The Ultimate Guide to Detecting Fake Followers on Instagram in 2024

Instagram influencer marketing is powerful, but only when done right. Partnering with an influencer who has a large percentage of fake followers is like throwing your money down the drain. Those phony followers will never convert into real customers or engagement for your brand.

Fake followers hurt everyone involved in influencer marketing:

  • Brands waste their budgets and get minimal ROI
  • Legitimate influencers get passed over for partnerships
  • Instagram‘s credibility and ad revenue suffers

In 2023, fake followers cost businesses an estimated $1.9 billion in wasted influencer spend. As influencer marketing keeps growing, that number will likely top $2.5 billion in 2024 unless we take action.

Fake followers are a complex challenge, but they can be overcome with the right strategies. In this ultimate guide, I‘ll give you the most effective tips, tools, and techniques to detect fake followers and ensure your Instagram influencer campaigns drive real results.

The Insidious Rise of Instagram‘s Fake Follower Economy

First, let‘s look at the hard data on how widespread this issue really is:

Instagram Fake Follower Statistics Value
Estimated % of Instagram accounts that are fake 15-35%
Estimated % of influencers who have bought fake followers 40-50%
Average % of an influencer‘s followers that are fake 20-30%
Estimated total fake accounts on Instagram 250-300 million
Estimated total fake influencer followers 70-100 million
Instagram ad $ wasted on fake followers per year $1.9 billion

The fake follower economy has exploded in recent years. There are now hundreds of services that openly sell fake Instagram followers and engagement. It‘s as easy as buying followers on an ecommerce site.

A quick Google search for "buy Instagram followers" pulls up dozens of sites offering 1,000 followers for as little as $2-10. These fake followers are either robot accounts or inactive/hacked accounts being controlled by bots.

Example of site selling fake Instagram followers

The cheap prices and promised instant credibility are a powerful lure for aspiring influencers and businesses. But like anything that seems too good to be true, buying fake followers comes with serious consequences.

The Risks of Buying Fake Followers:

  • Destroyed brand reputation when exposed
  • Potential bans/penalties from Instagram
  • Wasted marketing dollars and effort
  • Inability to convert followers into customers
  • Skewed audience insights and demographics

Despite these risks, fake followers are more rampant than ever heading into 2024. Part of the problem is many brands and influencers don‘t know how to spot fakes – or aren‘t checking carefully enough.

How to Spot Fake Instagram Followers: 15 Dead Giveaways

So what separates real followers from fakes? Here are the biggest red flags I look for when auditing an Instagram account for phony followers:

  1. Abnormally low engagement rate. Engagement rates under 1-2% are suspicious.
  2. Spammy, generic, or irrelevant comments. Look out for repetitive or off-topic comments.
  3. Sudden, drastic spikes in followers. Real growth is more gradual and consistent.
  4. Lots of followers but low-quality content. Accounts with great content attract real followers.
  5. Majority of followers look fake. Check profile pics, bios, and posts of a random sample.
  6. Followers have nonsensical usernames. Real usernames rarely have lots of numbers/symbols.
  7. Lopsided following/follower ratio. Most real accounts follow fewer than they are followed by.
  8. Large batches of followers gained/lost. This suggests bot activity like mass following.
  9. Engagement doesn‘t match follower demographics. E.g. mostly foreign language comments.
  10. Engagement drops off suddenly on newer posts. Consistently low engagement is fishy.
  11. Comments are misaligned with content. Generic "great pic!" type comments on every post.
  12. Disproportionately high like-to-comment ratio. Real followers tend to comment more.
  13. Lots of private accounts following. Most real people have public profiles.
  14. Direct response/CTA posts get little engagement. Real followers act on relevant offers.
  15. Vanity metrics emphasized over substance. E.g. bragging about follower milestones constantly.

Here‘s an example of what fake followers often look like when you dive into an account‘s audience:

Example of fake Instagram follower profiles

Fake follower red flags: no profile pics, no/few posts, nonsensical usernames, no bios.

Of course, even accounts with 100% real followers will have some of these red flags show up to varying degrees. No audience is perfect.

But if an influencer raises 5+ of these red flags, and the issues are severe, there‘s a good chance they have a significant fake follower problem. I recommend proceeding with extreme caution.

Digging Deeper: How to Manually Audit an Instagram Account for Fakes

If you really want to be sure an influencer‘s followers are legit, nothing beats a manual audit. It‘s the most time-consuming option, but also the most thorough and accurate.

Here‘s my 6-step manual audit process:

  1. Check overall engagement rate
  2. Analyze quality of comments
  3. Scan follower list for obvious fakes
  4. Analyze a random sample of 100+ followers
  5. Look for signs of automation and botting
  6. Compare older posts to newer posts

This process will take 30 mins to several hours depending on how deep you go and how large the account is. I recommend auditing at least 3-5% of total followers for statistical significance.

As you work through these steps, keep a running tally of fake follower red flags like the ones mentioned above. If more than 15-20% of the followers you analyze appear fake, the account likely has a significant problem.

Here‘s an example of how the data from a manual audit might look:

Metric Value
Account Follower Count 250,000
Audit Sample Size 2,500 (1%)
Engagement Rate 0.85%
Estimated Real Followers 72%
Estimated Fake Followers 28%
Average Comments per Post 155
Spam Comment % 22%
Unverified and Private Follower % 54%
Inactive Follower % (no post in 60+ days) 34%

Example manual audit results. Significant % of followers raising red flags.

In this example audit, around 28% of the account‘s followers exhibited characteristics common to fakes. That‘s a worryingly high percentage outside the normal range.

I would not recommend this influencer for campaigns unless they do a major follower cleanup. Even then, their engagement rate is suspiciously low for their audience size.

Using Fake Follower Audit Tools to Save Time

Manual audits are great for vetting influencers you‘re seriously considering partnering with. But they‘re impractical for screening a large pool of potential influencers. That‘s where fake follower audit tools come in.

These tools analyze an account‘s followers and activity to estimate fake follower percentages automatically. They‘re not perfect, but they can help you identify possible fakes much faster than doing it by hand.

Here are a few of the most popular services:

1. IG Audit Pro

  • Cost: $5-30 per audit
  • Accounts: Up to 10M followers
  • Speed: Up to 10,000 followers/min
  • Accuracy: Uses 16 factors to detect fakes
  • Unique features: Detailed audience quality reports, account history

2. HypeAuditor

  • Cost: Starts at $79/month
  • Accounts: No limit
  • Speed: Up to 500,000 followers/hour
  • Accuracy: Uses AI and 28+ metrics
  • Unique features: Influencer discovery, campaign tracking

3. Modash

  • Cost: Starts at $19/month
  • Accounts: Up to 10M followers
  • Speed: Up to 2,000 followers/min
  • Accuracy: Uses 20+ data points
  • Unique features: In-depth engagement insights, audience demographics

All of these tools will give you a decent overview of an account‘s suspected fake followers in just a few minutes. However, their accuracy is not 100% foolproof. They can miss some sophisticated fake follower techniques.

Tips for getting the most out of fake follower audit tools:

  • Audit accounts multiple times for confirmation
  • Compare results from 2-3 different tools
  • Don‘t write off accounts based on tools alone
  • Use tools for initial screening, not final vetting
  • Manually analyze a small follower sample too

Tools are best used to catch any obvious fakes early on before you invest more time vetting an influencer manually. Think of them as a first line of defense, not a complete solution.

How to Protect Your Own Instagram Account from Fake Followers

As an influencer or brand, you also need to be proactive about keeping fakes off your own account. Even if you never buy fake followers yourself, they can still accumulate over time:

  • Bots follow you accidentally
  • Fake accounts follow you to appear "real"
  • Inactive accounts never unfollow you
  • Your niche is targeted by follow-bots

Luckily, there are steps you can take to minimize your fake follower ratio and keep your audience healthy:

  1. Never buy followers or engagement. It‘s not worth the risk. Period.
  2. Block any obvious fake followers. Don‘t let them linger on your account.
  3. Remove fakes who slip through. Periodically prune your follower list.
  4. Avoid widely used hashtags. Stick to niche tags bots are less likely to spam.
  5. Actively encourage real engagement. Ask questions, run contests, etc.
  6. Nurture relationships with legitimate followers. Respond, DM, cross-promote.
  7. Monitor your audience insights weekly. Look for unusual changes or trends.
  8. Make your account private. This filters out many mass follower bots.
  9. Consider a "follower reset." Temporarily go private and/or block all followers.

It‘s impossible to keep your account 100% fake-free, but you can definitely minimize fakes with consistent effort. Aim to keep your fake follower ratio under 5-10% at most.

What Instagram is Doing to Fight Fake Followers (And Why It‘s Not Enough)

Instagram knows the fake follower epidemic is a major threat to their advertising cash cow. Over the past few years, they‘ve stepped up efforts to combat inauthentic activity:

  • Improved automated fake account detection
  • More aggressive blocks/bans of bot accounts
  • Legal action against fake follower sellers
  • Updates to ranking algorithms
  • New features like "About This Account"
  • Removing like counts in some regions
  • Verified badges for high-risk accounts

These initiatives are a step in the right direction, and they‘ve definitely made it harder for fake follower merchants to operate. But the fake follower economy is still alive and well.

Why Instagram is struggling to contain the fake follower problem:

  1. Whack-a-mole effect. One fake account supplier gets shut down, two more pop up.
  2. Lack of human oversight. AI detection is still flawed and resource-intensive.
  3. Cat-and-mouse games. Suppliers keep finding new ways to evade detection.
  4. Misaligned incentives. Investors still value total user growth over anything else.
  5. Mismatch between culture and policy. Many still see fakes as a legitimate growth hack.

Instagram popup warning about fake followers

Example of Instagram‘s in-app warning about fake followers.

At the end of the day, brands and influencers can‘t rely on Instagram to solve this problem for us. We need to take ownership of our follower health for ourselves. The best defense will always be careful vetting and monitoring.

The Path Forward for Influencer Marketing

I firmly believe influencer marketing still has an incredibly bright future ahead, despite the looming specter of fake followers. Consumers still crave authentic endorsements from people they trust.

However, the influencer landscape is evolving quickly. Winning the battle against fakes will require a fundamental shift in how we approach partnerships:

  1. Quality of followers will matter more than quantity
  2. Long-term partnerships will beat one-off sponsored posts
  3. Brands will demand more in-depth audience data
  4. Compensation will be tied to concrete results, not vanity metrics
  5. Smaller, niche accounts will be preferred over mass-appeal ones
  6. Authenticity and integrity will become non-negotiable

In other words, it‘s time to grow up as an industry. We need higher standards, greater accountability, and more focused strategies.

The fake follower challenge is a big one, but it‘s also an opportunity. Those who adapt and overcome it will be in prime position to win big in the influencer marketing game.

Now it‘s your turn. Commit to taking at least ONE action based on this guide in the next week:

  • Audit your current influencer partners
  • Analyze your own follower quality
  • Research influencers in your niche more carefully
  • Report a fake follower merchant to Instagram

Let‘s work together to expose fake followers and secure the future of influencer marketing. It starts with you.