New research has revealed that brands are increasingly falling into a fake influencer trap with an estimated £157 million per year wasted on Instagram campaigns with fake influencers – i.e. those who buy fake followers to up their numbers and credibility rather than building a genuine audience. That equates to over six and a half million posts, with an average cost per post of £253  – keep in mind that the bigger the influencer, the higher the post with reality TV star Kim Kardashian said to charge around £390,000 for a single branded Instagram post.

The study, by Captiv8 also concluded that over 10% of reactions to the paid-for-post originated with fake amounts, meaning brands are failing to get full value from their influencer marketing budget.

The worst hit categories

The Captiv8 study examined a number of different industries to see which sectors brands are most likely to fall into the fake influencer trap. Fashion posts were the hardest hit, with the highest volume of fraudulent activity (14%) spread across actions such as likes, shares and comments. Entertainment and travel were joint second with 12% of activity classed as fraudulent, followed closely by beauty-related posts at 11%. Food, pets and traditional celebrity posts were at the other end of the scale, with the least amount of fake activity.

What should you look for to avoid spending money on fake influencers?

As a brand, it’s important to thoroughly do your research on any influencer that you’re considering working with. While it’s hard for an influencer themselves to weed out fake accounts and all profiles will have a few bots or fake followers to some extent – there are warning signs that you should look out for. If you spot any of the following, there’s a good chance that you could be wasting money to reach fake accounts rather than genuine consumers.

  1. Sudden increases and decreases in follower numbers

This is the most obvious sign that the influencer you have shortlisted is guilty of buying fake followers. As part of your due diligence, it’s well worth monitoring follower numbers for a few weeks. Sudden spikes followed by dips indicate a mass of fake followers are being added.

  • Too much audience reach and engagement

When you look for influencer accounts to amplify your brand, you obviously want to focus on those with decent levels of reach and engagement but, this is a double edged source as engagement, such as likes and comments can also be bought and paid for, giving a skewed vision of popularity to push up sponsored post charges.

Captiv8 benchmarked average engagement rates with fashion images achieving around 24% reach, beauty around 34%, travel approximately 21% and fitness around 15%. Beware that Stories reach is much lower and apart from in the beauty sector, typically doesn’t reach double figures.