How to identify fake influencers?

by | Jan 16, 2019 | Influencer Marketing | 0 comments

Just last year Mediakix did a two-month experiment by setting up two fake influencer profiles on Instagram, 1) a lifestyle and fashion-centric Instagram model and 2) a travel and adventure photographer. The two accounts were filled with purchased fake followings and engagements.

At the end of the experiment, these two accounts secured four paid brand deals, two for each account. For each campaign, these “influencers” were offered either monetary compensation, free products, or both.

But the story did not end there as over time the story hit the news but Instagram did not remove the accounts. That led to another series of posts from Mediakix as the travel account, wanderingggirl, emailing 3- and 4-star hotels and restaurants for free stays or meals in exchange for a social media post. Again, the result? Four free stays and dining credits or meals in seven restaurants.

As a brand, engaging with an “influencer” who buys followers and fake engagements is like fishing without bait. Fake influencers make lousy collaborations, their quantitative engagement does not reflect actual performance because let’s be honest, bots do not visit your website or purchase your goods.

We have written about how working with an influencer is a good way to expand a brand’s audience but just like everything else, it has its pros and cons. Imagine spending money on an influencer with a set of ‘ghost’ followers. Influencer marketing is predicted to grow into a $2.38 billion industry by 2019 and the waste for brands sponsoring influencers with fake followers could be as high as $100 million.

In a rapidly growing industry, we need standards and solutions to tackle these challenges. Marketers today have three choices at their disposal to overcome this:

  1. Analyse the shortlisted influencer profiles yourself using the metrics below.
  2. Analyse the shortlisted influence profiles yourself, but use a web-based tool to help save some time.
  3. Outsource the task to a competent agency of your choice. Let us know if you need recommendations.

In all of these cases, once the list becomes large the task becomes increasingly difficult to manage unless your team is large. Hence, it is probably wiser to run fake audience checks in the latter part of the process when the list is shorter. Alternatively, you can use a tool that helps, to shortlist the profiles with the lowest number of fake followers/engagements, to begin with.

Here are the top 5 signs that your influencer is likely a fraud:

1. Engagement Rate

An Engagement Rate that is unusually high or low in relation to the account’s following may indicate that your influencer is buying fake followers or engagements. For instance, a 100k influencer with an engagement rate of over 100% raises a red flag and you should have a second look before engaging. As stated on Hypeauditor, the global Instagram engagement rate is currently at 1.66%.

Another sign is that the engagement from each post may be a little too consistent, authentic influencers’ engagements vary from one post to another. Engagement per post differs somewhat due to timing, location and other factors.

How to calculate engagement rate?

We’ve done research in Malaysia and Singapore to find out the average engagement rate using the country’s top influencers.

2. Content-to-Follower Ratio

Influencer’s stardom usually does not grow overnight. To build an authentic sizeable following takes years and many fail regardless.

Many authentic influencers today have spent years posting quality and relevant content to build a fan base. It is very unlikely an authentic influencer has only posted a couple of times and has a huge number of followers. Unless you’re one of the Kardashians.

3. Follower-to-Following Ratio

Authentic influencers typically follow less than 5% of their audience. Many people don’t appreciate a messy feed these days. Anything larger may indicate foul play like buying followers or even using the classic, “follow-unfollow” method.

Queen Bee follows no-one though… just because she can.

4. Follower Check

Select a random batch of followers of the influencer and click on the profiles. Chances are you’ll see something like below. Odd pictures, weird usernames and a low number of posts. This is likely bot behaviour.

It’s likely impossible to check this on a grand scale with too many followers but again helps to understand which accounts to keep a lookout for.

5. Comment Inspection

You can sometimes even spot this half blind. Ever see tonnes of comments within the same post like, “Great!”, “Like this!”, “Love this!”, “Dope”, or even “Wow! Nice shot!” for a picture so irrelevant to the picture of, for instance, a broken arm or a sick child? Well, those comments are your biggest indication that your influencer is a fraud.

In addition, it’s a red flag when the post is flooded with different languages in the comment section.

What if my list is all macro-influencers or just too long?

We’ve checked a couple of companies that use a system to detect fake followings and engagements and we’re quite impressed with HypeAuditor and their detailed reports.

It’s important to mention that we don’t have any relationship with Hypeauditor and just like their product. We also ran manual tests with several profiles to see if their algorithm does a proper job.

Audience demographics aside, the system manages to identify the percentage of audience type (real people, influencers, mass followers and suspicious accounts).

11.2% of 28.2 million is over 3.1 million suspicious accounts and THAT’S A LOT of accounts. But on the contrary, this doesn’t mean that this specific account is a fake influencer given that 2.9% (over 800k) of her followers are influencers.

The report from HypeAuditor is comprehensive and with the percentage of influencers in its ‘Audience Type’, we definitely recommend it for bigger brands and campaigns to help you engage with influencers that have influencers of a certain percentage in their audience type.

What challenges have you faced with influencer selection?


  • Mediakix did an experiment and set up two fake influencer accounts. It resulted in four paid brand deals.
  • Influencer marketing is predicted to grow into a $2.38 billion industry by 2019 and the cost of purchased or fake followers to brands and businesses could be as high as $100 million.
  • Five obvious ways to spot fake influencers:
    • Engagement Rate
      • Engagement rates that are unusually high, unusually low or even just too consistent are suspicious.
    • Content-to-Follower Ratio
      • Stardom does not grow overnight. It takes years for authentic influencers to post consistently.
    • Follower-to-Following Ratio
      • Authentic influencers typically follow less than 5% of their followings.
    • Follower Inspection
      • The absence of profile pictures, nonsensical usernames and/or a low number of posts are true signs of these accounts being bots.
    • Comment Inspection
      • Generic comments like, “Great!” or “Love this!” are highly likely to be bought engagements.
  • For macro or long lists of influencers, it is easier and faster to check in a system like HypeAuditor.


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