6 ways to spot a fake social media influencer (Instagram)

How do you spot a fake social media influencer on Instagram who has bought their likes and followers and duped companies into putting their reputation into their entirely inexperienced hands?

Influencer marketing on Instagram can be a huge drain on your resources and a massive waste of time – or it can be one of the best marketing tactics you’ve ever used. If you’re going to work with an Instagram influencer, here’s what you need to do before sealing the deal:

1. Evaluate their engagement rate

It’s easy to make snap judgments on the qualification of an influencer by looking at their follower numbers, likes, and comments, and it’s true that all of these can give you some helpful insights – but only when you also look at engagement rate as well.

If you can see thousands of followers but not many likes per post, that’s not a good sign. If there’s an impressive number of likes on the post your potential influencer posted yesterday, but only 5-10 on the posts from a month or so back, those likes have probably been bought from a dodgy site selling fake engagement from bot accounts.

Accounts with weird names including numbers (e.g. Born2018SXT) or a lot of accounts that have no profile pictures, it means those followers/likers were bought.

2. Check if their community is active

Community is key when evaluating an influencer profile. You want to make sure that there’s a real conversation happening between the influencer and the community with a more personal message than “thanks.”. This means that majority of comments from the influencer’s followers are genuine (and not two-word, spam comments or obscure emojis).

If comments aren’t referring to what’s actually going on in the post, you can assume that they’re automated by bots. And an audience of bot accounts is not going to bring you any joy (money). Big accounts are bound to attract some spam, notwithstanding the influencer in question is not a fake, but you’ll be able to authenticate an account from the comments.

3. Make sure their follower growth is steady

The same rule applies to follower growth as to account activity such as likes and comments. A sudden and significant spike in followers over one day? They’re sure as hell not real. Sudden and significant drop in followers (we’re talking thousands) over one day? It could be the result of Instagram cleaning out blacklisted, bot accounts that the ‘influencer’ previously bought.

Bot accounts can’t be influenced, and fake engagement can’t be monetized, so walk away now. Besides, it’s not just about numbers: 5000 engaged followers are more valuable than 500,000 bot accounts. As with everything, quality beats quantity.

It is possible to gain a lot of followers organically, but difficult ever since Instagram stopped showing posts chronologically in the feed. Normally follower growth of a real influencer should be steady and fairly consistent.

4. Do some snooping on Google

A quick Google search is pretty much the answer to everything. Well, kind of. If you search your influencer’s name, you can get a good idea of their authority outside of Instagram too, which can also be useful when deciding who to collaborate with. Are they present on other channels? Do they have a loyal following on Facebook or Twitter or YouTube?

Check out their earned media value, which can include mentions and backlinks from other brands and influencers. It might be that their following off Instagram isn’t as big, but having an online presence that goes beyond Instagram alone can be a good indicator of authenticity.

5. Look into what they’re promoting

Look for posts tagged with #spon, #sponsored or #ad in their feed, and check out who they’ve collaborated with previously. Are the products they promote consistent with their personal brand or do they put their name behind literally anything, from toothpaste to car tires? If it’s the latter – avoid!

A good influencer will be selective with what they promote because they value their personal brand and they know their audience. No self-respecting influencer would promote something that their audience wouldn’t be interested in (or even actively against) for fear of alienating them and damaging the relationship they’ve worked tirelessly to build up. You can also check out the posts they’ve been tagged in to see which brands collaborate with or endorse them, or even just repost their content.

6. Ask for proof  

Finally, it doesn’t hurt to ask what results they generated from previous collabs with other brands. Fair enough, the responsibility to evaluate a campaign doesn’t lie exclusively with the influencer – it’s also up to brands to make sure the success of a campaign is measurable, by providing specific discount and tracking codes, among other things.

A good influencer should be able to back up their worth with some basic stats at the least, such as how many followers were gained for the brand they promoted throughout their campaign, how much referral traffic was generated to external sites, and so on.

So, those are the basics. If you check off each point from this list before entering into an influencer collaboration, it will be a sure-fire success…well, pretty much.

Guest post from Godfrey Omanga, LinkedIn.