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How Fake Followers Hurt Your Social Media Marketing (And What to Do About It)


How many followers do you have on Instagram? For some, the amount of followers they have is a massive ego boost and a way of making themselves seem popular.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex – Harry and Meghan – recently broke the world record for reaching 1 million Instagram followers in the shortest amount of time. They recently opened up a new account to develop their own Sussex brand. 

For others, how many followers they have on Instagram is big business. It’s less about promoting themselves but other people. In fact, big numbers on Instagram is the key to making it as an influencer and making a living as a travel blogger.

Either way with over 1 billion users as of 2018, it is easy to see why making yourself stand out on Instagram is becoming more challenging yet the perks of making it big on Instagram continue to increase.

These perks often include free gifts for sponsored posts such as designer handbags and free press trips to some of the world’s most exotic locations.

But what if your following is built not on genuine engagement but on fake followers?

Here’s how to spot them and what to do about them.

What or Who Are Fake Followers?

These are fake accounts that have been set up either to spam the users they follow with a service they are trying to sell or perhaps to glean the user’s information. Or they are accounts which have been bought.

Instagrammers who are determined to climb to the top of their game can buy a certain amount of followers from a third party for a price.

When an account reaches 10,000 followers it is granted the ability to embed external links into stories.

This matters because it means even when a user is simply flicking through he or she is inadvertently exposed to an advert for a product that the Instagrammer is getting paid for, often through perks.

Buying followers can seem like good business for both the Instagrammer who wants to improve his following and the third party as the perks from having a high amount of followers can be high enough to merit the value in cash the Instagrammer is prepared to pay.

This is known as engagement manipulation. 

Why Is Engagement Manipulation A Problem?

Engagement manipulation through fake followers is obviously a problem from a moral standpoint. The Instagrammer is trading on his or her following for gain when that following is fraudulent.

But it is also a problem for Instagram itself and normal users of the platform. In just the same way as fake news operates in the media, fake followers distort and cloud how users respond to a post.

Many would argue that users have a right to know whether someone is appearing in the top of the search feed because of genuine popularity or because they’ve bought their place there. 

Just as people argue that a news platform or newspaper that has millions of users has a responsibility because more people trust it on the basis of those metrics, so too users ‘trust’ the accounts with the most amount of followers.

If this trust breaks down then eventually this can lead to a breakdown in trust between users and the entire platform. 

Remember though engagement manipulation is very different from Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This is where you tailor your posts to help search engines and users find your posts and accounts easily.

If you are unsure where to start with SEO, here are 5 concrete reasons to hire a professional SEO service

How Fake Accounts Hurt Businesses

In the past, if you wanted a trusted business you would turn to the phone book or adverts in a local newspaper.

A phone book company would often run background checks on the companies to establish they were genuine. It also required them to have a telephone number and address. Now digital marketing is vital to the success of any company.

And the biggest part of digital marketing is social media. In fact, social media has had a huge impact on small businesses

Unfortunately, none of the checks that phonebooks used to make on these small companies now take place. The role of establishing whether a business is genuine and reliable now lies with the consumer.

People generally use likes and the number of followers a business has to establish this.

However, this can be problematic.

If a small business’ Instagram account has too many followers and very little posts it can appear as if they have just bought followers and are not to be trusted meanwhile an account with too few followers can seem fake. 

Combating Fake Followers 

With so many people affected by fake accounts on Instagram and the internet, in general, it is no wonder so many people are turning to identity screening to establish if they are speaking to a real person on the internet. 

Instagram has introduced some new features to try and combat fake followers.

It has vowed to remove users it believes are fake or have been bought. It will also remove any likes or comments from fake accounts. This threatens the business models of those selling fake accounts and influencers who have bought Instagram fake followers. 

But individuals, influencers, and businesses can do a lot themselves to stop fake followers. 

Spot the Fake

First things first, you need to be able to spot which followers are fake and which ones are genuine. Computers can find this difficult if the followers act like humans, making the odd post and comment and attracting a few followers themselves. 

Humans, however, can usually spot a fake a mile off. How often do they update their story or post?

If it is less than once-a-week or even once a month there is a high chance they are fake. And look at what they are posting and commenting. 

Often fake followers post things which make no sense, sound suspicious or generic. ‘Great content!’ Or ‘I love these posts!’ can often be a give-a-way. Nobody says this. 

Does the fake also have fake followers as well?

And finally are their posts or photos generic too, not really about any specific topic and of random people?

Remember, to make their accounts seem more genuine fake followers may have found or stolen some generic images from Google or another real Instagram account.

These can be the same shot in different angles or the photos might be zoomed out of or out of focus. This way you can’t tell for certain whether that person’s photos of themselves are of the same person. 

User Engagement 

Proving to a user that your account is not fake is often not about the number of followers you have but the extent to which you engage with your followers.

Ensure that you post regularly. At least once a day or maybe, even more, can be very helpful, showing the world what you are up to. This can also include day-to-day or ‘behind the scenes’ posts if you are a business.

Remember its not just posts on Instagram which can prove to a user that you are active, stories are vital to this process as well. If a user sees the same surroundings every day that is going to reassure them that you or your business is genuine. 

Always reply to and like comments as well as messages. Active engagement not only helps you to prove to potential followers and clients that you are not fake it also helps you seem more genuine to Instagram itself. 

Block the Bots

If you spot a fake follower on your account you can be active in getting rid of them. That way your real followers and real potential followers will start to trust you or your brand.

You can remove certain followers so that they are no longer following you as well as blocking them yourself.

All of this might seem futile, however, as if they are a ‘bot’ – a digitalized fake follower that is programmed by a computer – the company might just get another fake bot to follow you.

It can therefore sometimes seem like a game of whack-a-bot.

Many users are reluctant to do this as it means voluntarily reducing their follower account but it is often worth it. 

You can also report fake followers to Instagram in the hope that they will investigate and close the fake account. 

Some users like to call out their fake followers, screenshotting them and posting them to their real followers in a bid to gain credibility and embarrass whoever is creating the accounts.

Fake Followers Are A Menace

Fake followers are a growing problem. They affect businesses and individuals, ruining companies reputations and allowing influencers to profit through engagement manipulation.

But as users are becoming more and more aware of them more is being done to remove them from Instagram. Users themselves are also becoming a lot more proactive at calling them out.

So don’t be tempted to buy fake followers, we can help you utilize SEO techniques for Instagram to ensure that your posts are reaching the maximum amount of clients in a natural way that Instagram approves of. 

Click here for more information on SEO.