The Fake Followers Epidemic

By: Krista LaRiviere on May 25, 2017 Categories: Mintent, Social Media

Influence is the new currency in the online world. This statement shouldn’t be a surprise if you’re up-to-date with marketing trends. Brands are spending a great deal of money to look influential online both with their own accounts and with the help of paid influencers.

Influencers today are paid big money, and therefore can feel a lot of pressure to show brands huge audience members. This is partially the fault of brands for believing that big numbers equal engagement in the first place. Influencers are clamoring over one another for sponsored content and some are willing to cross ethical lines to make it happen.

And this is not just a problem with influencers and celebrities. Brands are also feeling the pressure to look like they have a bigger online presence. Company profiles are also guilty of wanting to make their audience grow faster to make them look like a more substantial company or maybe to increase the appearance of their market share and popularity.

Buying fake followers

As a result of this pressure, brands and influencers alike are guilty of buying their audiences. Specifically, they are using paid services to boost the follower count on their social media profiles. Now, many of the services will try to promote themselves as having some magical way of bringing “real followers” to your profile, but to be frank, that’s complete bullshit. It simply isn’t true. There is no fast way to grow an audience on social media other than hard work.

Fake followers can happen on any social media network, but the major three that have continuous problems are Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Below I have outlined how the problem is impacting each social network and how to spot fake accounts on each platform.

Twitter Fakes

Fake accounts can be tricky to spot on Twitter due to their algorithm being less about engagement. This is an increasing issue since public relations and marketing companies sell Twitter growth to their clients. Fake accounts can be used to boost engagement with likes and retweets and can fly completely under the radar in doing so. Fake accounts are often run by bots and tend to target specific keywords or types of profiles. They may follow, retweet, like or even mention another user, in order to send spam.

How to spot fake accounts on Twitter

There are a few factors that can help you identify a fake account on Twitter. First off, the lack of a profile photo. If the user only has a Twitter egg as their profile photo, that’s a red flag. It is also not a good sign if they’re lacking a bio. Fake accounts will also often have little to no personal tweets and will consist only of retweets or quotes. They’re also very likely to have little to no followers and yet have a very high number of people that they are following.

Twitter Fake Follows

Facebook Fakes

Likewise, Facebook has a problem with fake accounts being used to boost likes on company pages. This can be particularly bad if it impacts the ad spend numbers within the platform. Facebook fake accounts can also become a bigger problem if the account starts targeting other members of a page for spam and scams via messages or posts to the page.

How to spot fake accounts on Facebook

Fake accounts on Facebook can be even harder to spot simply because of the nature of how Facebook profiles are built. Depending on the privacy settings, you can’t necessarily see everything in a personal profile. As a page manager, look for those who are trying to leave links and spammy comments directly on the page or within the comments on previous posts. As a user, be wary of any accounts trying to message to friend you if you don’t know them. Look for things like mutual friends and closely examine what you can see of their profile before accepting their friend request or even accepting them to Facebook messenger.

Instagram Fakes

Instagram is the darling of the influencer space and social media in general right now. Everyone wants a piece of the visually rich and engaging platform. As a result, influencers are charging more for sponsored content in their feeds. Without click engagement on the post, brands are even more concerned with vanity metrics such as followers and likes. Fake accounts on Instagram are most likely the result of services that offer to deliver a certain number of followers for a price. Unlike the other two platforms, they are not necessarily promising engagement, just simply a boost to the audience numbers.

How to spot fake accounts on Instagram

A glaringly obvious telltale sign will be very few photos shared and yet a huge list of people that they are following. The list of people they are following will also be widely disproportionate to the number of people who are following them. Another way to spot a fake account is to check and see if the profile picture matches with the photos that are used in the profile. Lastly, are they promoting some sort of “buy followers” gig in their bio or within the link in their profile? If so, they are most definitely a spam account.

The consequences of fake followers.

For brands that have fake followers within their own profile, it inflates their numbers and decreases the engagement ratio within those platforms. More severely, it can also get your accounts flagged and even suspended. And most importantly, it’s very obvious to anybody who takes the time to look that you have purchased followers. This can hurt your brand image online.

For the influencer marketing industry, fake followers are creating influencers who might as will be selling brands air. These influencers are also pushing out smaller influencers who have real audiences. Most brands only see the big numbers and ignore a more genuine option. Fake followers also greatly impact the metrics that are reported on when brands see such low engagement from supposedly huge influencers.

How to see if you or an influencer has fake followers.

You may have fake followers even if you’ve never paid a dime for your audience. At gShift, I personally checked our own followers regularly. I typically find 1 to 3% fake followers every couple of months, primarily on Twitter. I know we likely acquire these bot accounts when we use popular hashtags such as #SEO. I then use a service to block them from our account.

There are various tools that exist to help identify fake followers and accounts on social platforms. Below are just a handful of these tools.

  • Follower Check – Looks at the number of real vs. fake followers of an Instagram account and will list out the most suspicious users.
  • Twitter Audit – Analyzes Twitter handles to show the percentage of real vs. fake followers.
  • Fakers by Status People – Will also look at the percentage of fake followers on a Twitter profile, but also identifies how many followers are inactive and lists a few suspicious accounts.
  • Like Analyzer – This tool is for Facebook pages, but it doesn’t look for fake followers. However, it will analyze the page for engagement, response time, etc. This can be very handy when looking at an influencer’s Facebook page.

Followers and audience size do not equal engagement

At the end of the day, the number of followers an account has does not make an influencer. Nor does having a big audience on your own social profiles make your brand look bigger. The lack of actual engagement is there for anyone to see and fake followers taint the waters of audience growth for all those who are trying to do it properly.

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Need help with either your social or influencer marketing? Learn more about gShift’s Digital Marketing Services and how we can help you get the most from your investment.

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