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How to Check for Fake Followers on Instagram and TikTok

8 minute read

Influencer marketing is a powerful way to engage with new audiences and boost your brand’s awareness and sales. But there's a catch: the rise of fake Instagram followers. Research shows 55% of brands say they experienced influencer fraud in 2023, a sharp increase from 31% the year before. In this article, we'll tackle how to do a fake follower check and spot fake followers on Instagram and TikTok to ensure your creator campaigns are as impactful as they should be.

What are fake followers?

Fake followers on social media are essentially digital facades. They might look like any other profile on the surface, but scratch that surface and you'll find there's not much underneath. 

Fake followers can be inactive accounts, perhaps set up by businesses that sell boosts in follower numbers, or they might be bots – automated programs designed to follow, like, and comment without any real human behind them.

The key thing about these followers is that there's no actual engagement or interest in the influencer’s content. They're just numbers, designed to inflate an influencer's perceived popularity and reach. While they might make an account look impressive at first glance, there's no substance to back up those numbers.

Why is it important to check for fake followers?

In a word: impact. The whole point of influencer marketing is to tap into an influencer's audience – an audience that listens, trusts, and engages with them. When a significant portion of that audience is fake, the potential impact of your marketing campaign plummets.

But there's more to it than just wasted effort. The presence of fake followers can skew your analytics, making it harder to measure the true effectiveness of your campaigns. You might think you're reaching thousands of potential customers when, in reality, your message is falling on deaf ears.

Plus, partnering with influencers who have a high percentage of fake followers can harm your brand's credibility. Consumers today are savvy; they can often tell when an influencer's engagement doesn't add up. By associating your brand with such influencers, you risk damaging the trust you’ve built with your real audience.

Lastly, there's the financial aspect. Influencer marketing isn't just about likes and comments – it's an investment. And like any investment, you want a return on investment (ROI). Fake followers mean you're less likely to see that return, as these followers won't convert into customers or drive real engagement.

In the next section, we'll explore key signs to help you tell the difference between fakes and genuine influencers with real, engaged followers.

Signs of fake followers on Instagram and TikTok

Once you’re aware of the red flags, it’s pretty easy to spot fake followers. Here are the key signs to look out for:

1. Unusual follower-to-following ratios

Popular influencers often have a significantly higher number of followers compared to the accounts they follow. Top influencers might have millions of followers but follow only a few hundred. 

For example, social media superstar Pamela Reif has 9.2M followers but she only follows 849 people.

Non-influencers typically show an even ratio between followers and users they follow. 

Be wary of accounts where the numbers don't add up – like those following thousands but with few followers in return, or accounts with a massive following but minimal posts. These imbalances often signal that something’s off.

2. Inconsistent engagement rates

A key indicator of authenticity is the engagement rate. A healthy influencer account should show likes and comments that are proportionate to the number of followers. As a rule of thumb, a 1-3% engagement rate is standard. Anything significantly lower can be a red flag. 

That said, an unusually high engagement rate, say above 10%, could suggest artificial boosting, like engagement groups where influencers mutually inflate their stats.

Wondering how to work out the engagement rate? You can calculate it yourself manually. Here is the formula:

(Total likes + total comments)/followers x 100

Let’s say an influencer you’re interested in has 100K followers and on average 900 likes per post. 

That makes an engagement rate of 0.9%, because 900*100/100000=0.9. 

If you need to figure out the engagement rate quickly, at scale, or you simply don’t like math, you can search for any influencer on Storyclash. You’ll see the engagement rate at the top of the influencer’s profile. 

For example, popular Dutch beauty influencer Nikkie de Jager has 19.5M followers and an engagement rate of 1.9%. 

3. Sudden follower growth

Genuine influencers usually exhibit consistent growth and activity. Be cautious of accounts that show a sudden, unexplained surge in followers. This is often indicative of fake or purchased followers. 

You can use Storyclash to check follower growth over time. For example, US-based influencer Jodie Woods has 1.5M followers. As you can see, her follow count grew from 1.4M to 1.5M over the past 6 months. So the follower growth is a gradual curve, not a spike: 

Of course, it can happen that an influencer posts a viral video and gains a bunch of new followers. So, rapid follower growth doesn’t necessarily guarantee the followers are fake. But it’s worth double-checking to ensure there hasn’t been any foul play. 

4. Empty or imitative profile sections

An authentic influencer puts effort into their Insta bio and profile. Accounts with minimal details, hidden profiles, or no profile picture can be suspect. Even more suspicious are profiles with bios that feel copied or use stock images – a tactic known as "catfishing."

Large influencers will usually link to their management agency and/or any brands they have founded.

For example, the Insta bio of Italian mega influencer Chiara Ferragni says she is a mom and digital entrepreneur. She links to her agency and a current project she is working on:

5. Generic or irrelevant comments

Engagement quality matters just as much as quantity. A genuine influencer with an engaged audience will get (at least some) thoughtful, personal comments. 

For example, US influencer Jeffree Star reviewed a concealer from NYX in an Instagram reel. It received many detailed comments, with one user praising his skin and saying he had “nothing to conceal,” and others noting they had missed his reviews. 

Watch out for accounts with comments that are vague ("nice post", "awesome") or just random smilies. These are often signs of bot activity or superficial engagement, which add no real value to a brand looking for genuine influence.

6. Follower location inconsistencies

Are an influencer's followers mainly from one specific location that's different from where the influencer is based? Has there been a sudden influx of followers from a place that seems random? If so, it can be a red flag. This might indicate that the followers were purchased.

Genuine followers typically align more closely with the influencer’s actual location and audience reach. Let’s take Austrian influencer Vicky Heiler as an example. 

If we check the Instagram audience origin data in Storyclash, we can see that Vicky Heiler’s audience is mostly from Europe and the U.S,  with 31% of followers coming from Germany and 29% is from Austria. This is pretty much in line with what we would expect of an influencer who grows their audience organically and has genuine followers.

If you don’t have access to Storyclash or another influencer marketing platform, you can ask the creator to send you a screenshot of their Instagram Insights page. 

Instagram offers some limited location-based insights that can help you understand where a creator’s audience is located and what content is resonating with them. However, in the age of Photoshop and deep-fakes, this method is less reliable than checking it yourself. 

Instagram fake follower check: How to check for fake followers on Instagram

While there are many warning signs, there is a more accurate method to know for sure if an influencer’s followers are fake. 

Storyclash’s audience data tells you everything you need to know about a creator’s audience, including demographics like age, location, and native language. More importantly, you’ll find an Audience Quality Score which is a reliable indication of whether a creator’s followers are genuine or fake.

Storyclash breaks a creator’s audience down into four categories:

  • Real people
  • Influencers
  • Mass followers
  • Suspicious accounts

To check a creator’s Audience Quality Score, log into Storyclash and search for the creator. Then click “Audience.”

Let’s take a look at Portuguese beauty influencer Karoline Lima. We can see that her Audience Quality Score is 7.5. That’s pretty good!

You can scroll down to see a breakdown of her audience. A closer look reveals that her audience is made up of 1M real people, or 27.4% of her audience. 14% are fellow influencers, 52.8% are mass followers, and 5.7% are suspicious accounts (likely bots). 

Fake follower check: How to check for fake followers on TikTok

To check for fake followers on TikTok, log into Storyclash and search for the creator. Then click “Audience.”

You’ll see an Audience Quality Score at the top. For instance, US TikTok influencer Monet McMichael has 3.7M followers on TikTok and an impressive Audience Quality Score of 9.1 out of 10. This suggests that a brand that collaborates with her has a good chance of reaching real people on TikTok.

Want to find better influencers, faster?

We get it, finding influencers is tough. And the threat of fake followers makes it even harder. 

Luckily, Storyclash makes it simple to find content creators that are a perfect fit for your brand. Just type in what you’re looking for and let AI suggest high-quality influencers in your niche. Armed with insightful and accurate data, you can easily decide if they’re the right fit or not. 

Interested? Book a demo today to see Storyclash in action. If you’d prefer to keep reading, learn how to conduct a thorough influencer audit to figure out who is a good fit for your brand.