In just a matter of a few years, influencers have become choice partners for advertisers. Conveying an image of authenticity and proximity, they’re considered by some as 92 percent more credible than brands on social media. But things don’t always look so good in the world of influencer-advertiser collaborations and fake accounts have especially plagued the field.

Today, you can buy anything on social media platforms: followers, likes, even comments. Some influencers have no qualms about resorting to companies selling these figures to artificially grow their stats and get more profitable partnerships. Problem is, these fake influencers in reality have a community that’s very little engaged and can only guarantee weak results for collaborations. These practices have been criticized many times by advertisers, and by influencers themselves. Last January, the New York Times published a study highlighting the sale of followers by a company called Devumi by means of a database of 3.4 million fake accounts. The scandal made headlines.

These fake influencers have become a pet peeve for marketers and brand managers alike. How do you distinguish between real and fake accounts? How can you spot influencers with inflated audiences? Here are 8 tips from our team to make sure your collaborations with social media influencers start off on solid ground.

1. Get the right tools

On your own, it’ll be hard to get the adequate answers to know which of the accounts you’re gravitating toward are real and which are not. When you embark upon verifying influencer accounts, it is essential to get the right quality tools that’ll give you specific insights into the accounts at hand.

We recommend you use HypeAuditor and Social Blade, both of which give you an analysis of the current state of the most sought-after profiles. You’ll be able to access data on their engagement rates, the quality rates of the accounts’ communities, and their engagement. Available graphics will give you a clear and immediate overview of the accounts’ evolution.

We tried the two platforms by taking as an example Parisianavores, an influencer who we’ve recommended as one of the best food influencers you could work with in 2018.

2. Check if you’re dealing with a verified account

Several social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter have a feature allowing accounts of influential individuals to be verified. The feature is a response to a recurring issue encountered on these platforms: myriad fake celebrity accounts created by impersonators sprout up everyday. Your first reflex should thus be to check if there is a blue checkmark, as in the example below on Margot’s account youmakefahion, next to the influencer’s handle. If it is the case, you can go ahead, the account was indeed verified by the platform and the owner isn’t a fake influencer.

Still, relying on the “blue checkmark” certification isn’t enough, as it is only reserved for prominent influencers with large communities. Micro-influencers, as well as many ‘classic’ influencers, cannot set their sights on the verified badge at their level. To spot the cheaters, looking at other criteria is necessary.

3. Look into the evolution of the influencer’s follower base

One of the important criteria to look into is how linear the evolution of the influencer’s follower count is. If you notice they’ve won an important number of followers in a single day, it is likely that they’ve resorted to buying a follower base. An uneven evolution of the number of followers, with periods of high acquisition rates followed by high loss rates, isn’t a good sign.

Yet beware, strong acquisition rates aren’t necessarily the sign of fraud! Before making hasty judgments, it’s important to check whether these peaks cannot simply be explained by the influencer’s activity. If the account owner carried out a high-profile operation (a partnership, a performance, a media apparition...), the peak has an explanation, and the influencer can be trusted.

On the above example, Social Blade indicates that Anaïs from Parisianavores gained over 1,000 followers in a matter of days. While the peak could be regarded as suspicious, a quick look at her Instagram account shows that it matches her posting on August 18 a photo of her husband and newborn—a post which had a lot of success with her audience, with over 2,300 likes and 80 comments.

4. Check the influencer’s engagement rate

An influencer with a large audience but generating little engagement on their posts has likely inflated their follower count. It’s important to understand that the power of an influencer’s community isn’t calculated in terms of numbers, but in terms of quality. Indeed, micro-influencers are more and more valued by advertisers: they may have smaller communities, but tend to have the most engaged. The relationship that an influencer builds and maintains with their audience and the interactions that their content generates are more meaningful vectors of reliability. The most important thing is to calculate engagement rates by comparing the average number of likes on the last set of posts to the number of followers. If the rate is lower than 2 percent, better to remain wary.

Social Blade and HypeAuditor both calculate influencers’ engagement rate. On the above example from HypeAuditor, our influencer case study’s engagement rate is indicated as 4.97 percent. The rate being higher than 2 percent, there should be no doubt about the authenticity of the account Parisianavores.

5. Understand the community supporting the influencer

Following someone on social media in the hopes that they’ll follow you back is a common practice with influencers. It’s way to inflate their communities without resorting to buying followers. That’s why it’s important to check the influencer’s follower/following ratio. If the account has a number of accounts followed almost as important as their number of followers, it’s likely they’ve used that practice. Their audience will be of little interest to marketers since it generally comes with a low engagement rate.

To go further, it’s important to check whether followers are truly interested by the content published on the account. To that end, followers are separated in three categories:

  • “real people,” the most interesting followers from a marketing point of view since they represent those who followed the account out of real interest
  • “mass follows,”
  • and suspicious accounts

Those last two categories are problematic. “Mass follows” refer to accounts following a great many people. They don’t represent a quality audience since their feeds are likely to be drowning in posts from all the accounts they follow: they won’t probably see most of yours. Suspicious accounts represent ghost accounts or accounts generated by bots. They obviously serve no interest for you since there is no real person behind the account.

If the rate of mass follows and suspicious accounts is higher than 30 percent, do not trust the influencer and look somewhere else: their community won’t give you the engagement rates you’re looking for.

6. Check the type of comments left on their posts

It’s important to take the time to inspect what kind of comments are left on the influencer’s posts. A high number of comments isn’t always the sign of an engaged community! These days, a majority of what constitutes social media KPIs can be bought, even comments. So, if most comments are extremely generic or consist of onomatopoeia and emojis, chances are they were bought by the influencer or were left there by bots. Authentic comments will be those directly relating to the post, or tagging other accounts.

Above, we can see that Anaïs posted a photo of her husband and baby on Instagram. The comments specifically refer to the post, the first to the caption added by the influencer, the second to the photo. All clear on the bot front.

7. Measure the influencer’s authority

Measuring an influencer’s authority can also be a token of audience’s quality. If they’re followed by several other important influencers and they’re often tagged by them, you can rest assured: it means the influencer community recognizes them as serious. Let’s not forget that influencers are the first to denounce fake accounts that damage their image in the eyes of audiences and marketers. Last June, Instagram and YouTube star Guillaume Ruchon, also known as Guiruch, looked into analysis of 10 influencer accounts to speak out the abusive practices.

In the aftermath of his video, which was viewed a number of times, Guillaume was the target of several of the scammers’ ire, which he was able to take with humor as shown in the post above.

8. Look more closely into whether the most active followers are influencers

On the other hand, you should also be wary of influencer communities. Some of them are resorting to another practice still unknown by the public: pods. Pods are groups of people gathering in private chats and encouraging each other to like and leave comments on other influencers’ posts. This method allows them get a better position on the app. The results are obviously faked since the engagement rate doesn’t represent the interest shown by people having liked or left a comment on the post. We recommend you monitor the identity of the few most active followers: if most of them are influencers, it’s usually not a good sign.

Conclusion

For a collaboration between brand and influencer to be successful, trust is key. The controversies generated these last few months by the media and by influencer communities have forced the latter to prove their credentials, and to demonstrate their authenticity not only to advertisers, but to their followers as well. It is now evident that the main criteria to pick an influencer shouldn’t be the size of their audience, but its quality . It’s useful to know that it’s sometimes more interesting to work with micro-influencers who benefit from extremely engaged audiences (60 percent more that very popular accounts), than with celebrities with hundreds of thousands or millions of followers who aren’t, in reality, very loyal to them.

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Valentine Cuzin

Responsable de la Stratégie Éditoriale
Malou - Food Influencer Marketing

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