The notifications are rolling in and your follower numbers are going up on Instagram and Twitter. But deep down you have a sneaking suspicion in your gut about some of your newfound friends. The pictures seem phony, the comments disingenuous, the handles don't make sense... are these followers even real?
Welcome to the world of fake followers. Fake followers exist for a simple reason: people want more followers. A large amount of followers = the illusion of popularity and influence on social media. After all, if someone has a bunch of followers, they must be a trusted source, right?
Accounts with large numbers of followers can be turned into moneymakers, too. If you're a lifestyle blogger or a celebrity with a large audience that tends to buy what you recommend, you're a hot commodity to start selling anything from laxatives (yup, that's what Fit Teas are, y'all) to meal kits to 20-second videos of yourself wishing random people happy birthday. (Yes, that's a real thing too, and it costs $80 per video!)
This motivation drives those celebrities and brands to engage in the sketchy practice of purchasing followers to win the social media popularity contest. It's probably already obvious that they're buying fake accounts; guaranteeing 50,000 new likes for $249.95 is a bargain (and a scam if you're looking to have a genuine audience).
Before you shrug and consider any follower, fake or not, to be a good follower, consider the following:
- Fakes clutter up your stream. How many of you have received the same spam comment on Instagram over and over? Maybe it looks like this: "Nice!🔥" but your post is about feeling sad to leave home after the holidays. Your audience can tell when interactions seem fake, and if you're faking direct engagement that's a strike against your brand image when they realize it.
- Fakes reduce your engagement. It’s all in the math. If you have a ton of followers that are fake, your engagement numbers will go down because they’re not real people. They mess up the whole barometer of gauging what content your actual followers are responding to, which doesn't tell you if your content or products are performing.
- Fakes expose you to risk. All fake followers aren’t created equal. Some are relatively harmless bots while others expose you (and your followers) to spam or phishing. And that's not just not cool, fake followers, totally not cool.
- And most importantly, fakes aren’t actual followers! The whole reason you want followers in the first place is to convert them to loyal audience members, right? Fake followers can’t buy your products, use your services, or establish real relationships with you.
Basically, fake followers are annoying, potentially dangerous, and bring your marketing game down. Time for one of our favorite fun games, say it with us:
Spot! The! Fake!
Let's tackle Instagram and Twitter first. The first clue to the fake follower mystery is their profile. How real do they actually seem? Consider the following while conducting recon:
- Username: Is their handle a string of gibberish? A name with a ton of numbers after it? A seemingly random combination of words (and not in a funny way)? The less real the handle seems, the more likely it's a fake.
- Profile image: Do they have a profile image or are they rocking the infamous Twitter egg head? If they have a profile image, is it a photo of an ad? Does it seem like a fake stock image you’ve seen before? (Advanced sleuthing tip that's featured on the show Catfishevery episode: Use a reverse image search to see if the image is used somewhere else!)
- Bio: Do they have no bio? And if they do have something written in that "About" section, is it legit or simply an ad promoting how you, too, can get a ton of followers?
- Page content: Do they have next to no content or a ton of content? Either extreme should give you pause. If an Instagram user follows a ton of accounts but only has a few images, or if a Twitter user has a million tweets, you might want to stop and consider how human those actions really are. (Who even has time in their day for a million tweets?!)
- Privacy: Is the account private? A lot of fake accounts will hide their posts because they don’t want you to see them for the bot they actually are. Don’t judge on this alone, though, because some people do just prefer privacy in the social age of oversharing. (Or it might be a real person who really likes trolling reality show celebrities.)
Since you’re already combing through profiles, let’s get to the second clue: what is the follower/following ratio? As a rule of thumb, most accounts have close to a 1:1 ratio because establishing a relationship isn’t a one-way street. Real accounts follow people AND are followed. So if the user is following thousands and only has a few followers, they’re probably as fake as a Real Housewife.
The final stop on our espionage mission is the third clue: does this engagement seem real? This is more subjective, but take the time to think about how real people tend to interact on social. Are some accounts commenting on your posts saying things that don’t really make sense? (Spammers can set up their fake comments to sound real, but it doesn't always work.) Real comments tend to actually respond to the context of what you’re posting, as opposed to a meaningless “top post” complete with an emoji. Are they liking or RTing absolutely everything? Some bots are configured to engage with everything in a seemingly random pattern of fake love. It's easy to spot; on Instagram, they might like three posts in a row and then follow you, and unfollow a few days later if you don't follow back. Are #they #using #hashtags #like #this or using spammy-looking links? Trust your gut; it's not like these bots are putting much work into this, at least for now.
Now that you know the warning signs, next week we’ll go over the wide world of Facebook fakes, and share some tools you can use to systematically do this to all your fake followers: