I’ve been wanting to write this post on how to spot a fraud on social media for the longest time. With the rise of Insta-stars and scores of bloggers popping up here, there, and everywhere, I thought it might be a good idea to help people differentiate between the authentic guys and girls out there…and the frauds.
I had originally planned on filming this topic of conversation for my YouTube channel, but to be honest, I didn’t trust myself to not accidentally offend someone or say something without properly explaining what I meant. So, by the time you are reading this post, I will have forced my nearest and dearest and one or two blogger friends to proof-read it to make sure I’m getting the point across in the correct way.
This whole topic of conversation has been such a pet peeve of mine for ages. Having worked in social media and directly with bloggers on a daily basis in my job in New York, I became increasingly aware of the amount of frauds that there are out there. Now, let me get one thing clear from the offset. I am purely talking about people who grow their social media following in a dishonest way, in efforts to ultimately get freebies and paid work from brands.
So what’s going on
The entire digital, marketing and PR spectrum is changing every single day. And it’s because of the interests of all of us, as consumers of content: online and otherwise. Magazines are shifting to digital spaces and people are looking to blogs before tv ads, it’s all changing…constantly. If you aren’t already familiar, brands are now (and have been for the last 2-3 years) commissioning bloggers, YouTubers, and people with large followings on social media (influencers, or whatever you would like to call them) who have a following that is predominantly made up of the brands target market, to promote their products i.e they are paying them to talk about them. You’ll have your fair share of individuals who will promote for the money, and that’s their perogative. But you must also bear in mind that you will also have even more people who will promote a product because they genuinely believe in it, and have a loyal audience who they believe would love to see and hear about it. Being paid to promote something will help them to create top quality content that not only their readers/followers will love but also content that the brand can possibly repurpose across it’s own marketing channels if they so wish. It’s just all down to advertising at the end of the day.
Why it’s frustrating & why does it matter
Guys, I cannot stress how frustrating it is. I started my blog two and a half ago when I had no idea that people were paid to post things on Instagram or on their blog. Fast forward to now and I’m obviously well aware. I have an incredibly small social media following in comparison to my Irish and international counterparts. I don’t care though. Sure, it would be nice to have a couple thousand more, it would probably make me a lot more likely to be considered for different jobs and get paid a hell of a lot more, but what I have is what I’ve earned. And that’s the end of it. If I keep plugging away and creating valuable and useful content consistently, then I’m sure I will grow with time and my readers/following will be full of the people who enjoy and appreciate what I do and what I have to say.
I’m frustrated on a personal level by people who waltz onto the scene with a casual 30K followers on their Instagram that they have essentially bought from a buying website or by a number of different inauthentic methods (which I will talk about below). It makes me feel defeated. Sure I could just go buy 20K and get myself on their level, but morally I could never do that. It’s not about the social affirmation and that people might take more of an interest in you if they see 40K other people are taking notice…It’s about the fact that so many brands are playing catch up with familiarising themselves with this whole influencer marketing game. And when you throw all of these frauds with bought followings into the mix, they’re the ones who are taking money off these small, medium or large companies, and promoting their products to a fake audience. These are the people who are not only getting money based off false information, but literally worming their way out of paying for everything. If you work hard enough and long enough at your blog, naturally the perks come in eventually. A brand might invite you to pick a few pieces off their website, or you might get to try new beauty products when they are released. But I must stress that this comes when you have earned it. Then, and only then, is it okay.
I think that this really matters. Now, more than ever before.
I was directly working on projects in my job in New York where we would search for influencers who fit our profile, and would commission them to promote our products in their own unique way. My friend brought Social Blade to my attention in New York, and I nearly fell off my chair when I realised that girls that we had been paying A LOT OF MONEY to actually had audiences that were completely inauthentic. I was infuriated. I had pitched these girls to my boss, done research into why they were a good fit for our brands, and defended my reasoning to anyone who may have questioned it. I truly believed in them. Now, their content that they produced was great, there was no question mark over that. We made sure that anyone who we worked with had a strong and beautiful aesthetic on their website, YouTube channel or Instagram feed. (I think this is where I became so obsessed with my own feed too, more on that here). But anyway, we based our decisions on who to commission equally on follower/engagement numbers and the content that they produced. Because, as a brand, we wanted to have the imagery to repurpose on our Instagram feed, for email marketing, and on our website.
So based on all of the above, when I realised that girls that I had vouched for had a completely fake following, understandably I was incredibly frustrated. That is why I became so interested in seeing who has authentic audiences.
How to spot a fraud
Social Blade will now be your best friend if you find yourself questioning certain people’s following. Make sure you select Instagram from the drop down menu beside the search bar and then you’ll be brought to whoseever profile you searched.
Tell tale signs…
- Follow and unfollow. You’ll see from the big stats grid on the webpage, the person’s follower and following number. An average person does not follow 100 people one day, then unfollow 150 people the next day. This is a method of growing that I can’t stand. I definitely start to notice the same accounts that do this regularly to me. Basically, it’s an individuals way of tricking you into following them by following you first. Once you follow back, they’ll unfollow and move on to the next person. Obviously it’s not illegal but it’s not an organic or authentic way of growing. Some people have apps that do this for them also, which is risky business when you think about the fact that it could be individuals who work in PR that you could keep following. You’ll be immediately blacklisted for them if they realise you’re someone who does this.
- Random spikes in followers (especially if it’s an even number). If you scroll past the stats grid you’ll see a line chart. This line should more often than not be smooth and rising. If you notice that there is many spikes which are resulting in increases of thousands, you can assume that this person has gone to bother of buying a couple of thousand followers per spike.
- Random declines after spikes. This might happen if that same person has bought their followers and then the new accounts also unfollow them after a few days. Instagram regularly clear out fake accounts or accounts that promote buying followers so these will all be cleared out eventually. This will lead to a drop in followers for those who have bought them.
- If someone has an abnormally small amount of photos, or only started on Instagram very recently and has a massive following. This is not normal, unless you’re a world famous celebrity. Take for example the likes of the biggest bloggers in the world: Chiarra Feragni and We Wore What. These ladies have shared over 10,000 images each on Instagram, which is reflective of the size of their audience. If you have 100 photos and 50K followers, something is not adding up. It takes so long to grow so this just doesn’t make sense.
- The number of likes on their photos. Does someone have a large following and a miniscule amount of likes on their pictures? If it looks off, then it probably is. Also, if someone has an even amount of consistent likes across all of their photos, something is probably a bit fishy. Different photos get different numbers in terms of engagement. Personally, an outfit photo would get a lot more likes than a picture of my lunch. I recently came across an account that had 1500 likes on every single image. It was so blatantly fake.
- Are people engaging with their photos? Commenting? Who is commenting? Believe it or not, there are group messages with girls on Instagram who all write in to let each other know when they have posted a photo. These are known as “comment pods”. They might not even know each other, but they’ll comment as if they are besties. I find this so weird, it’s an odd way to get engagement up on their photos but people seem to do just about anything these days.
When to NOT be concerned
- If someone has been verified by Fohr Card and shared this on their page. The verification that they send you looks like the image below.
- If someone is clearly exceptional at what they do, maybe this is just their moment to blow up.
- If someone has been tagged by a brand, this may lead to them getting a burst of followers. Brands like Primark and Topshop often share images and this could lead to hundreds of new followers for the individual, but typically you would not grow by thousands.
- Do they have a large following elsewhere? You may find someone on Instagram and be confused about where their large numbers have come from, but maybe they have huge YouTube or Snapchat account with lots of loyal people who follow along.
- If someone’s following is stagnant or in decline. This does not mean that they have been dishonest in their growth. If their growth, be it going up or going down, is steady, then I wouldn’t worry. Maybe they have switched up what they share and it isn’t of particular interest to those who used to follow them. Maybe they’re in an oversaturated area of the blogging scene and people are finding their content somewhere else.
Who’s responsibility is it
It’s the brands responsibility to do their research on who they hire. Ask for screenshots of impressions, reach, demographics (gender, location and age) on the influencers websites and social accounts and make sure that these matches your target market.
If you are an agent, only represent individuals who you have vetted and firmly stand behind as someone who is authentic and honest. Make sure your influencers are aware of best practises when it comes to growing online in an organic way. If you are an agent, check the Social Blade rating of those who you represent. You’re putting your neck on the line for these people, it’s important. If you notice that some people who you represent is declining online, suggest switching things up, or seeing if there are new ways in which people can try and stay on top of their growth to encourage it.
This year, I feel like people are already becoming so in tune to what goes on on Instagram. Everyone values their time so much. As an individual following probably hundreds of different accounts, I urge you to only follow those who bring a smile to your face. If someone makes your blood boil, unfollow. If someone makes you feel crap about your life, unfollow. I do it all the time! I only follow people who I either look up to, or people who bring some sort of offering to my life, be it through interesting content or beautiful imagery. I also try to only follow people with an authentic following. Of course I’m not going to check if every single person has a genuine number on their Instagram account, ain’t nobody got time for that. But I personally can’t support someone who is blatantly dishonest, and if this is something that is important to you, then you should unfollow too.
This may come across as trivial to a lot of people. If you have nothing to do with this industry and have no desire to follow anyone influential online, then that’s a-okay. But there are millions of people in this game in some form or another and since we’re all making a special effort and putting an emphasis on being transparent at the moment, I thought that this could be a useful read for someone who is interested.
Also, if you yourself are a blogger, Erika wrote a really great article on this topic which also discusses comparing yourself to other bloggers. I found it to be such a good read. You can check it out here.
Thank you for reading, and I welcome your feedback.