Influencer Marketing Best Practices Top Tips Social Media Marketing

How To Spot A Fake in The Crowd

Our tips on spotting influencer fraud - from illegitimate infuencers to fake followers, here are the warning signs to look for

Our tips on spotting influencer fraud - from illegitimate infuencers to fake followers, here are the warning signs to look for

Influencer marketing is copping a lot of flak and influencer fraud is at the crux of it all. Old-school marketers don’t consider influencer marketing as a legitimate marketing channel. Somehow “influencer fraud” has become the scapegoat to explain why this kind of marketing hasn’t been working, or why it is not worthy of budget.


The stumbling block of fake followers has suddenly morphed into a pandemic and influencer marketing has been exiled as one big fraud. So how did we get to this point?


The accepted “rules” of marketing through social media state that the number of followers an influencer has is or should be equivalent to how much they are paid. This notion stems from the concept that reach always equals value. However things are slowly starting shift as marketers look beyond reach and begin to truly understand the influencer marketing landscape.

Here it is important to consider that:


1) Reach is a vanity metric and doesn’t mean much as an isolated data point

2) Reach can be easily manipulated


Fake followers and fake engagements can be purchased at a click of a button, so follower counts are longer the be all and end all. Instead of chanting ‘shut it down, shut it down’ marketers need to know how to detect influencer fraud and identify fake followers, in order for the new era of influencer marketing to emerge.


So, how do you detect influencer fraud and what does a 'fake follower' actually look like? Here is your go-to guide to identify and remove fraudulent influencers from your influencer marketing lists. 

Some red flags to be wary of when looking to partner with a particular influencer…

The follower vs following ratio

Look at how many accounts the influencer is following, and compare that to how many accounts they are followed by – for example, if they have 5,000 followers but are following 7,000 accounts. One of the 'black hat' practices of hacking reach is to use automated programs to follow hundreds, or sometimes thousands, of accounts at a time in the hope of them following you back.


This is a pretty strong indicator that a portion of the followers are fake or have been recruited in an unauthentic way.


Look at engagements on their content

This warning sign might be hands-on to detect, however, it’s an important step in identifying whether an influencer has fake followers and/or fake engagements. Look at the influencers content and how people engage with it – is it genuine or is it forced, automated or just plain weird? Use the following guide to identify fake engagements, which generally point to fake followers.


Fake comments are (typically):

  • A single emoji or a string of emoji’s 
  • A string of characters that don’t make up a  word
  • A generic word/s like “hot” or “love”
  • A comment that is not relevant to the post
  • A comment generated by a bot or algorithm

Real comments are:

  • A comment that is genuine and clearly a response to the image or caption

In isolation, one or two fake comments might not be a bad thing, however if you can see these types of engagements consistently and on multiple posts, consider it a glaring warning sign. If you see lots of genuine engagements, then your influencer has passed this part of the test.


Quality content over quantity

A legitimate influencer will have quality content to satisfy their followers. They will take pride in creating high quality content because they know this is what their followers best engage with. If an influencer is receiving great engagement for posts that are shabby, impersonal and have no thought behind them, then it’s a good idea to take your investment elsewhere. You can fake followers and engagement, but you can’t fake high quality content.


Look at the data

The Scrunch Power Plan provides audience analysis insights on all Instagram Influencers. This plan gives  marketers the data they need to detect illegitimate influencers based on the demographics of their audience. Age range, location, gender and interests of the audience are important to consider here to understand whether an influencer has an authentic following and ultimately, whether the influencer reaches your target market. If an influencer from New Zealand has a high volume of followers in Brazil, but no connection to Brazil (i.e. they are not Brazilian and don’t travel to Brazil frequently) that is an indication that a portion of the followers could be fake. Think about whether it makes sense for the influencer to have followers in the region, and if it doesn’t, consider it a warning sign.


Similar results can be attained if an influencer was to turn their personal Instagram account to a business account and share their data with brands (keep in mind the data on all platforms might be different because each one calculates metrics differently).   

And some red flags when looking at the followers of an influencer…

If you are still getting shady vibes from an influencer and you can’t make a conclusion  based on the tips above, turn to their followers to get more of an insight into whether their following is authentic or corrupt. This process is a little more manual, but shouldn’t take long to identify whether the followers are real people, or fakes.


Here are some questions to ask yourself when looking at the followers of an influencer: 


  • Are they following a lot of accounts? If the user following thousands of accounts and only has a couple of hundred followers, this could be a warning sign that they are a bot account used to follow a bunch of accounts to increase the follower count.
  • Is their profile incomplete? Without a profile picture, a name or a bio, it is right to question whether the follower is a real person. Fake followers may have numbers as their usernames, use a generic name or incorporate random objects in their handle, and their profile will likely be incomplete or random.
  • Do they have any posts? A fake follower can be flagged when an account has no posts, or only a handful of posts. This indicates they are not an active user.
  • Do they look spammy? You know when you get that feeling in your gut that a website, an email or a Facebook post is spammy? Apply that gut feeling when looking at the followers of an influencer and if they look spammy, then they probably are.

Here at Scrunch we are strong advocates for keeping the industry clean and setting a standard for influencer marketing around the world. Whilst these measures aren’t definitive, they can give a strong indication as to whether an influencer and their followers are authentic. Although influencer fraud may seem to be rifling through the industry right now, if you know best practices and use data to shape influencer selection, then influencer fraud will not impact your influencer marketing efforts.  


Stay alert and happy Scrunching!

Our top tips to detect influencer fraud