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The Fraudulent Influencers Costing Marketeers Millions With Fake Followings

Updated: Mar 16

How much money are brands spending on influencing fake accounts?

It’s been estimated that a whopping $1.3 billion US dollars will be spent on influencer marketing by brands in 2019, according to a report by Cheq. With more and more brands and social media agencies capitalising on the influencer marketing space, the amount is only set to grow in the coming years.

It’s been found by Musefind that 92% of people trust recommendations from influencers over an advert or celebrity endorsement, so it’s no wonder that this unique form of word-of-mouth marketing is booming and a lucrative emerging method of marketing that can reach a wide audience and have a big impact.

However, it’s not breaking news to discover that a lot of influencers with large followings on social media have a lot of followers who we’d class as fake - as in they aren’t real people. It’s pretty easy to set up an account on social media platforms, all you need is an email address and a few photos, then you’re free to like and follow away. The more followers or engagement you receive on your posts, the more legitimate and influential you would appear to be.

And yes, it is fickle to look purely at these metrics to glean a quick insight into a profiles legitimacy. In fact Instagram are currently trialing hiding the number of likes on posts in certain countries.

How to spot a fake account or following

We’d hate for you to spend your precious marketing budgets working with influencers who have a large fake following, and aren’t going to give you as big a return on your investment as you might hope. Alternatively, you should be aware of this before working with them so you have a realistic idea of how many impressions you are likely to get from the real people you’re trying to reach with your campaign, and can reward them accordingly.

It’s usually pretty easy to tell if a social media profile is fake or legitimate, but here are a few pointers:

  • Look at how many followers they have compared to how many they are following

  • Look at how many followers they have in comparison to how many images they’ve posted.

  • Look at their profile picture, is it a real person?

  • Look at their posts, do they seem spammy at all?

  • Look at their name, is this a human name or a fake one?

When assessing a potential ambassador/influencer for your brand to work with, it’s also important to check the legitimacy of their profile, too, and that of their followers. There are many tools to help check if an influencer has a fake following, or has bought likes, comments, shares, and other engagement. Lots of these tools do require payments, but it’s worth the investment if it could save you time and money in the long run.

How to choose which influencers to work with

When choosing who to work with, it is completely down to your campaign goals. Is your goal to gain as many impressions as possible within a specific area? Then try working with an influencer who does have a large following and whose posts gets lots of organic impressions. Or is your goal to gain sales for a particular product? Then try working with an influencer who has a dedicated following who trusts their influencers product suggestions.

Influencers can be divided into 3 main groups by their size: micro-influencer, macro-influencer, and a mega-influencer. A micro-influencer would typically have a very small and dedicated audience of between 500 - 10,000 followers. A macro-influencer would have a larger audience of between 10,000 and 1million followers. And a mega-influencer would typically have over 1million followers.

Always check the percentage of real and fake followers on an influencers profile. I think it would be almost impossible to find an influencer with a 100% real following, but starting by looking at 60-70% of a real following would indicate an influencer has a large amount of real followers, giving your campaign real impressions by those you’re targeting.

It’s also worth looking at an influencers engagement rates too. If they have a large number of followers and post regularly, but have low engagement rates, this should raise a warning flag. E.g if an influencer has 50k followers, but their posts are regularly getting less than 100 likes, you should question this.

On the other side of the scale, if they're getting very high engagement rates, you should check the validity of this, too. Do the profiles of those liking, commenting and sharing the posts look fake at all? It’s always worth spending some time looking at an influencer's social media platforms and seeing the type of profiles interacting with it. Who is liking posts and commenting, and are these the type of people you’re trying to reach for your brand or campaign?

Why Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Often a brand may only want to work with influencers with a large following to get their message out to as many people as possible. However, there is no easy answer to the size of influencer you should work with; it truly depends on your brand, and campaign goals.

As a social media agency, Spin Brands would always suggest to work with influencers who truly embody your brand and values. You want someone who knows your products and understands your messaging, tone of voice, and vision. You want someone reliable, with an engaged audience, who will help you to achieve your key performance indicators (KPIs).

If your goal is to sell a particular product, then you need to weigh up your options. Working with one large mega or macro-influencer means that posts will have more impressions, but would this lead to more sales? Alternatively you could you work with multiple micro-influencers who have a more dedicated following that are more likely to trust the recommendations of an influencer. This decision is completely up to you, and in this new world of influencer marketing we are all still learning. You can always try one option, and if it doesn’t give you the results you were after, don’t be afraid to try other options. For more info on how to measure the success of your influencer marketing you can read our recent post here.

How big of a problem are fake followings?

Here the stats speak for themselves. CBS news has reported that 15% of spend on influencer marketing is lost to fraud. Research from US cybersecurity firm Cheq has estimated that $8.5 billion will be spent this year to pay influencers in exchange for social media posts, and that $1.3 billion of this will be lost on fraud.

This isn’t just an issue in the US. In the UK, research found that almost every contestant on ITV reality TV show Love Island had boosted their Instagram followers, and that 50% of their following was fake.

With fake account and fake followings being seen on all social media platforms, what are the platforms themselves doing to combat this? Between October 2018 and March 2019, Facebook said it removed 3.39 billion fake accounts. This is double the number of fake account removed in the previous 6 months. However, this doesn’t seem to have quelled the number of fake accounts popping up, and this will be an interesting space to keep an eye on over the next few years.


In conclusion, there's no doubt that money is being spent on influencers with large fake followings. Marketers need to be aware of this and alter their spends, or chose which influencers they are working with more carefully.

It’s not too difficult to spot a fake account, and social media networks are taking steps to cull these accounts. However, it’s going to be impossible to eradicate these accounts completely, and whilst it’s relatively inexpensive to pay for followers and engagement, it’s something influencers are bound to do.

Check who is following and engaging with an influencer before you decide to work with them, and don’t be afraid to cut ties with an influencer who is not bringing the results you desire.

Your budgets are precious and should be spent on those who are going to give you results.



Spin Brands Ltd -
Mercury House




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