The bigger the number of followers, the better the influencer.
By now, we’re all aware that this is a one-sided and only somewhat-true statement. While the number of followers is certainly important, the quality of engagement and content is what truly matters.
Over the past year, several cases have popped up in the news of reporters purposely creating fake influencer profiles to see if they were able to land partnerships with brands based solely on the number of followers they had. The results of these investigations were alarming and point to the importance of being able to spot genuine influencers. Otherwise, brands can fall into the trap of investing in the wrong relationships.
So do you know a red flag when you see one? How do you identify whether an influencer is “real”?
How to Spot Influencers with a Real Audience
1. Engagement Rate is key
When someone has a high number of followers but a low engagement rate, it’s bound to be a red flag. True Instagram influencers are those who genuinely connect with their audience and generate a proportional amount of likes and comments.
So what do we mean by proportional? As a rule of thumb, accounts with between 100,000 and 1 million followers will have about a 2 percent engagement rate. For example, an account with 200,000 followers should generate roughly 4,000 total likes and comments on each post. Note that engagement rate drops as follower count increases — so accounts with less followers will usually have slightly more engagement.
If the engagement rate is extremely low, it suggests the person doesn’t have an audience who genuinely engages with them or their content.
Also be wary of engagement rates that are far above average: this can also signal that the likes and comments have been acquired artificially.
2. Be aware of the follower spike
Another trick for spotting fake instagram followers is to look out for sudden spikes in follow count. While some leaps in numbers can occur naturally — for example, when an account is featured in the media or tagged by another influential account — it’s usually possible to spot when the spike is organic. Legitimate growth tends to occur in multiple smaller spurts over time. A huge spike in followers out of nowhere is a good indication that the growth is inorganic.
3. Check the follower to following ratio
Unauthentic profiles are often those who have an unnatural follower-to-following ratio. Bots, for example, often follow thousands of accounts (because that’s what they’ve been created to do) but have hardly any followers themselves (because who wants to follow a bot?)
User accounts that belong to real people, meanwhile, will normally have a following ratio that’s closer to 1:1.
Genuine Instagram influencers are of course the exception. They might have a million followers, and yet only follow a few hundred people themselves. This is completely normal and to be expected. If, on the other hand, a supposed influencer account is following thousands of people or more, you should be wary and delve deeper into their profile to check for suspicious activity and inorganic growth.
4. Look for Content Quality
Another thing to check when sniffing out unauthentic accounts? Quality of content.
For one thing, Instagram bots often have suspicious-looking profile content. The bio section of their profile might be completely empty, plagiarized from elsewhere, or filled in with strings of foreign characters. Absence of profile pictures can also be a red flag, since genuine users will normally want to engage visually with the platform by uploading a photo. Same goes for accounts having zero or very few photos posted to them: a true and engaged social media user will normally be active in posting content.
Secondly, look at the quality of comments being posted. If an “influencer” account has dozens of spammy comments that consist of a few generic words (like “nice pic” or “love it”) followed by a string of emojis, you can be almost certain that the comments have been left by bots.
5. Reach out to the Influencers
One final way to find out if the large numbers on an Instagram account mean influence, or mere purchasing power? Reach out to the influencers. Ask them questions. Gauge, from your interactions, how real and how engaging they are.
An Instagrammer with an organically-grown following and genuine powers of influence will know and understand their own audience. They’ll know their own brand. And if they’ve been in influencer marketing for a while, most likely they’ll be able to supply details of past collaborations and campaigns, including case studies of how successful they were and how much engagement they generated.
When in doubt, turn to data
Identifying unauthentic Instagram accounts is one thing, but selecting influencers with a real organically-grown following can be much more complicated. Nowadays it’s far too easy for Instagram users to purchase followers–ones who even appear to be genuine. Taking the above tips into account, and especially relying on data, will make sure you engage with the right influencers.
Wondering how? At Launchmetrics our team of Data Scientists have developed an algorithm which can quickly pick up on red flags to detect spam and fake followers, all possible through the analysis of profile history and engagement metrics. Find out more about how this works here.