improve their performance, numerous Instagram accounts are tempted to buy fake likes in order to appear more popular.
While this strategy might seem like a promising solution at first, it’s not a winning one in the long run. Just as doctors can test for drugs, well-informed marketers can determine which accounts are buying Instagram fake likes. In this blog post, we’ll break down why buying fake likes on Instagram can damage an account’s credibility, and look at how to spot fake likes. We’ll talk about how people are buying fake Instagram likes– and why they really, really shouldn’t.
Why do influencers buy Instagram likes?
When the platform launched its new algorithm in 2016, reach became less important than engagement.
Under the new system, engagement rates are far more relevant, so buying Instagram fake likes seems more attractive than buying fake followers. Getting a lot of likes makes a channel appear more popular and reliable than one with a passive audience.
How influencers buy Instagram likes
Buying fake likes on Instagram means paying money to receive likes on postings or videos. This excludes participating in engagement groups, unless they are based on monetary value exchanges. But how do you get fake likes on Instagram?
By now, buying Instagram fake likes is easy, and there are different ways to do it. If you Google “how to get Instagram likes fast,” you’ll find services like Instamacro or Mr.Insta that provide automated “like bots” for just a few bucks. They basically throw them at you– you’ll even get some for free.
Of course, buying likes can have some benefits in the short term. But just like Olympic athletes, the drugs that can improve performance at first will turn out to be destructive over time. So, here is why buying likes on Instagram is a bad idea.
Four undeniable reasons fake likes on Instagram are bad
1. Fake likes equal fake engagement
If influencers buy Instagram likes they’ll distort their engagement rates. As follower growth increases, engagement rates usually decrease. In other words, it’s easier to have a smaller engaged audience than a larger one.
Engagement is a social media marketing metric that is most often measured by the ratio of likes to followers (the like-follower ratio). The logic goes that the higher the engagement rate, the more that influencer is connected to their audience.
Our data science experts conducted research on how the Like-Follower-Ratio changes in different verticals. The graph below highlights how follower growth impacts the Like-Follower-Ratio.
Accounts that have a large audience and an over-performing engagement rate should raise red flags for marketers or other people looking to determine if an account is authentic. The effects of purchased Instagram likes on engagement rates are so easy to spot that buying fake likes ends up being worthless or counterproductive.
2. The vicious cycle of buying Instagram likes
Fake likes on Instagram are almost as addictive as the drugs of our Olympic athletes. Once influencers get hooked on likes, it’s hard to survive without them. The content that influencers purchased likes for will over-perform significantly compared to the influencers’ other content pieces. Unfortunately for the influencer, this can be spotted easily in the Post Performance of any given post. InfluencerDB’s Post Performance is calculated by the Like-Follower-Ratio and the Like Performance in relation to the influencer’s average likes of the last 4 weeks.
A Post Performance of 1.20, for instance, is great, while a Post Performance of 20.00 is unmistakably fake.
The moment influencers stop buying likes their engagement rates will drop significantly. Likewise, you can’t remove fake likes on Instagram and a lot of them are likely to come from bots or lousy accounts who make you appear inauthentic. So it’s better to avoid getting caught in the cycle by not buying fake likes to begin with. The distortion of metrics like the Post Performance or the Like-Follower-Ratio will be easy to spot for marketers.
3. Risking terms of service violations
Getting fake likes on Instagram is a violation of Instagram’s community guidelines and terms of service. Instagram strives to eliminate fakers and is interested in finding any party violating Instagram’s standards — remember the Instagram purge of September 2016? Instagram also takes legal action against bot-like services– two of these services, MassPlanner and Instagress, have had to shut down already.
Influencers and any channels that buy fake likes run the risk of being deleted by Instagram. Likewise, engagement rates for accounts that have purchased fake likes will drop overnight if bot-like providers have to stop their services.
4. Fakers make lousy campaign partners
The combination of everything we’ve talked about so far adds up to an influencer who will not make a good collaborator. Fake engagement, a reliance on the continued use of fake likes to keep numbers up (the vicious cycle), and the risk of account deletion make influencers and businesses who buy fake likes bad prospects for brands seeking partners. Influencers who buy fake likes are lousy for partnerships with businesses since their quantitative engagement doesn’t reflect their actual performance.
As influencer marketing continues to professionalize and data-driven analyses are increasingly in demand, it will become even easier for marketers to spot accounts using fake likes.
The main consequence for influencers is that businesses won’t work with them because they appear inauthentic.
Brands who buy Instagram fake likes will have trouble identifying and understanding the values and preferences of its real followers since it won’t be able to tell what content is actually valuable.
How to detect fake Instagram likes
Being able to detect fake likes on Instagram should be a crucial part of every marketer’s procedure when analyzing influencers. If you are curious to learn more about spotting fake likes on Instagram, we’d recommend our blog post, How to detect fake influencers in 9 easy steps. In general, you should analyze the two main engagement rates: Like-Follower-Ratio and Post Performance.
Authentic influencers and honest Instagram business channels strive to become acquainted with their audience. They know their audience and are aware of the content that their followers prefer. In contrast, buying fake likes means buying likes from an unknown audience who is either cloned, artificial or don’t actually care about the content. The fake engagement strategy can be detected with quantitative analyses, meaning that accounts using fake likes can be spotted easily.
So, even though “doping” Instagram engagement could seem like a quick solution, it’ll also make an account worthless. As in the Olympics, fair play pays off in the end.