Social Media Fraud. How Many Influencers Have Fake Followers and Why the “Inflated” Numbers Affect You
47% of Instagram users in Romania artificially increase their number of followers (fake followers), using various fraudulent tactics.
(Source: HypeAuditor & MOCAPP Report – Romania, October 2020)
What are we talking about when we say “Fake Followers”? What does “fake” mean in the context of Social Media and Influencer Marketing?
The context of online fraud is wide: we are in danger of being fooled all the time.
Table of Contents:
1. What is the stake in “inflating” Fake Followers numbers
2. What are the fraud methods used
3. Why is follow / unfollow practice incorrect
4. How does follow / unfollow practice affect you
5. What activities fall into the category of grey practices, on the border between fake and authentic
6. What is the engagement you can expect
7. How can you avoid influencers with fake followers
It’s getting harder and harder to protect ourselves. We live in a world where phishing attacks are already ordinary, such as emails received on behalf of a bank where we are asked to send the PIN or move our money to other accounts.
We are surrounded by fakes – perfumes or other luxury products that look like the original, but are not. There are online stores that never send products, but take the money from the card. And many fake news sites releasing invented, but perfectly packaged content in order to mislead us.
If you work in marketing or PR or you are the manager of a business that needs a campaign to increase its visibility, traffic or sales, you may be affected by other methods of fraud. In this article, we discuss about fake followers and fraud methods used by influencers to have higher numbers, both when it comes to followers and engagement.
From this article you will find out the methods by which they managed to falsely beautify their accounts for those who run campaigns.
What is the stake in “inflating” Fake Followers numbers?
First, as we know from police movies, to find the killer we need to understand the motives behind the crime.
Who uses data inflation? Is it personal pride? Maybe. It doesn’t hurt to brag among friends that you have many followers, like a star.
But a stronger account means more valuable contracts with material or financial benefits.
Market growth is directly related to cost-per-post value.
The value of a sponsored post is directly influenced by the average number of interactions per post and the number of followers. This is why fraud has become so widespread: unscrupulous people buy comments, likes and block comments, so they can take more money from brands.
Influencer marketing budgets have been on an upward trend in recent years, reaching worldwide, in 2019, a value of 5.29 billion dollars just for Instagram. It is estimated that by 2020 the industry will not fall below 5 billion dollars, despite the crisis caused by the pandemic.
At this moment, according to data from September 2020, we refer to 4,359,000 Romanian Instagram accounts, respectively 23.5% of the country’s population, according to HypeAuditor, which quotes Nepoleoncat.com.
- 22% have between 1,000 and 5,000 followers
- 44.9% have between 5,000 and 20,000 followers
- 26.4% have between 20,000 and 100,000 followers
- 6.3% have between 100,000 and 1,000,000 followers
- 0.37% have over 1,000,000 followers.
The HypeAuditor report, the leading international company that audits the audiences of content creators on Social Media shows that almost half of them did not have the patience to reap the benefits of a sustained activity, constantly creating quality content to grow a real community. We will make this report available to the public in November 2020, as being the only Romanian partner of HypeAuditor.
Thus, 47% used at least one method of fraud to enter the radar of companies and have paid campaigns.
What are the fraud methods used?
The methods of deception are part of a wide range of faking, from buying bots to grey areas, such as Facebook groups where links are given to members’ request to interact with the post.
The most used methods of fraud in Social Media are:
• Buying followers
• Follow / Unfollow
• Buying likes and comments
• Buying story views
• Obtaining interactions through groups of micro-influencers.
Why is follow / unfollow practice incorrect?
If in the case of buying fake followers, the whole community of influencer marketing specialists agrees that it is an incorrect practice, being an obvious technique to submit a false report to a company in order to obtain a certain contract with a certain cost, when it comes to follow / unfollow, things are more profound.
HypeAuditor frames the technique to SPAM. As sending SPAM by email does not mean direct marketing, but is a practice legally framed as a crime, and follow / unfollow is banned by Instagram. However, the legislative environment evolves with the industry and we can expect new definitions and new penalties, as the world around us changes and social media creates, here are new realities and new possibilities to deceive.
How does follow / unfollow practice affect you?
Follow / unfollow is a practice by which, using applications created for this purpose, an account follows and interacts with other accounts and then, in a few days, unfollows.
Instagram has announced that it will artificially and intentionally decrease the reach of influencers who use special applications to increase their statistics.
So, if you collaborate with an influencer who uses such practices, in addition to the fact that your sponsored message will reach few potential customers, there is also the risk of having a negative impact on the brand.
One way to detect fraud is to graph the level of increase in the number of followers or the engagement over a certain period of time. Any abnormal growth can arouse suspicion.
Over 15% of Instagram influencers in Romania have suspicious increases on their evolution charts.
Who follows and then unfollows?
Fake followers fall into two categories:
- Mass followers. Instagram users with more than 1500 followings are identified as Mass Followers.. It is unnatural to follow so many accounts organically and Instagram has unmasked the technique by which, with the help of automated tools, they follow an impressive number of accounts after which they currently unsubscribe.
- Suspicious accounts. These are either bots or fake accounts – created to monetize their activity or broken accounts.
What activities fall into the category of grey practices, on the border between fake and authentic?
Just as the follow / unfollow technique is condemned as long as special tools are used in order to increase the number of followers, no other techniques are seen with good eyes because they exploit the good faith of other users or small vulnerabilities of the platform.
Therefore, HypeAuditor considers the following practices to be incorrect:
• Comments where other users are tagged artificially
• “Giveaway” contests that require users to follow and comment with tags to friends
• Spam comments – left for the sole purpose of bringing users to their own account
• Comments, likes and follows as result of group posts where interaction is explicitly required to increase customer-reported statistics
When HypeAuditor evaluates the authenticity of comments, several factors are considered, including the quality of its content.
Comments that are considered suspicious:
• contain only emojis or general words like: wow, cool, fantastic, etc.
• are monosyllabic or irrelevant to the discussion aroused by the post
• contain only a tag to the user / other users
Until now, didn’t you think that a giveaway is an incorrect technique?
The very idea of giving a gift to people in the community is praiseworthy and, of course, HypeAuditor does not qualify any competition as fraud. However, if among the requirements for registration are:
• follow one or more accounts,
• Like some profile posts and
• leave tagged comment on multiple accounts…
then the intention to increase the number of followers and the engagement is obvious and it is not correct towards those who succeed in this through constant activity and the creation of interesting content.
What is the engagement you can expect?
The interaction rate or engagement rate is the ratio between likes + comments and followers. With this report, you can find out how many of those who follow an influencer feel so close to him that they comment, answer his questions, make wishes or compliments, or simply like him.
HypeAuditor analysed all Instagram accounts in Romania and was able to come up with these averages of interaction rates that can help you, on the one hand, to correctly set your expectations, to strategically choose the type of influencer you want to work with according to goals, but also to be able to observe when an influencer delivers suspicious reports.
How can you avoid influencers with fake followers?
Careful analysis of an influencer’s profile (see the article “What are the qualities of a true influencer?”) helps, but it is not enough. Considering our experience, running over 900 influencer campaigns in the last 7 years, we can tell you that no matter how careful you are, you can miss a lot.
You need a lot of data and insights about each audience to have a complete picture of the added value that a collaboration with them can bring. MOCAPP can help you navigate among the hundreds of content creators relevant to you, with data that shows who can help you grow the image of a business or make higher sales, but also who should be avoided because he has fake followers.
Invest wisely and strategically in influencer campaigns
When we talk about the current figures, over 3,400,020 accounts created in Romania have over 5,000 followers. Therefore, it is impossible to deeply document yourself and make a strategic selection for your campaigns without a partner with experience in the field and data about the most important and relevant influencers.
You need MOCAPP to build a campaign that comes with the results you want. Try our platform too. Sign up for a FREE test account here!