Don't Get Catfished By Fake Instagram Accounts

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Fake Instagram accounts are a big problem.  OK, it’s not famine or nuclear war but it’s a big problem for advertisers. How do they know if the influencers they’re using are real?

Influencer marketing company Mediakix released an interesting study this week. They created two fake accounts: A lifestyle influencer and a travel photographer. They hired a local model and had a one-day photo-shoot that generated the entire lifestyle influencer’s content. For the second account, they used free stock photos of scenic destinations, such as Maui, Paris and Yosemite.

Next, they purchased fake followers and engagement from a number of different sites that offer these services. For each photo they purchased 500-2,500 likes and 10-50 comments.

Once the fake accounts reached 10,000 followers, they qualified to use influencer-marketing platforms (many influencer marketing platforms have minimum thresholds of 5,000 to 10,000 followers). They started applying to new campaigns and soon scored four paid brand deals; two for each account. They received money, free product or both.

Sounds pretty easy, right?  It is. That’s why it’s important for brands to investigate their influencers before they throw money at them. As long as there’s big money to be made, people will continue to work the system. According to Mediakix, “The Instagram influencer market size is currently $1 billion. That figure is set to double by 2019.”

So how do you protect yourself from getting catfished? Look for the following warning signs:

  • High Follower Count/Low Engagement: It’s more than just followers. If the user has tons of followers, but low engagement, they’re either buying fake followers or they’re not creating content that resonates with their audience. The rule of thumb is that accounts should have at least a 10% engagement per post.
  • Following Lots Of Accounts: Bots are usually set up to follow and automatically like other users. If they’re following thousands of people, chances are it’s a fake account.
  • New Account: Real influencers have likely had an Instagram account for years. They didn’t just start three months ago, post six times, and magically have 20k followers. If an account is relatively new, and has a sizable number of followers, they’re probably not a real influencer.

Still not sure? Pick some random followers and look for the following: Spammy user names with lots of numbers, user with lots of private accounts and comments in a different language than the user’s private accounts.

Check their other social media accounts to see if the account has been active for a while and they are frequently posting.

Also, think about using a self-serve agency, rather than doing it yourself or working with a self-serve influencer platform. One of the benefits of using an agency is that they have relationships with the influencers so they are less likely to get catfished.

Just like dating online, you need to do your homework before you take the plunge.

This article originally appeared in Forbes on August 15, 2017. To read full article, click here. 

Social MediaTom Ward