Written by Corinne Edmiston

A recent study found consumers are seven times more likely to trust someone they follow on social media over a celebrity. There’s no denying it — influencer marketing works. But it only works if marketing professionals choose the right partners, and that winds up being the catch for a lot of brands.

Anyone can say he or she is an influencer — and what’s worse — anyone with some cash and unscrupulous morals can support that claim by making it appear as if that’s the case by purchasing social media followers. This is especially rampant on platforms like Twitter and Instagram.

Without thoughtful human oversight, automated influencer platforms are susceptible to data manipulation. Read on for four signs a potential partner may not be as influential as they claim.

1. There’s Not Enough Information
A fake influencer is purposely vague on all fronts. It can feel impossible to decipher who they are or where else to find them on the web. Worse, they could have too many — or too few — posts, making it even harder to determine what they’re truly passionate about.

In the photo below, Travel Mindset creative director and award-winning travel blogger Jade Broadus (vagabond3) includes a mini biography as well as an email address where you can reach her.

If there’s no link in their profile (usually to a blog), no mention of how they identify as an influencer (i.e., fashion, travel, photography, etc.), or you can’t even find a first name associated with their account, it’s best to look at other options.


2. They Gained A LOT of Followers Overnight
By now, most marketers know people can purchase followers; they can also mass follow and quickly unfollow a series of others (including bots) with specialty apps.

The follow-unfollow tactic is an easy way to fool the engagement system on several platforms, including Twitter or Instagram. The concept is simple: an account will follow several other accounts in one sitting, hoping they will follow them in return.

Regardless of the action being reciprocated, the main account will then unfollow all of those accounts within a few days. The tactic creates the allusion that an account is active and engaging, allowing their followers to increase — even if the followers are a series of bots, fake accounts or disinterested, completely unengaged followers.

Even worse, some accounts will try to hide their nefarious behavior by claiming they were attacked by spam. If an influencer calls attention to a “spam attack” on their profile, explaining that somehow they managed to gain 10,000 followers in just a couple of hours, take it with a grain of salt. It’s likely that “influencer” just purchased followers and is trying to cover it up.


Up until two days ago (thanks to IG API changes), you could examine an account’s follower growth on sites like Socialblade.com. The photo above shows the organic growth of Travel Mindset influencer Christie Sultemeier (@ckanani), who has painstakingly accumulated nearly 100,000 followers since October 2016.

A good rule of thumb: If an Instagram account gains more than 10,000 followers in a few days, or especially in just a few hours, there could be something suspicious going on.

Since SocialBlade and other apps are now forbidden to access a user’s Instagram follower data, it’s even more important to have a human touch – someone manually taking the proper steps to vet each potential influencer.

[Note: Spam attacks do happen. However, more often they present themselves by posting or commenting from the influencer’s perspective.]

3. Their Engagement Ratios Are Dubious
Real influencers prioritize and encourage engagement from their followers. There are two reliable ratios that prove an influencer has a real relationship with his or her fans.

Follow-to-Follower Ratio: Most influencers only follow a small portion of their own following. That may seem unfair on the surface, but it allows influencers to familiarize themselves with people and brands without digging through a cluttered feed of their own.

While platforms like Twitter and Facebook don’t have a limit for the number of people an account can follow, Instagram sets the number at no more than 7,500. If an account is claiming to be influential but following more than they’re followed, in most cases, they’re not forging real relationships. Instead, they’re trying to gain quick follows in the name of numbers.


Follower-Engagement Ratio: Determining the second ratio is as simple as looking in the comments section. This is easiest to review on Instagram. In the photo above, Travel Mindset influencer Kristin Luna (@LunaticAtLarge) responds to several comments on one of her most recent posts.

If you notice lots of comments but little to no replies from the influencer in question, that “influencer” clearly isn’t engaging with their fans. Likewise, if that “influencer” has a slew of emoji or one-word comments, that’s a sign many of their followers are bots or scam accounts proving — yet again — their lack of overall influence.

4. Their Followers Aren’t Real Either
Last but not least, take a look at the accounts who are following the would-be influencer. As mentioned earlier, bots like to work on formulas designed around hashtags, especially on Twitter and Instagram. As a result, fake influencers tend to attract them by the thousands.

If you take a look at their followers and notice a lot of accounts with similar usernames and photos, accounts with little or no followers of their own or accounts that seem to be using the same deceptive practices like the ones described above, you can assume that person’s following is not comprised of the consumers you’re aiming to target.

Moral of the Story: It’s More Than a Numbers Game
Too many brands still confuse follower counts with swaying power. It’s surprisingly easy to game the social media system, but real influence requires someone to take time to build a loyal audience. Settling for anything less is a surefire way to kill your influencer marketing ROI.

Most influencers will tell you it took years of hard work to get to the level they’re at today. The end result is an authentic relationship between the influencer and his or her followers.

Keep in mind – determining the authenticity of an account’s followers is just one step in the evaluation process. To learn how Travel Mindset determines an influencer’s suitability for a specific brand or campaign, don’t miss our free in-depth guide on influencer vetting.