How to Spot Fake Influencers: 7 Signs to Watch For

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In recent years, brands have started to invest more into using influencers to market their products. For a fraction of the cost of more traditional advertising, they can reach a newer audience, a bigger audience, faster and more effectively. However, because influencer marketing is the new it thing, some are trying to capitalize on it with less than genuine motivations. Brands need to know how to differentiate the fake influencers from the real ones. This blog will teach you the warning signs.

Real influencers actively engage with their followers and their community, which they grow through honest methods. They participate in comments and discussions about the products they’re endorsing, and they have a real personal interest in them. Companies should be looking at influencers that have a dedicated community to expand their audience.

If you’re planning to leverage the power of influencer marketing for your brand — which is definitely something you should at least consider, by the way — here’s how you can spot the fake influencers and avoid wasting your time, money, resources, and effort.

How to Spot Fake Influencers: 7 Signs to Look Out For

1. A Sudden and Dramatic Increase in Followers

A sudden spike in followers that seems to occur rather randomly could mean that the influencer actually paid for them, which is a common (and awful) black hat technique in social media. In this case, you should be alert and a little suspicious — this type of activity can be unusual.

Yes, Instagram accounts can acquire many new followers rapidly. But if that’s the case, look for it happening consistently over time. 5,000 new followers overnight, followed by several days of no new growth, is a sign of fake influencers.

Growing any Instagram account is a marathon, not a sprint. Steady and consistent growth is a sign of an authentic influencer.

Random spikes here and there? That’s very likely a warning sign.

And on a similar note…

2. New Accounts With High Follower Counts

Growing a large following isn’t quick or easy. Becoming an influencer is challenging — more challenging than most of us realize. Impressing followers and growing them organically takes time, so if you see that an account is new but already has a huge following, be careful. Well-known celebrities that are already famous are an exception. Otherwise, however, getting thousands of followers in a short amount of time isn’t the general rule.

If a new account with very few posts already has a ton of followers, there’s a good chance that they purchased them. Fake influencers are often in such a hurry to establish themselves and secure partnerships that they’ll do anything to speed up the process. Brands, beware.

3. Low-Quality or Fake-Looking Followers

Have you ever checked out the followers list of someone with an usually high follower count and noticed that these pages look… strange? Maybe the profile pictures look funny or the bios are a bunch of gibberish. Maybe, when you click to the individual profiles, they don’t have anything posted at all.

These are fake accounts! This is another indication that the influencer purchased followers. When you purchase followers, you don’t get real, genuine followers. You get fake accounts that were created for the sole purpose of existing for people who want to purchase them.

As an example of what it should look like, go to the followers list of an influencer with a genuine following. Click on those accounts. You’ll see real people — not artificial profiles with no activity.

4. A Huge Following With Disproportionate Activity

An influencer with a very large following should have the engagement to match. If you see someone with tens of thousands of followers but their posts are getting very few likes and/or comments, this is a red flag.

Engagement is so important when it comes to influencer marketing. This is really what you’re paying for. Yes, it’s nice to collaborate with people who have a very large audience. However, follower count is largely a vanity number. This doesn’t automatically equate to conversions. Engagement is what equates to conversions.

Take a look at Katie Crewe, as an example — huge following, huge engagement.

5. Low-Quality Engagement

The engagement rate is a big factor of an influencer’s effectiveness and authenticity, but that’s not all you should be looking at. You need to be even more active in analyzing their engagement with their fans. One thing to do is skim through their post comments and see what people are saying. Normally, fake influencers have a lot of comments that are only emojis, or generic ones that don’t really say much or aren’t even really related to the post. Watch for comments like “great pic,” “amazing shot,” and “nice.” These are bots or otherwise fake followers.

Another possibility is that they’re people from that influencer’s “engagement pod.” An engagement pod is a group of people who trade post comments and likes for the sole purpose of merely having more engagement. There are entire apps dedicated to this.

While these are real people leaving the comments — not bots — they’re not true fans, the engagement is essentially fake, and it’s a poor reflection of the influencer. This is not the type of person you want to partner with for your influencer digital marketing strategy.

NikkieTutorials is a great example of how it should look. Her followers leave real comments — not fluff.

6. No Presence Anywhere Else on Social Media

While it’s true that influencers typically pick one social media platform to focus on — usually Instagram — as they acquire fans, these fans seek them out elsewhere. This is a sign that people truly value them and look to them for advice, information, and inspiration.

So, if you search an influencer’s name on Google and learn that they’re relatively nonexistent outside of that one  social media platform, you should pay close attention. This could be an indication that they’ve somehow artificially built a presence on one platform, as opposed to positioning themselves as a leader and expert over time, by consistently posting high-quality content.

7. Dishonest “Partnerships” and Ambassador Deals

Ever heard of brand ambassadors? Brands will reach out to people they want to promote their product and offer them a discount on their items, in exchange for social media promotion.

This is not influencer marketing!

Influencers don’t pay for the items they promote. They charge for their services. If an individual is marketing a product they actually purchased for a discounted price while acting like it’s a legitimate partnership, you might be dealing with fake influencers.

But how do you know if they paid for it? You have a few options.

You can contact the brand they’re promoting and flat-out ask them what the arrangement is. Yes, this is an option, and brands indeed do this when they’re researching possible influencers to work with.

You could also see who else is promoting that brand. Do they look like an influencer? Do they have a large and active following? Are you finding that countless people promote this brand as an ambassador but it doesn’t seem like there’s anything really… special… about their profiles?

You might want to move on.

Note: None of this is meant to bash ambassadors. Instead, the point is that this is different from influencer marketing. This is an important distinction for brands to make.

All of these are important points to consider when you’re on the lookout for fake influencers, but we also think it’s important to bust a few myths about influencers.

Myth 1: They *Have* to Have a Large Following in Order to Be Legitimate

So much of what we’ve discussed has been about influencers’ followings, but this is very worth pointing out. Just because someone has a smaller following doesn’t mean they aren’t an effective influencer.

As you know by now, engagement is perhaps even more important than follower count. This is where the magic happens. An influencer can have a smaller following than others but very high engagement, and do their job very well.

This is why when you’re communicating with influencers regarding a potential business relationship, you should learn more about what kind of engagement their page is getting — likes, comments, clicks, and swipes up on their Instagram Stories.

Myth 2: Their Posts Need to Have a High Production Value

Have you ever looked at an influencer’s posts and admired how “fancy” they were? Expensive-looking clothes, perfect lighting, extravagant background decor… all of these little details add up to make a huge difference. But they’re not an absolute necessity.


Make no mistake about it: There are influencers out there taking pictures and recording videos with their smartphones using nothing but ambient light, and they’re doing just fine in their business. Again, it all goes back to engagement. While some signs are a clear indication of fake influencers, you also want to be careful not to judge a book by its cover.

Myth 3: Real Influencers Work Only With Big Name Brands

If that were the case, small businesses everywhere would never see success with influencer marketing. Thankfully, this isn’t the case, plain and simple.

Don’t be alarmed if you see an influencer promoting a product for a brand that doesn’t have a huge online following themselves. This isn’t automatically a bad thing. That brand is probably using influencer marketing to overcome that exact obstacle — and this is the goal for all of us when working with influencers!

It’s not a negative reflection of an influencer to work with a relatively unknown brand. Instead, look at it like this: Did that influencer help them achieve their goals? If yes, then the relationship was a success.

Now that you know how to spot fake influencers and pick out the genuine ones, you’re ready to continue your search for the perfect influencer for your brand. This is an incredibly efficient way to increase brand awareness, grow your following, give your email list a serious boost, and ultimately, sell your product.

While other methods are growth — including organic posting and running paid social media ads — can still be effective, in order to be successful online, it’s crucial to keep up with digital marketing trends. And right now, influencer marketing is hot, hot, hot.

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