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Protect From Fake Influencers, Bots, and Instagram Ad Fraud

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Thanks to influencer fraud, brands could be wasting up to $500 million dollars per year on fraudulent influencers.¹ As influencer marketing becomes more and more popular, marketers need to be vigilant.

Influencer fraud happens when a shady influencer inflates their authenticity, making their follower count or engagement rate appear higher than it actually is. This makes things complicated for marketers who want to gain exposure to the influencer’s audience, but may find that the audience isn't legitimate.

Here’s what you need to know about influencer fraud along with ways marketers can be proactive fight against fraud.

Related Post: Instagram Hacked? Here's What You Need to Know

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What Is Influencer Marketing?

Influencer marketing is when companies hire individuals who have gained popularity by creating content on social channels, to carry out marketing campaigns. An influencer is someone who can influence people, and their job is to influence their followers on behalf of your brand.

These individuals can range from micro-influencers with a few thousand followers to large Instagram stars boasting millions of followers.


Millennials are Instagram’s largest audience, and 70% of them are more likely to pay attention to a non-celebrity influencer, rather than a famous celeb.³ This is what makes influencer marketing so powerful.

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The Fraud Problem

The problem at hand: fake influencers, inflated authenticity, and bad bot habits. Where there’s money to be made, fraud often follows, and big ad campaigns create a steep incentive to fake popularity.

Shady influencers use fraudulent methods like internet bots, purchasing fake followers, or buying engagement to inflate their credibility. Not only does this violate Instagram’s terms and conditions, but it creates a huge problem for marketers.

Fortunately, marketers are getting wise to fraudulent influencers by using tools and research to verify legitimacy.

How Marketers Can Put an End to Influencer Fraud

Fake influencers can be difficult to spot since high performing numbers can be faked. Here are some ways marketers can separate the real from the fake:  

1. Audit Them

There are many online tools (e.g. IG Audit) that allow you to run audits on Instagram users.4 These tools will give you information on average engagement and can estimate what percentage of a user’s followers are real.

2. Use a Verification Tool

There are many companies like Sylo or Linqia that help brands verify authenticity. These resources aim to save your ad budget through authenticating digital influencers. These options aren’t foolproof, so make sure you do your own research as well.

3. Look at Their Follow Ratio

Pay attention to how many people they are following versus how many followers they have. An unrealistic ratio might be a sign of fraud. If a so-called influencer has a million followers and is only following 47 people, that should raise a red flag. Quantity doesn’t equal quality.

4. Check Who Follows Them

If you scroll through their followers list and every couple followers is a new account that looks fake and has only a few pictures (or none), they may have purchased followers.

5. Monitor Engagement

Generic comments such as “Awesome page!” or “Love this post!” are types of comments often left by bots. If they are leaving these kind of comments on other users’ content, that should raise a red flag.

6. Demand Transparency

Brands need to dig deeper to authenticate the influencers they decide to pair with. Don’t focus on vanity metrics. Ask for deep analytics reporting and get to know the influencer’s personal brand, so you can establish a mutually beneficial relationship.

Use Influencers Wisely

An influencer’s best asset is authenticity. Don’t give up that powerful attribute because of a few bad eggs.

By knowing the tell-tale signs of influencer fraud and avoiding vanity metrics, you'll be able to separate the fakes from the real ones. Double-checking can potentially save you time and money in the long run. Influencer marketing isn’t dead, as long as marketers use it effectively.

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