Fake followers: What you need to know

Influencer marketing has taken off as brands’ favored strategy for generating new leads and sales due to its “word of mouth” appeal. Yet as more brands spill their marketing budgets into the influencer space, there are increasing occurrences of influencer fraud – also known as fake followers fraud. Here’s what you need to know about this internet marketing trend that, unfortunately, is highly common.

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What are fake followers?

The fake follower or influencer fraud epidemic usually involves a brand paying an influencer an impressive sum to achieve a certain engagement rate based on their number of followers, which never comes to pass because most of the influencers’ followers are actually bots or “fake” people. In addition, there are influencers who have purchased fake followers in order to improve their influencer status or even just to increase their air of popularity. Once discovered, fake followers can be detrimental to an influencer’s reputation and authenticity, and highly expensive mistake for brands to make. That’s why brands should look at a few other indicators, or use a fraud detection solution like IMAI’s, to verify the authenticity of an influencer before beginning to work with them.

How does it impact brands?

First off, it can cost companies up to 15% of their marketing budget each year. As brands pour their marketing budgets into the influencer space, they look to engage the influencers with the largest number of followers. However, this can be a trap because followers aren’t the only indicator (or at least they shouldn’t be, as we’ll show below) of an influencer’s potential for engagement. Take the Ritz Carlton, for instance, one of the largest and most prestigious hotel chains in the world. It was reported back in 2018 that they hired influencers with up to 78% fake followers, which not only had an impact on the success of their marketing campaign, but tarnished their brand’s social media presence for some time.

Second, one of the biggest issues with fake followers is that brands invest in engagement that proves worthless. An influencer with a large number of fake followers won’t reach targets and won’t noticeably improve a brand’s sales. Influencers that help brands increase the ROI on their marketing investment have genuine and authentic relationships with their followers. They respond to their comments and DMs and show engagement with them on their stories (polls, live experiences, etc.) and other content.

Finally, and as mentioned above, it can do damage to a brand’s reputation on social media networks. Investing in an influencer with fake followers, if discovered by consumers, can make brands seem like novices on social media networks. Because social media networks have already been around for some time, and have become somewhat of an art, users want to see brands doing cool things to grab their attention, and investing in an influencer or bot with fake followers seems like a novice’s mistake.

What are the signs of fake followers?

So how can brands spot fake followers?

One way is to use an influencer marketing automation solution like IMAI’s, which is one of the only solutions on the market to provide brands with an indication of how many fake followers each influencer listed on the platform (over 120 million of them!) has. IMAI’s industry-standard fraud detection gives each influencer a credibility and fake followers ranking so you can get an idea off the bat of how much of your marketing budget could go to waste by investing in that influencer.

Other signs of fake followers that brands should look out for include:

  • Very low or very high engagement rates. If the influencer has a low engagement rate, that means that its probably a fictitious profile. If it has a high engagement rate, it could likely be a bot. Instead, look at the number of followers versus other forms of engagement, like comments or likes.
  • Irrelevant and out-of-context comments. Fake followers will usually leave comments that have only emojis and no real content, contain short, common and repetitive phrases, or have nothing to do with the post/influencer.
  • Lots of followers, but very few or no follow-backs. Fake followers will have a very skewed follower to followee ratio, usually having a very large number of followers, but not following many profiles back. This could be a tricky indication though because sometimes celebrities and mega influencers have a large number of followers and only follow their family or friends directly.
  • Generic or random Instagram handles. People put a lot of effort these days into crafting the perfect Instagram handle so someone with a lot of fake followers could have a strange handle that doesn’t seem to make much sense, usually just a bunch of letters and numbers thrown together. 
  • Private accounts. This could be another indication of fake followers, but only when taken together with other indicators on this list. A lot of users on Instagram have private accounts, with some estimates reaching 300 million profiles.


Discovering that your brand has engaged an influencer with fake followers can be troublesome to say the least, but using an influencer marketing solution that provides detailed data on influencers and their followers, it is possible to avoid fraud and weed out the genuine stars from the fakes.