Influencer marketing has been growing incredibly fast over the past few years, and its appeal and effectiveness have been piquing the interest of brands and marketers alike. This rapid growth has also spurned creators into growing their own online profiles, attempting to expand their followings into that of the social celebrities they see earning big paychecks for brand deals on social media. With follower counts and engagement becoming more important than ever, it has become increasingly difficult to understand exactly what’s organic and what’s not these days.

With more people than ever are seeking fame and fortune on Instagram, and the platform has become filled with fake followers and inauthentic engagement from creators looking to accelerate the process of growing their social profiles into prolific channels. It’s for this reason that it’s important to perform an audit before trusting any influencer.

The Rise of Fake Influencers

According to research from HypeAuditor, over 50% of influencers on Instagram are known to be fraudulent in some sense or another. A majority of nano influencers (those with 1k-5k followers) are categorized as fraud-free at 51.3%. However, micro-influencers (those with 5k-20k followers) tend to show the highest number of fraudulent followers, with up to 71% of these creators having fraudulent metrics. And these numbers aren’t limited to influencers in the U.S.

Fraudulent influencers in other countries have also increased over the past two years. Outside of the U.S., countries like the UK, France, and Germany have seen an increase in fraudulent influencers, aka an increase in the number of influencers who employ fraudulent growth techniques. Research indicates that approximately 40% of influencers in these countries are considered authentic and do not engage in any inauthentic ways to grow their audience or engagement rates.

Given these statistics – and the exponential growth of influencer marketing – it’s become imperative for businesses and brand marketers to verify that an influencer’s following and engagement are genuine before partnering with them.

Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to quickly spot a fake influencer, and how to vet out these inauthentic creators.


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How To Perform an Influencer Audit

Here’s how you can differentiate fake influencers from the real ones.

Look For Odd Follower-To-Engagement Ratios

Fake influencers typically have unusually low engagement rates in comparison to their large follower counts. While just about anyone with enough money can purchase thousands of fake followers, getting those fake followers to engage with their content is another story.

To help gauge the authenticity of an influencer’s engagement, you must compare their engagement rate against that of their following. These are the basic steps for calculating the average engagement rate:

  1. Divide the total number of engagements within the last 30 days by the total number of posts during the same time frame.
  2. Divide this number by the total number of followers.
  3. Multiply this result by 100 to create a percentage amount. The resulting figure is the average engagement rate over the past 30 days. 

Knowing the engagement rate of an influencer alone is not a completely sufficient means of assessing the authenticity of an influencer. Having a clear idea of industry benchmarks is also important, so you have something to compare against. Engagement rates vary according to many factors, including industry, following size, and other considerations.

Look Closely at Audience Quality

The authenticity of influence on social media can be largely tied to the quality of an influencer’s audience. It can tell you a lot about what they have to offer your brand in terms of true influence. That’s why an audience quality analysis is crucial in spotting fake influencers and inauthentic engagement.

Through the use of tools like Influsoft, you can thoroughly analyze the follower profiles of any public Instagram account. This can be vital in differentiating real users from bot accounts, and it gives you a strong estimate of how many real followers an influencer has. With that said, every social media profile is somewhat susceptible to bot followers, so it’s unrealistic to expect every single follower on someone’s account is 100% a real person. If their engagement rate aligns with the averages listed above, it is a good starting indication that their audience metrics are likely genuine.

Keep An Eye Out For Sudden Spikes in Follower Counts

Looking for a surefire sign that an influencer has bought followers? Look for a sudden surge in followers. In most cases, a sudden spike in followers is likely an indication that bot accounts have started following an account after they paid for followers. Authentic influencers most often experience a gradual, steady increase in followers, with a few minor deviations from time to time.

In some cases (though rare), these sudden surges can be the result of a piece of content that the influencer published going viral. But as many of us know, virality is not easily achieved. Also, in situations where an influencer goes viral, their follower counts often continue to gradually increase; even after the spike. What you should keep an eye on is a sudden surge followed by a gradual (or even drastic) drop off in follower count. This is likely a sign that an ‘influencer’ has purchased fake followers.

Examine an Influencer’s Engagement Quality

Engagement rate is a key indicator of the authenticity of an influencer. However, it’s not always a failproof method. It’s not just fake followers that can be purchased these days. Some of these disingenuous influencers have also resorted to purchasing fake engagement, or participating in what are known as ‘engagement pods’ to help boost their engagement rates.

In the case of fake influencers, keep an eye out for an abundance of emoji-only comments and/or generic comments that could apply to just about any post. Generic comments come in many forms but often are sayings like “amazing shot”, “nice”, or “great pic,” etc. They don’t say anything specific as it relates to the content itself, yet is versatile enough to fit just about any post. This is typically an indication that these comments are coming from bots or fake followers.

Brands should also be wary when an influencer seems to get a bunch of comments from the same group of people in all of their posts. If you notice this trend, it’s highly likely they’re an active member of an engagement pod. The necessity for organic engagement on social has led to the emergence of engagement pods over the past few years, and they are arguably more rampant than ever. These pods are comprised of individuals who have agreed to engage with each other’s posts in order to boost their engagement rates.


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