spotting imposter influencersCompanies often pay large amounts to social media influencers for reviews and positive mentions. According to Digiday, companies can expect to pay an influencer with 5 million followers about $100,000 to create and post videos on three networks. They may pay far more to influencers with even lager followings.

A year ago, $100,000 was an entire year’s income for successful influencers. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift have received over $200,000 for a single post that displays a product, AdWeek reported.

Some PR and marketers wonder if paying such substantial sums is an effective strategy. The prevalence of imposter influencers compounds the problem.

A Million Followers Claimed

Some influencers, or at least people who go by that name, accumulate thousands of fake followers in order to jack up prices they charge brands. One person who claims a million followers on Instagram charges $10,000 for a single post, says Bryce Gruber, founder of the Luxury Spot.

Acceptance of bogus influencers is surprisingly common, Gruber says. One PR pro posted a request on Facebook, saying her influencer client, who claimed 200,000 Instagram followers, was seeking a free trip to New Orleans. A close review of her profile reveals that her authentic following is closer to 5,000.

“Imagine if you’re a local Hyatt throwing your best suite out for an entire weekend in an already-suffering economy? That’s not okay,” Gruber blogs, “and it gives the rest of us real people the worst possible names.”

The Instagram Issue

Fake followers are particularly pervasive on Instagram, although the network has taken recent steps to curb the problem.

According to recent findings by a group of Italian security researchers, as many as 8% of Instagram accounts are fake “spam-bots” and up to 30% accounts may be inactive, with one or fewer posts a month. Fake accounts are created by using fictitious email addresses and sold to real Instagrammers to exaggerate a social media influencer’s reach.

They typically have a high ratio of people they follow to people following them, points out MediaKix. While authentic accounts usually have a 1:1 follower-to-following ratio, fake accounts follow an average of 41 Instagrammers for each one that follows them.

In addition, fake accounts typically lack profile photos and have posted fewer than 10 photos or videos to their account.

How to Spot the Phonies

Gruber offers some tips on how to spot imposter influencers.

  • Their ratio of likes to follower is below the 1.8 to 2.5% range. If they have 10,000 followers, expect about 180 likes on each upload.
  • Their ratio of likes to followers is far above 7%. It’s easy to buy likes.
  • The comment to likes ratio is below 7%. If they have 100 likes on a photo, they should have at least seven comments.
  • Their comments feature only words like “cool” or “USA forever” or “good.” Real comments are a combination of encouragement, questions, or even tagging other people, since tags are important to help accounts grow.
  • The influencer has never done anything other than Instagram. If they weren’t previously a personality — a pro ball player, professional model, well-known writer or chef — they cannot magically obtain a million followers.

Companies can also use a social media monitoring service to track and measure an influencer’s engagement levels and predict a campaign’s potential return on investment.

Bottom Line: The proliferation of imposter influencers who have large numbers of fake followers is a major issue for marketers. Working with influencers without conducting proper due diligence is clearly a mistake that can waste valuable time and money. However, brands can avoid phony influencers by examining their followers and tracking their engagements levels.