How to Detect Influencer Fraud For Free

Oct. 24, 2018

Influencer fraud. Two words that everyone in the industry seems to be talking about right now. But what exactly is it and how do you detect it?

What is influencer marketing?

What once started out as a social media hobby has turned into a full time career for many, and content creators are now viewed as social media influencers. These users have organically grown a loyal social media following who are engaged with their content and as a result, influence audience opinions. Brands quickly noticed the power that influencers have over their audience and thus a new channel for brands to connect to their target consumers. 

Before we knew it, a new industry and marketing channel was formed, and now 67% of marketers think influencer marketing campaigns has helped them reach a more targeted audience, thus leading to more impactful results. The influencer market was estimated to be worth $2 billion in 2017, and is set to reach $10 billion by 2020.

How do you spot fraudulent behaviour? 

Many influencers have dedicated hours and years of their lives shooting, styling, networking and attending strategy meetings to think of ways they can continue to create quality content that is successful for their commercial partners, but more importantly, for their loyal following. But it appears that there are concerns about the authenticity of certain users, and thus the industry needs to make some changes. 

There are a lot of tools out there that allow you to delve further into an influencer's audience and demographics. However if you don't have the budget to afford these tools (or simply don't do enough influencer marketing activities to justify this spend) - there are many tips and tricks to detecting fraud easily for free. 

We've put together our top 4 common cases of influencer fraud and how to detect them.

1) Fake followers and no engagement

Probably the easiest way to identify influencer fraud is the classic case of an Instagram account having a large amount of followers (e.g. 500k) but with little engagement (e.g. 1k). Here you have an influencer who has paid to bump up their followers with inactive bot accounts, that don't engage with the content they are publishing. The influencer won't have necessarily paid for additional engagement, making it very easy to identify that this particular influencer has bought fake followers. 

How else can you spot these users? Well Instagram regularly clears out bot accounts in bulk which means these fraudsters will usually lose thousands of followers at once. You'll then usually see fraudsters re-buy their followers to bring their count back up a short while later. Of course, unless you're regularly monitoring someone's followers this may be harder to spot, however tools like TBP's audience demographics allow you to see spikes / drops in followers with ease.

2) Fake followers and fake engagement 

The next step for the slightly smarter fraudster is to buy engagement on top of buying fake followers. So how can you tell if engagement has been bought? The below is from the lovely lady that is Victoria from In The Frow - who gives a fantastic example of how you can sport both fake following and engagement: 

  • A lot of repetitive emoji's usage by the majority of commenters. 
  • A lot of very plain comments like 'nice' or 'lovely' or 'great photo' - or even better when the comments make no sense to the context of the photo. Such as 'gorgeous dress' - and they're wearing jeans.
  • Repeated comments by different users. So the emoji usage, spacing in letters and word usage, is entirely identical to other comments from different users in the list of comments. Usually it's right below it. 
  • Additionally, they will often have the same fake accounts comment twice, until the comment counter looks like they're getting lots of engaging comments.

3) The follow and unfollow trick

Again, here we have a very easy way to identify influencer fraud. Here a fraudster will typically pay to use a service that follows a few hundred accounts one day and then unfollow another few hundred from their account the day after. The aim is to follow accounts to get your profile noticed and hope that they follow you back. Once they do, you simply unfollow them and voila - you're left with a bigger following.

Many will argue that you have to have good content for this to work and therefore it's not fraud if users follow you based on what they see. However, the growth an influencer receives is NOT organic and is therefore considered to be cheating the system. 

To spot this you can use Instagram's Following Tool or TBP's audience demographics that allow you to see spikes / drops in followers with ease so you'll be able to identify these influencers in no time! 

4) Dodging the Instagram Algorithm

For those of you who don't know, Instagram's current algorithm works based on the engagement your content receives in the first 10-30 minutes of posting. So the more engagement your content receives when it is first posted, the more people Instagram will show your content to. Unfortunately this creates a new path for fraudsters to beat the system and results in users buying engagement as soon as they upload. Luckily Instagram's 'Turn On Post Notifications' feature will allow you to be notified each time someone posts, so if you're suspicious of a particular influencer, turn on those notifications and watch their post activity for the first 10-30 mins.

Here at The Blogger Programme, we know the words 'influencer fraud' can be daunting especially if you don't know what it is or how to avoid it. With over 4 years experience in this industry, our team of experts are always on hand to help brands and agencies get the most out of their influencer marketing campaigns. Our platform is aimed to stop fraudsters and make the influencer marketing industry a better marketing channel for brands and agencies worldwide. Alternatively, we can take this process out of your hands and into ours, providing you with the very best, tailor picked influencers for your brand and campaign.

If you would like to get in touch please email:

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