How to Audit Potential Influencers for Fake Followers

Social media has become a fixture in our lives. We use it to stay connected when we cannot be physically together and to connect with those who we might never meet physically.

It’s created an environment where just about everyone has a voice. This means there are more diverse discussions because a handful of media organizations are no longer the only ones initiating these conversations. This has given brands and individuals alike the ability to start conversations that matter to them.

Fake Followers Are Established

It has also spun a strange new phenomenon, one that is not new but has settled into the fabric of social media conversations.

The issue of fake followers entered public discourse in a major way in 2018 when the New York Times broke a story, which revealed that as many as 15% of all of Twitter’s users were bots and not actual humans. It also estimated that there were 6 million fake accounts on Facebook around that time.

There’s even an art installation that allows user to type their usernames into a machine, allows them to choose how many followers they’d like to buy, and it will put those followers into their accounts. Check it out here:

We wrote about how the fake follower phenomenon was changing the landscape of social media marketing. You can read that article here. If you don’t want to dig that deep, here’s a brief summation of our conclusions:

  • Organic followings take longer to build (but it’s worth doing)
  • Buying fake followers is a good buy (meaning those that bought followers often made more money than they spent)
  • Bot accounts play a massive role in our public discourse (influencing what is trending or popular on social networks)

Influencer Marketing Is More Important Than Ever

Since 2018, influencer marketing has continued to grow. In a recent study by Linquia, 57% of marketers plan to increase their influencer budgets in 2020. Check out this breakdown of which channels marketers planned to use their influencer marketing dollars this year:

More and more marketers are spending more and more money on influencer marketing. How do fake followers tie into this dynamic? A wannabe influencer might buy fake followers to boost their numbers, which impacts their reach and the likelihood that a brand will pay an individual to be an influencer.

But fake followers don’t add value to the brands investing in influencer marketing. Fake followers don’t see your brand, they don’t truly engage with an influencer’s posts, and they certainly don’t buy anything.

So while fake followers appear to widen the reach of influencers, the only true value that might give to brands is that buying fake followers might increase the likelihood of that same influencer getting real followers.

For brands trying to pay influencers to promote their brands and offerings, it is critically important for influencers to have a majority of active, human followers. Some fake or inactive followers are okay. So what should you do to vet an influencer you’re thinking of offering a sum of money to promote your offering?

Choose a Channel

Make sure the influencer you are considering is truly an influencer on the channel that matters to you and your customers.

Be sure that you don’t take a Twitter influencer and try to use them to access an audience on Twitter. Many influencers are influencers on several channels, but you want to ensure that they reach your audience.

Calculate Their Engagement Rate   

Due to Instagram starting to hide the number of likes and comments from users, it will be harder to determine the engagement rate for an account that isn’t yours. But it isn’t impossible. This is done by using the following formula:

You may be able to do this without the influencer’s interaction, but if not, offer to help them do it. A good influencer has nothing to hide and knowing their engagement rate will be valuable for you both.

To show you how this works, I’ll share a recent post from my Instagram page:

This post, as of 2pm on July 2, had 108 likes, 6 comments, 2 shares, and 3 saves, which comes to a total of 119 total interactions.

Sum of interactions you received on your latest post: 119

Total number of followers when the post was published: 1,420

This equation looks like:
(119\1420) x 1000 = 83.8

That means for every 1000 followers I have, 84 engage with my posts.  The average engagement rate is 1% on Instagram and 0.13% on Twitter. My recent post is slightly below that rate.

The higher the engagement rate, the better the influencer is at getting their audience to interact. If the influencer you’re vetting has lower than average engagement rates, you might want to consider that they could have fake followers or otherwise disengaged followings.

Check Their Historic Follower Data  

There are tools that do this. You could ask an influencer to see their follower metrics, or you could use a tool like the one SocialBaker created.

There is also this tool from MoDash that provides an Instagram follower audit for free.

One thing to keep in mind with these tools is their methodology for calculating fake followers. There’s a now infamous tool called Twitter Audit that Twitter and many others have pointed as wildly inaccurate on larger accounts. Why? Because Twitter Audit uses a sample of followers and not the entirety of the follower bank to make its calculations. Read more about fake follower counter inaccuracies here.

Fake followers are here to stay, no matter how many times the social media giants try to wipe these accounts from their platforms. Be sure to audit your accounts for fake followers, as well as any influencer you want to pay to promote your offerings. It will save you money and frustration because fake followers become fake leads, which will never result in a sale.


Let us know what you think: 

  • Are you considering spending more on influencer marketing?
  • Do you have a vetting process in place for potential influencers?
  • Do you already use influencer marketing? How has the ROI been?



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