Marketers beware: things aren’t always what they seem. Instagram influencers with large followings and strong engagement figures can be fakers trying to dupe the unwary. Don’t pay for influencer campaigns that are never going to generate a strong return on investment. To improve your chances of identifying fake influencers, you first need to know how to spot fake Instagram followers. Here are 10 telltale signs to watch out for.

10 Ways to Spot Fake Instagram Followers

No Profile Picture

Genuine Instagram followers usually enjoy sharing a bit about themselves. They express their personalities or interests through their profile pictures and short bios. One way to spot fake Instagram followers is to look for ones without profile pictures.

No Posts

Few Instagram users sign up just to follow content published by other users. Most share images of their kids, their day out at the beach, or even what they had for lunch. It’s a red flag to those trying to spot fake Instagram followers if a user has no posts at all.

Private Profiles

Of course, some people genuinely value their privacy. They create private profiles so that only people they know get to see posted content. But you may find some influencers with an audience comprised predominantly of private profiles. They should raise a few questions about how genuine that audience is.

Spam Usernames

This one’s a bit trickier to spot. That’s because a great many genuine usernames look a bit spammy. Coming up with a username is often a personal process. Users may need to make concessions to get something close to what they want, such as adding additional numbers or characters. But the username often reflects the content the user posts. For example, someone who is interested in miniature war games might have a username such as @AlwaysPlayingWarGames. Conversely, fake accounts usually have names that come from a random name generator. They have no relationship with the content the account creates or follows, and frequently don’t make sense.

#Followback

Some fake followers aren’t actually fake at all — they’re real people who just aren’t interested in what the influencer has to say. On Instagram, a popular method for building an audience quickly is to enter into like-sharing and follow-back agreements with other users. Content creators insert a hashtag such as #followback into posts, indicating that if someone follows them, they will follow that person in return. This is an effective strategy for building an audience quickly, but it means that many of the followers are only doing it as a way to improve their own profiles. If you find an influencer who always uses the #followback tag, and who has a lot of followers who also use the #followback tag, then it’s a good bet that the influencer is not as influential as they may first appear.

Fan-Buying Services

The desire to have a large following has created a marketplace for businesses that sell audiences. Users pay a fee to receive an influx of new followers. If you identify influencers following or being followed by some of the fan-buying services, it’s likely they’re artificially growing their audiences.

Rapid Audience Growth

It takes time to build an audience. Organic growth means a steady drip-feed of new followers over weeks, or even months. Circumventing this process by purchasing a block of followers from a fan-buying service is usually easy to spot, as a large group of followers swells the influencer’s audience instantly.

Audience Location

Celebrities and high-profile influencers have worldwide appeal, but there are many micro-influencers who work at a local level. If you would expect an influencer to have a predominantly local audience, but they actually have followers from all around the world, it’s possible some of those followers are fake.

Level of Engagement

Influencers with the skill to build an audience should also have the skill to engage with that audience. If content creators have exceptionally low levels of engagement, it may indicate that a lot of their followers aren’t genuine. But be aware that engagement drops as an audience grows, with users with less than 1,000 followers generating comments 0.5 percent of the time, compared to users with over 10 million followers generating comments 0.04 percent of the time.

Comments

Clicking a “like” button is easy, but leaving a comment takes more effort. Good influencers generate plenty of comments, which include meaningful discussion of the content. Watch out for spam comments created by bots, which are usually generic phrases (often including emojis) that might not always seem to relate to the content.

Final Thought: Due Diligence to Spot Fake Instagram Followers

As of July 2018, Instagram is the sixth most popular social media platform, with one billion active users. That’s a huge market to tap into, and it’s no surprise that 100 percent of influencers use Instagram as a way to interact with their audience. But popularity comes at a cost, and Instagram is a prime target for fake influencers to ply their trade.

While Instagram does work to limit the use of fake accounts, money is a great motivator, and the people behind such accounts are always finding new ways to remain undetected, even going so far as to employ real people to keep accounts updated so they look genuine. Learning how to spot fake followers on Instagram is an important skill, and you should always do your due diligence.

Research influencers carefully before you decide to work with them, and build a strong working relationship based on trust, not easily falsified “facts” such as audience size or number of likes and shares. If you’re struggling, invest in some automated tools that track users and identify red flags.

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