Is an #InstagramPurge Next?

Smart brands look to social media influencers to boost business and connect with customers —and the beauty industry is no exception.

However, the problem of fake followers, and the use of bots in general, has got marketers and brands a little nervous.

They’re so nervous that the problem is coming to a head and some social platforms are taking the initiative.

You don’t have to look any further than the latest #TwitterPurge for evidence.

But what about the other social media platforms, and in particular, Instagram?

Is Instagram in need of a purge now, too?

A recent study by Ghost Data suggests that of the reported 1 billion users on Instagram —up to 95 million bots, may be posing as real accounts. 

The last time Instagram cleaned out fake accounts was back in 2014 as reported by the Wall Street Journal. Back then, Instagram had 300 million users compared to the 1 billion it claims now.

Curious about the possibility for a parallel rise in the use of bots, Ghost Data conducted a survey to determine if fake accounts were growing in use. 

To do this, they purchased 20,000 bots and analyzed their qualities to assist them in identifying similar bots in over one million other accounts. 

The firm found that the bots tended to follow many famous Instagram accounts, but didn’t post much content of their own, other than reposting popular content scraped from other sources.

Therefore, the problem of fake followers is a real one.

The trouble is, however, not all “bots” are created equal and the term can mean different things.

The truth is, some bots are created to perform specific functions –often to save you time and make your life easier, while other bots are designed to trick or exploit the algorithms.

I know one prominent influencer who admitted to me that if you need a little extra something to juice up the algorithm, to get the algorithm to pay attention to you, buying fake followers is a common way to do it.

That being said, my goal here is not to discuss the ethics of buying fake followers, but to show you the many uses of bots and to show you how to spot fake followers – so you are in the know.

So, to clarify things, here’s a breakdown of some of the more popular uses for bots:

  • Schedule and post your content on social platforms
  • Send automated messages or replies
  • Post similar messages over multiple social media accounts to scale your content
  • Aggressively follow and unfollow other accounts as a strategy to grow your audience
  • Auto-rounds are a bot that likes your Instagram posts (usually from small sized accounts) within 30 minutes of publishing to trick the platform algorithm into thinking your content is popular
  • Power-likes are similar to auto-rounds but come from accounts with huge followings (500k to 1mm) prompting the algorithm to believe your content is really good stuff
  • Fake followers to pump up the appearance of having a larger audience

As you can see, bots perform many functions.  Some are useful and meant to make posting content easier, while others are developed to deceive the algorithm into giving you more attention.

As we’ve written before, many users, even some notable celebrities, are guilty of boosting the appearance of having a large following by buying fake followers, a move Unilever’s CMO Keith Weed denounced in Cannes last month.

Since Weed’s statement, there’s been a marked reaction by brands and agencies to find better ways to vet influencers.

Even so, the problem will persist for a time until brands, social platforms and influencers come together to squelch it.

This is one of the challenges the American Influencer Association aims to address this year.

Until a solution is developed, we’ll have to make do, so let’s take a closer look at what this fake activity looks like, so you can identify it.

Good news: Fake followers are generally easy to spot. 

Fake followers are generated by small, boiler room operations located in the Philippines, Thailand or some other far eastern country.

These fake followers are created without much depth given to them and often lack profile pictures and even profile descriptions, like this one on Twitter:

It’s important to remember, however, that not all fake followers are purchased.  Some of them are bots that are sent to scrape content or perform other tasks.

I found the above follower on my account and I have no idea why it’s there.

The important thing to keep in mind is that every account has some fake followers present. The question is, how many? 

My goal here is to show you how to vet influencers’ followers so you can determine whether they are buying fakes to pump up their numbers.

But, don’t jump to conclusions. If some of your influencers have fake followers, it might not be their fault.

Now, let’s examine what they look like on Instagram:

Like Twitter, fake followers on Instagram will often have little information.

I’ve noticed a trend recently where fake followers will show up as private accounts like the one above. This is so you can’t see their lack of content or depth as a real person has.

A few details to notice about the example above:

  • The profile photo is of a cartoon character rather than a person although fake accounts do sometimes use photos of people (scraped from dating sites)
  • The name of the account “tgh_gg” makes it obvious this is a fake
  • Lack of a profile description
  • The account is private

However, these are the cheap and easy-to-spot fake followers. 

There are firms that will furnish real looking followers that include photos, profile descriptions and some content for a higher price, so this method is not foolproof.

This is where third party tools come in handy. 

One of the better ones is SocialBlade.  Using this tool, you can find information about the history of the account and stats on its followers whether it’s on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Twitch and others.

Let’s look at one.

Instagram’s luxury niche has many accounts that are guilty of buying fake followers.

I’ll show you how to use SocialBlade and what to look for.

First, review the follower graph for the account you are reviewing and look for spikes in growth and steep drop offs.

The steep rises in followers are a sign of buying followers. Steep drop offs are evidence of purges by Instagram to weed out fake followers. 

Legitimate, organically grown audiences don’t look like this. Now look at the image below:

It’s a detailed look at evidence of fake followers being purged by Instagram.

Notice the daily drop off in followers – which is not necessarily abnormal.  This happens if an account is not maintained with fresh, quality content because the followers get bored.

But the precipitous drop of over 1500 followers is indicative of fake followers being purged from the account.

This begs the question, what do you look for then?

Look for an audience graph that shows a steady growth.  Growth can be rapid depending upon what strategies the influencer is employing to attract attention.

But more often than not, organically acquired audience growth looks like this:

The above chart is what you want to see with your influencer’s audience growth trajectory: slow and steady.

Wrapping-up

Fake follower bots are everywhere.  Therefore, be knowledgeable about how to spot them.  Also, be informed about what a healthy audience profile looks like on Instagram or any other social media platform.

Additionally, don’t cast influencers aside just because you find some fake followers on their rolls.  Instead, determine what percentage of fake followers is acceptable to you.  Is it 5% or 10%?

And one more thing, be sure to let the influencer you choose to work with know you are looking for fake followers.  Ask them to be transparent with you and purge them if they do exist.

Remember, the effort to stamp out the problem of fake followers is everybody’s job, not just the influencers.

Guest Author
Tom Augenthaler

Tom Augenthaler is an influencer marketing strategist obsessed with helping dynamic companies connect with ideal audiences, sell products and to grow.

In 2009, Tom catapulted out of HP and landed with a pioneering influencer marketing firm. There he charged ahead by creating profitable influencer strategies for Fortune 500 brands as well as smaller businesses.

One groundbreaking campaign he led for HP boosted sales for a lagging product by 84% and made millions of dollars — inside 30 days breaking a number of internal company records. Even the CEO, Mark Hurd, took notice!

Storied brands Tom has worked with include HP, Oxfam, TIME and Adobe for starters.

In the B2B arena, Tom cut his teeth by designing and leading HP Enterprise’s influencer program. This dynamic program involved hosting events all over the word and building out an influencer roster that continues to pay dividends eight years after it was founded.

Tom’s quiver of skills also spans public relations, social media marketing, building online sales funnels, SEO and content marketing.

Tom’s website is http://theinfluencemarketer.com.

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