Is it Too Easy to Become an Instagram Influencer?

people on phones

Influencer marketing is far more than a hit new trend in marketing. Statistics. Being an Instagram influencer alone has reached $1 billion as an industry. It’s even poised to hit $2 billion by 2019. But, it may not be worth the investment to businesses that they once believed it was.

 

The Experiment One Agency Did to See Just What Goes Into Becoming an Influencer

MediaKix, the same agency that reported the statistic about the size of the Instagram influencer industry decided to see exactly how the industry works – because they know not all influencers are real – in fact, many are fake. And their experiment proved it.

 

Building the Accounts and Personalities

The agency built two Instagram influencer accounts – one that’s centered around a fashion and lifestyle Instagram model, and another built around a travel photographer.

For the first account, they hired a model and did a one-day photoshoot to get the content they needed to populate the profile: calibeachgirl310.

calibeachgirl310 Instagram

The second account, wanderingggirl, was built solely with free stock photos, where no one was facing the camera. They filed the account with shots of a variety of picturesque sights, and blondes who only displayed the back of their heads.

 

Getting the Audience of Followers

With the personalities created, they were ready to buy their way to a massive Instagram following. Because Instagram can flag accounts it believes are engaging in buying followers, the agency played it conservatively, purchasing 1,000 fans per day, but eventually learned they could purchase up to 15,000 at a time without Instagram catching on. Every 1,000 followers cost a mere $3 to $8.

 

Building the Engagement

Followers are nothing if there’s no engagement going on. So, if you have completely fake personalities and followers, what do you do? You buy the engagement, too! Make sure you spend money on each post – to keep up the façade.

MediaKix paid around 12 cents per comment, and between $4-$9 for each 1,000 likes. They decided to purchase anywhere between 500 and 2,500 likes per post, and anywhere from 10 to 50 comments. Of course, these comments were basic – never much beyond “Nice” or “Good job!”

 

Singing Up for Influencer Marketing Platforms

Once the accounts hit the 10,000 follower threshold, MediaKix signed them up for numerous influencer marketing platforms, and started applying for relevant campaigns every day. Between the two accounts, they secured four paid deals. The fashion account scored a deal with a swimsuit company and a national food and beverage company, while the travel account got a deal from the same food and beverage company and an alcohol brand. Both accounts were compensated with either free product or money.

 

What Does This Mean for Brands Who Want to Engage in Influencer Marketing?

Ultimately, the fact that it is so easy for influencers to fake their way to fame cheapens the industry for those who are out there busting their tails to create a genuine and authentic presence. It’s sad to see that it’s so easy to do with Instagram, but this means ad fraud needs to be a valid concern for brands.

It means taking more time to vet the influencers you’re working with, looking into the history of the account. Look at the quality of the photos. The quality of the engagement. Check the likes against the engagement (but as this experiment proved, it can still look good!) Do they really fill a niche?

The average like and comment rates in 2016 were:

For accounts with under 1,000 followers:

  • Average like rate: 03%
  • Average comment rate: 56%

For accounts with 1K to 10K followers:

  • Average like rate: 04%
  • Average comment rate: 27%

For accounts with 10K to 100k followers:

  • Average like rate: 37%
  • Average comment rate: 14%

For accounts with 100K to 1M followers:

  • Average like rate: 78%
  • Average comment rate: 09%

For accounts with 1M to 10M followers:

  • Average like rate: 66%
  • Average comment rate: 06%

Take the follower rate and average total of likes and comments for the last 10 posts. Take that number and divide it by the number of followers, then multiply it by 100 to get the engagement rate. The compare it to the average rate for their follower count. If it’s within reason, you’re on the path to a solid influencer…maybe.

Because likes can be bought just like fans, it’s important to pay attention to the comments – if they’re getting tons of likes, but not a lot of comments on each post, something’s off. If there’s an account with 5,000 followers, the posts should be getting an average of 13.5 comments per photo. If you suspect the engagement is purchased, check the quality of followers and likers.

If you see the people who are liking and commenting don’t look like they too have legit accounts (many won’t likely even have profile photos) then it’s safe to say they’re using bots to inflate their numbers. If you see followers with few posts, not too many followers of their own, and a ton of people they’re following… especially if they have a private account – it’s a good indication it’s fake.

It all comes down to using your judgement. Even legitimate influencers can’t stop bots from following them, so if you only see a few here and there, it’s not an indication the account owner is trying to scam brands for cash and free stuff. Just use the old adage that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

 

Doing Your Homework Matters More Than Ever Before

One of the best ways you can combat against ad fraud and working with influencer bots is to use tools to monitor various Instagram accounts you’re interested in potentially working with. A freetool like Social Blade can help you see users’ growth and account activity. Search the users follower column. If they’re getting 5 to 10 followers a day, great. But if you spot a day where they got thousands of followers? Yeah, chances are those are bought…. And that’s not the kind of influencer you want to work with.

Real influencers work hard for years to build their status and personal brand… and cherish the opportunity to work with brands that align with them and their audience.

Have you ever considered the influencers you’re interested in could be fake? How has this changed your view of influencer marketing?

SEO virtuoso, CEO @Sachs Marketing Group. Focused on being of service to business owners - helping to better position them in the eyes of their audiences.

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