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How Instagram Influencers Are Adding to the Ad Fraud Problem

November 15, 2017

It’s 4:15 p.m. and you’re hitting the proverbial wall. You take a break and start scrolling through your Instagram feed. You notice your friend from college has 2.7 million likes on one of her posts.

Curious, you ask her how she’s earning such high engagement? She explains that she tags different brands in her Instagram posts. She calls herself an Instagram influencer and says you can be one, too. And oh yeah, she’s made $129,000 so far. Naturally your eyes bug out.


But you soon realize if there’s any chance for you to also rack in the dough, your 800 followers need to increase to at least 5 million and fast. And the only way to do that is to buy them like your friend does. It’s shady, but the possibility of earning thousands of dollars a month is enough to push you over the edge. Temptation + Money = Fraud.

This is just one way fraudulent Instagram Influencers are born. Here are a few other ways they’re gaming the system and why it’s adding to the ad fraud problem.

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

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They Inflate Authenticity

Authenticity is based on the amount of followers you have. The higher the follower count, the more legit you appear to be. Buying fake followers is the easiest way for an Instagramer to quickly achieve a large following.

Opportunities to buy fake followers are everywhere; that’s not an exaggeration. These are just the results from the Google Play Store. Ironically, marketers are more likely to go after these influencers based on their ‘authenticity.’ Watch out marketers, not everything is always what it appears to be.

They Use Instagram Bots

Bots are also an easy way for Instagram influencers to beat the system. They can give the influencer fake followers, likes, and comments. And they can also be used to automatically comment and like a post that has a certain hashtag. If you hear the term ‘botting,’ this is what it’s referring to.

Related Post: 5 Ways Malicious Bots Can Devastate Your Online Presence

This sort of engagement can be exciting for marketers. Until they realize the engagement is fraudulent, and they’re receiving no return on Investment.

Even worse, an influencer you’ve hired to advertise your product could be using a bot that automatically comments, “Great pic!”, on a political post because of a hashtag they’re following. And we all know how touchy politics are right now.

Not a very good look for your brand.

They Join Insta Pods

On the lesser degree of fraud, Insta Pods are a group of real people agreeing to comment and engage with content in order to beat the Instagram algorithm. Basically, the group tricks the algorithm into showing their posts in the discovery feed.

The first 15 minutes of a post are critical. If you have enough organic engagement in this time period, you can trick Instagram into thinking the post is high quality. Meaning your post will be shown to more of your followers and Instagram users across the board.

Brands are more oblivious to this type of fraud because there are no ways of telling whether a user is part of these groups.

Remember the Warning Signs

If you’re a marketer who still wants to take the Instagram influencer plunge, remember to look for these warning signs.

Unrealistic Ratio. The easiest way to tell if an ‘Influencer’ is faking it is to look at their ratio of followers vs who they’re following. If they have 100 million followers and they’re only following 15, it’s likely they’re fraudulent. Unless they’re Beyonce, but there’s only room for one Bey out there.

Nonsense Followers. Take a look at those followers they’re claiming to have. Let’s say you’re considering a beauty influencer who lives in Chicago. Make sure their followers are relevant and U.S. based. For instance, if you’re seeing Australian wildlife accounts comprise 90% of their followers, that’s a red flag.  

Irrelevant Engagement. You can see their posts are getting comments and likes, but have you delved into these engagements? Give it a look just to be on the safe side. Do the comments match the content or did they use an irrelevant hashtag to attract the bots?

Related Post: Marketers Admit They’re Clueless About Ad Fraud


Remember as a marketer, you don’t want to be wasting your ad dollars. And as a brand, you don’t want to end up in a sticky situation you can’t get out of. Be safe and look in all those hidden corners. You never know what’s lurking. Ad fraud isn’t only subject to fake clicks.

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