I want to be completely upfront and say that I am fully prepared for the backlash of excuses from people who claim they are growing naturally and not purchasing followers or likes. If I was ok with letting people like this rob companies out of money and products – I would just stay hush over it. But this needs to be addressed on a large scale and dealt with.

I don’t have time to track down every single person but after reading this article you should be able to do the research yourself and look into the people you are hiring for campaigns. I have a long list of people scamming the system, but this article will only highlight a few. I chose three people I have been following for quite awhile – even questioned one of them and they blocked me. That should tell you something.

Over the last week I have been sharing stories on my Instagram account of how to spot fake followers and likers and the people purchasing them. I have never shared anyone’s name publicly on my social media channels for cheating the system but these people are getting angry at my findings because someone decided to purchase me a bunch of bot followers last night (3/31/2017-?) in an effort to make me look bad. I had to make my account private so I could decline all the requests. 18 hours later – the fake accounts are still coming to my page to follow me by the masses – and I am still declining them. Instagram story below:

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I assume the bot followers are not going to stop – but when they do I will make my profile public again.

Bottom Line Up Front: You can’t fake authenticity – having 100,000 or even 1,000,000 follower’s does NOT equal profit for any company. Do your homework on the people you hire.

So here you are .. You have decided to spend money on Instagram marketing since it is the big thing right now for social influencing. You start browsing Instagram and find a few accounts that have a large following (or so it seems) and what appears to be “high engagement.” Lots of likes and comments on each photo – so this person MUST have an influence and you want them to be the influencer(s) who promote your company.

First, never hire someone based on first glance of numbers and pretty photos. Right now, and for a while, Instagram has been experiencing the rise of fake influencers. It is becoming more and more prevalent each day. People are buying followers to make themselves more appealing to companies – and with the purchasing of followers comes buying of likes so it looks like people like their content. People even buy comments.

Those who are buying their influence so rapidly are going to tell stories like this: I grew my account by having amazing content, by engaging my audience or my personal favorite – large accounts featured my work.

Traveltomtom credits his success to being featured by @beaches_n_resorts, @luxuryworldtraveler, and @wonderful_places.

tomtomgrowth

Let’s dive into the analytics of feature accounts and see what they produce follower wise:

I was featured by @luxuryworldtraveler back in December when I was in Singapore and gained 30-40 followers. Nothing to call home about really .. Thanks for the feature though.

The largest follower growth I was able to find was on GoPro and the growth was just over 500 followers for a feature. This does not mean that someone didn’t gain a thousand followers from a feature – it just means the accounts I checked that are large travel accounts did not produce that type of payout.

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I looked at Forever21(since a lot of female travel bloggers also do fashion and lifestyle) who has 12.6 million followers and they produced 133 followers on a random photo they shared.

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I also looked at wonderful_places who have a following of 8.8 million and selected a random photo – that person gained 122 followers.

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While I was working through accounts this morning and checking follower counts from large pages sharing, I discover this: @travellersplanet is gaming the system hard. Prior to her feature she has several days of massive growth and also losses – that is a great way to spot people who are buying followers and then the people are un-following. Her growth is so up and down from purchasing and a lot of her likes are bots. Well done.

trav1

trav4
Over 22,000+ people liked this photo
trav2trav5

 

What appears to be a 300+ gain in followers from being shared by a big account, but just the day before she started a big loop giveaway on Instagram that on the first day she actually lost followers. Maybe some of the followers are from the re-post but it is hard to tell since she is also running a giveaway.

trav3
Some of her fabulous followers – gotta love those free likers and followers.
So why would someone write a blog post and tell people that they grew so quickly by being featured?

*I’m not saying you can’t grow from feature accounts – I’m just saying its very suspect since no one else really is. Question everything!

So how do you find these fake influencers? In just a few simple steps:

  1. Check their follower numbers over the last 30 days on Socialblade.com – see anything abnormal? Maybe they gained 2,000-10,000 followers in a day? Or maybe there is a pattern of growth where they are purchasing hundreds or thousands of followers a day and then they start going negative for days in a row? Purchased
    alyssa ramos
    Normal growth for someone not gaming the system at 100,000 followers

    1. How did I get to this conclusion? After checking sample accounts from size 20,000-17 million, here is what I found:
      1. Accounts around 300,000 followers are growing about 400 followers per day on average. If you see an account below 100,000 growing that fast or faster – something is not right – they could be purchasing followers or even doing follow/unfollow (I will save that for another post). I suppose it IS possible in some way to grow that fast if you are constantly being featured and your followers and likes aren’t from bots to boost your posts. You can also use the sliding bar at the bottom of the page on Socialblade.com to look at each month of growth – when someone is purchasing followers, you can almost pinpoint where it started by the massive spike in growth.
        1. Caveat – a lot of people are doing loop giveaways and they will run for a few days causing massive spikes in growth followed by a massive loss in following. That is still purchasing followers and then they are losing a lot of them.
        2. A lot of accounts are getting smart and are buying the same amount of followers each day – how is it possible to grow the same number almost everyday for months on end with no change? There should be peaks and valleys to some extent.
      2. After looking at big pages with several million followers (Beautifuldestinations, Forever21, wonderful_places, and GoPro) after they featured photos that belonged to another account, most of the accounts received a jump in following around 100-200. Some were higher (500) some much lower (30) some even showed negative followings for the day – but not one of them showed a gain over 500. So if an influencer tells you they gained 10,000 followers overnight because an account featured them – I would be seriously weary of this because the stats do not back it up.
    2. Look at the people who are liking their photos. Usually popular accounts will show up first, but keep scrolling – because you are about to find a bunch of people with no faces on them – Ghost accounts.  Purchased likes. fr3fr4
      1. So this begs the question – why would a bunch of ghosts like the photo or even be remotely interested in your products.. especially by the masses?
      2. You will also notice they come in sets – so when someone is purchasing likes, you will see a string of “real” looking accounts along with ghost face accounts.
      3. Bot accounts are getting smart – they know people want real looking accounts when they purchase, so they will now add a profile picture. Click some of these accounts – notice anything off? They haven’t posted any photos and they are following a ton of people. BOT.
        1. However – this is not ALWAYS the case. I have a few followers who do not use their accounts and have no profile picture: my mom, an old co-worker, etc. This does happen. BUT when you see several of these in a row – purchased.
      4. Look at who their followers are. Look for patterns of ghost followers. You may need to scroll back a bit but if they purchase followers they most likely do it frequently so you won’t have to go far to find them. The downside to purchasing followers (other than you being a lying ass hat cheating the system) is that the ghost accounts, or bots as Instagram calls them, get cleaned out every now and again by Instagram. Which means those people buying followers will see a huge drop in their following and will need to make up for it by purchasing more followers – more bots. scott eddy 3scott eddy 2
      5. Look at the people commenting on the photos. Purchased comments tend to be spammy looking. For example: a lot of emojis, tag the person’s name in the comment, or even look strange.
        1. Look around at the commenters – I looked at people commenting on posts and typically purchased comments look like this: people leaving full English comments and they are Spanish speaking with no word of English on their page, a kid, and/or don’t even follow the account. Those are big warning signs right there. Chances are, if someone doesn’t follow you, they will not leave a personalized comment – it will be an emoji of sorts most likely as they are trying to get your attention and to follow them.
        2. If you open the page of the person commenting – are they a kid with less than 20 photos and a bunch of selfies? Probably a bot account.

 

Let’s Analyze Accounts:

I’ve been tracking accounts since last year for growth and anything weird going on. I am going to pick my favorite Instagram scammers to highlight for this section. My first two: @traveltomtom and @travel_fred. You know them as “luxury travel bloggers” as they spent a large part of last year in Asia staying in luxury villas and being pampered by virtually every luxury hotel in Bali. Their photos actually aren’t that bad and Fred is good with his drone.

They work with a lot of big name companies and luxury hotels.

One problem – they purchase their followers and likes. Between August 1, 2016 and September 1, 2016 they both had the largest growth on their accounts with Tom gaining 21,000+ new followers and Fred gaining 17,000+. For Fred, who had a total following of 42,000 at that point in time, a 17,000 gain in followers in ONE month was almost half his current following. Do you know who is growing that fast in one month? Practically no one .. UNLESS they are a well-established account with a ton of followers already. Case in point: @theblondeabroad – she has over 300,000 followers and is growing at a rate of about 19,000 a month now.

You can find Fred and Tom’s stats on Socialblade.com.

What is interesting is that the month before and the month after these peak months of growth, both Tom and Fred both purchased bulk followers then leveled off to an average of 3,000 followers a month. Did they all of a sudden lose their luxury lifestyle steam? No. They reached a point where they could work all the hotels they wanted and no longer needed to grow overnight.

The below photos are some of the “people” who like and follow Tom or Fred – and there are thousands of them. Just keep scrolling to find them all.

fr1
Followers of Fred

fr2
Look at those legit followers!
fr3fr4fr5

 

 

Next – Scott Eddy. You know him as “a top 10 luxury travel influencer” with over a million followers on Twitter. I know him as the biggest scammer in the game. I first noticed something was off last year in spring/early summer when I saw his tweets getting a ton of likes and re-tweets. So I started looking into the people who were doing this. Some of them are real people who follow him – but most of them were just bot accounts that had minimal followings and some were just empty accounts. I was most suspicious when his selfies were getting so many re-tweets. He isn’t even a half-naked chick – it’s a man with a cheesy ass grin and a wide angle and some horrible editing. WHY would so many people (and a lot of grown men) re-tweet something that isn’t even interesting?  These accounts appear to be real but they all have the same characteristics: about 50 followers, some only re-tweet for others (because they are purchased), they aren’t even travel related, they don’t ever engage – just like or re-tweet.

Let’s look at his stats starting with Twitter since that is his major platform and convinced someone to give him the blue check of verification. In March of 2016 he was on Klout’s list of top 10 most influential people in travel – now he is nowhere to be found on that list – my guess is that so many people are onto his game he has backed off trying to convince the world he is worth more than his fake following.

Stats:

Looking at his stats on socialblade.com – you can see where he has purchased followers. Just recently on March 17, 2017 he lost 5,077 followers on Twitter and the very next day gained 4,981. This is what Scott does, he replaces what is lost. On Instagram on September 2, 2016 he lost 19,000+ followers and the next day had a gain of 11,000+ followers, then the next day 7,000+ followers. Ironic how the days around it aren’t supporting the growth, only when there is a loss.

Between January 1, 2017 and February 1, 2017 he gained 24,000+ followers, pushing him over the 200K mark by 10,000. Since then he has gained an average of 4,500 followers per month. Why? His engagement and likes are not even 4-5% of his following, a lot of bot likers, paid comments .. all of it is fake.

Some of Scott’s followers and likers:

scott eddy 1

scott eddy 2
Those mostly look legit – not

scott eddy 3
Oh look – get followers AND follow_comment – BOTS
So what is the actual reach of these three men? That is a fantastic question. They are all three in the luxury travel industry. What do they have in common? Scamming the system.

Tom and Fred are young and don’t have a following of people (real ones anyway) that purchase luxury hotel rooms or vacations. Most of their comments come from other bloggers/influencers or are younger. How many millennials can afford to stay in a hotel that costs several hundred a night? Most college kids and people leaving college aren’t flush with cash. I would be willing to bet they attracted more “influencers” to contact the hotel for a free stay than rooms sold.

And Scott – well his following is mostly purchased and other influencers are following him to learn from someone who is a “leader in luxury travel.” He probably isn’t selling one first class seat on any airline, because let’s be honest – who is purchasing those seats? Business executives, points or status upgrades, people who have more money than they need (and probably aren’t following Scott’s every move to book their next trip), and occasional upgrade’s by people when they check in.

**The stats produced in this article ARE open to the public on Socialblade.com  – these numbers are not made up. The photos in this article were taken over the last few days and are factual.

***Without receipts I can’t prove that they actually purchased these followings and/or likes – but the ghost accounts by the masses are not real followers and are characteristic of purchased followers and likes. If you are a business hiring someone as an influencer – at a minimum you should be trying to reach real people.

 So what now?

How does your company ACTUALLY find an influencer who is being honest about their growth, reach and engagement? I would start by saying quit using only one social media channel as your ONLY qualifier to hire someone. Blog stats, reach and engagement on other channels, and having klout in the industry ARE important. You can’t fake blog stats (well you kind of can by having people go to your page – but it wouldn’t be by the thousands)– a blog reach with the right demographics is going to land you more business than an Instagram page full of fake followers, likes and comments. People follow blogs because they resonate with the reader and/or find their content of interest.

People are so obsessed with gaming Instagram that marketing executives have focused on using that platform to promote products because they think these people have reach. You really shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket though – look what happened to MySpace and Vine. Look at a full spectrum.

If you made it this far and you have been seeing my Instagram stories everyday, congrats – you are the real MVP for sticking around and seeing this to the end.

A big shout out to all the companies that have been scammed by the fake influencers. I feel for all of you. My sympathy ❤

31 thoughts

  1. I was so hooked until the end! Thank you so much and really, hats off that you exposed these scammers. This was such an informative and well researched article, and I am sure, it opened up the eyes for lots of companies to pay attention who they collab with. Thanks Nicki 🙂

    Like

  2. Thanks for writing this. It has been a major source of frustration for me, especially as I work so hard to gain a following. It is so easy for me to tell who has authentic followers and who doesn’t, but brands need to be more aware of this too.

    Like

  3. Oh my god this makes me so mad! Being a travel blogger and spending hours of my day on Instagram to aiming to be more prolific and getting noticed by big companies knowing others have just paid for followers and are still getting huge villas in Bali for free makes my blood boil!!
    Thank you so much for sharing this and taking the time to Instagate! You rock! ❤

    Like

  4. You forgot about Facebook! If you click on the followers, you get analytics from the past two weeks. I was checking out some of my favourite bloggers last night to see their growth trajectory, and was totally shocked to see how many were very obviously buying followers. ‘Rosie Londoner’ from thelondoner.me in particular had bought tens of thousands over a single afternoon. It’s a shame because I really used to look up to a lot of these people, and I feel like it negatively skews the rest of us to PR companies in terms of their expectations for campaigns and collabs 😦

    Like

    1. I didn’t even bring up Facebook because that is a whole new ballpark. It is frustrating – but I don’t post a lot to my Facebook because it feels like a lost cause. I do however know the accounts that are scamming the system. Another post on that soon.

      Like

  5. Ahhh, I didn’t realize some of those big accounts bought followers and likes! Super interesting article with all those stats! Its sad that people feel they need to buy likes and followers.

    Like

  6. Thanks for the article very insightful
    Particularly from a fairly new instagrammers producing my own content and wondering why many other accounts seems to have substantially higher growth in the same space.

    Thanks !

    Like

  7. We have been bombarded with fake influencers since we launched our airline. Everyone says thay can reach our audience. Such a waste of time. Did you ever post the follow / unfollow story? Talk about an epidemic. So much effort toward so little gain.

    Like

  8. Totally prolific in every industry. My fave is beauty brands giving insta girls all these free products to promote and Im over here thinking, yeah, I don’t know if the 98% male audience following for free images to jerk off to are really interested in that new fake tan…
    I can’t believe they tried to sabotage you! Why are the resorts still giving them all these freebies though? Wouldn’t they be seeing a really shitty ROI (if they are even measuring it clearly) and start to question it??

    Like

  9. It’s very annoying. I know some Instagrammers who are making Instagram courses gearing to show how they grew their following and are charging a couple hundred dollars for a course and I am 95% sure they have bought their followers. Which is just disgusting in my opinion. Buy all the followers you want but the moment you begin to monetize off your fake followers is just slimy.

    Like

  10. I see this a lot and it’s really obvious. What annoys me is when these people then do blog posts/vlogs/conferences to teach others how to achieve their amazing growth when they played the system but aren’t honest about it.

    Like

  11. Great article, LOVE all the “proof” … it is possible because most people don’t understand the mechanisms behind social media is all automated …. it is real issue that we equate follower numbers with influence when all of it can be gamed.

    Like

  12. I love this article. I wish every brand read this! One thing I have to disagree with though is, if a right account features you, you can get a lot of followers. I’ve had bigger accounts feature me like big clothing companies and only gained like 50 max, but when I do a “sewcialist saturday” posts which is exactly like mom crush monday posts except with one other seamstress account that I feature(so not a 4 people collage but just one photo featuring one account), I gain anywhere from 300-700! So it depends greatly on your niche, the other account’s niche and etc.

    Like

  13. Oh my goodness, what an eye opener! Thank you so much for sharing this and more than that for taking the time to collate a post that is easy to follow and understand! Im so disappointed to see that all the people in my country that companies are looking to as ‘social infulencers’ very clearly are scamming them!

    Like

  14. Amazing article. I was aware about this fake likes and followers going on everywhere but the way u did your homework is just amazing..

    Totally in love. Companies should and must read this article for sure.

    Like

  15. I knew some accounts bought followers and all. But I had no clue that people could buy followers to someone. It’s a really interesting post you wrote here, very well put together. More people should realise that a huge mass of followers isn’t everything.

    Like

  16. Hi Nicki! Loved the article and how real and honest you were – and I agree, it’s a huge issue that I really hope dies off soon so instagram can go back to an even playing field for us who work hard. I did want to add something from my own personal experience though that is a little contradictory to what you were saying about feature accounts. I recently did a Instagram takeover with lonely planet (1.2 million followers, so not nearly as big as some of the ones you mentioned) and grew by over 1000 followers after just their first photo. For my account that was at about 15k at the time, that was a huge win. With that said, I am seeing some of them drop off since then, but I think it’s worth mentioning that a lot of factors can go into how many followers it’s possible to gain from features. A few things I think are factors: how similar the featured photographers images are to the account that featured them (i.e. Is it the right audience for you), placement of your handle in the comment/credit, the quality of your account in general – i.e. you are never guaranteed to gain a huge following from these accounts but if you have quality content and a cohesive feed your chances go up. While I agree most of the time feautures don’t grow you like crazy overnight, I think it is possible to have some big wins with them. Hope this adds some interesting data to your sleuthing 🙂

    Like

    1. You are right – people can grow from features. It’s not impossible – I just couldn’t find anyone grow to the tune of 20,000+ followers in a month from features. I’m sure there are many people who gain followers from features. Someone told me the other day they gained 1,500 followers from a feature on Anthropology months ago.
      I do think you are right about the factors though.

      Like

  17. Bloggers not just instagram influencers do it too….checked out people who post their numbers and say things like they are “so blessed” to be over 100k on twitter….only for me to check and they added almost 12k on twitter – IN ONE DAY. Karma will hopefully get you.

    Like

  18. Great article.
    The only thing I would mention, is the comment about blog Views. With so many influencers who have big pageview numbers, they get the traffic to a handful of well optimized seo posts, while the rest of their content gets a tiny % of the overall traffic. I recommend getting stats of traffic on their last months NEW content, and sponsored content particularly, so you aren’t paying for traffic you will never ever see.

    .

    Like

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