How To Spot Bloggers Who Are Buying Followers And Likes on Instagram
Do you ever find yourself on an IG profile wondering how in the hell this person has managed to amass a large and engaged following despite not having what you might consider an interesting life?
Okay, so many of you will probably answer “no” to that question, but if you are a blogger or content creator, you’ll most likely answer that question with a firm, hell yes.
While I’ve always known folks to buy followers and likes, it never really occurred to me that there are “content creators” who are doing it so brazenly and shamelessly. And by shamelessly I mean taking money and opportunities from the people who deserve it. If you aren’t a creator or would-be creator, you’re probably wondering why it matters. Well, here’s why:
- IG has fast become an advertising platform, and brands use creators to help promote their products to a targeted audience. So if a brand is paying the Instagrammer to promote their product to a fake audience, they won’t see a return on their investment.
- Real creators often miss out on opportunities because their following isn’t as large as the ones with the fake followers. So you might have an instance where someone who has 5,000 (real) followers on IG, but won’t get a paid assignment because a brand has opted to use someone who has a higher follower count. This makes sense, if the person with the higher count has a real audience, but there are many instances wherein the person with the large and engaged following is faking it.
- These fakers have an unfair advantage. They are getting perks and money they don’t deserve. Rather than put in the work to earn their followers like the rest of us, they are getting a leg up, and taking dollars away from actual creators. Frankly, I look at is a form of theft. These bloggers are actively taking money from brands, knowing full well that their influence is imagined. It ain’t right. Not at all.
The Instagram algorithm changes have harmed almost every single content creator, no matter their audience size. I don’t want to to get into the technicalities of these changes, but suffice it to say, it’s extremely hard for any page on IG to get their content in front of their audience. So I am not adverse to folks using tools like comment threads and comment pods to try to gain some traction so their content can appear to their audience, but buying followers and likes is where I draw the line. The struggle is real, but it ain’t that real.
Learning to spot the people who buy fake likes and followers takes some investigative skill, but not much. If you have 5 minutes of a free time on any given day, you can spot a fake.
How To Spot Bloggers Who Are Buying Followers And Likes on Instagram
If someone has a large and engaged following, their content should support that following and engagement. For instance, one blogger whom I suspect is buying her audience, has over 130k followers, but when I look through her feed, I just don’t get it. She’s got grainy and poor quality photos, so I can’t imagine why anyone would be attracted to her to account. I know what you’re thinking, and I get it. My opinion of someone’s account is just that, an opinion. However, Instagram is a visual platform, so something about someone’s feed must be visually appealing to encourage people to want to follow.
And you know it when you see it. You know a beautiful and interesting lifestyle feed when you come across it. There is some element of an undeniable “it factor” a creator must have that sort of explains why people might be into her. So if someone has a huge following, but the content doesn’t support it, it should raise some eyebrows. The exception to this rule, however, includes celebrities, friends of celebrities, reality TV stars, and so forth. So if someone has crappy pictures, but folks still follow and engage, before declaring this person a fraud you must first eliminate the possibility that this person has a claim to fame, so to speak.
This is a biggie. Go to a photo of the person you suspect, and click on the # of likes that photo has. See below for your reference:
Clicking on the likes will display a list of the accounts that have liked the photo. I’ve used a photo from my own IG account to show what should appear on your screen after clicking on a photo’s “likes”:
Who is liking the pictures is important, especially for a brand that is considering using an influencer to promote their products. For instance, my audience is mostly black women, aged 24-35. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule as I do have followers of all races, ages, and genders, but when you click on my likes that’s who you’ll most likely see “liking” my content. And honestly, if you’re a beauty/style creator your audience should look a lot like you.
Here’s what I see when I click the likes on the photo of someone whom I suspect is a fraud on the gram. This person is a black beauty/style blogger, by the way. Here is a snapshot of the “people” liking her content.
When I click on the profile of “Maisha Carr,” for example. Here’s what I see:
Maisha has a about 1o photos in total, and they are all random and disconnected. Her profile picture is a of a man, and she’s following well over 7,000 people, meanwhile she only 200 followers. This is typical of computer generated accounts, or “bots.” The profile is clearly a bot, and the blogger who has a like from “Maisha” purchased the like. She’s therefore fooling her real followers AND brands into thinking she is, perhaps, more popular than she purports. 90% of the likes on her account are from “Maisha-like” accounts.
Here are a few more examples from her account:
Audience demographic applies to followers as well. If you follow a black beauty/style blogger and her followers are mostly men from foreign countries, or they look like the accounts above, you know the blogger is buying bot accounts.
Rapid, inexplicable growth that happens on a regular basis, should raise some eyebrows. If the quality of the creator’s pictures/content is poor, yet this person routinely gains thousands and thousands of followers every week you should question it. Creators might see a large spike in growth when they are featured in a major publication like Buzzfeed, Refinery 29, or Forbes. They may also see a spike in growth if the creator has content that has gone viral on a particular day. But you must recognize that these things happen randomly; they aren’t scheduled. Using a simple and free online tool, like socialblade.com, I can tell when someone’s regularly gaining a ton of followers. Rapid growth, alone, will not determine if a person is buying fake followers. You must use this method in conjunction with a few of the other methods listed above. That being said, take a look at these growth charts.
The first one is mine:
I’ve got about 30,000 followers, and I average about 150 new followers a month. This is normal.
The account below has over 400,000 followers. She is a true content creator, but she’s been losing some followers. This is also normal.
Take a look at the average growth of one of bloggers I suspect is buying her followers. Her monthly growth average, in conjunction with some of the activities I’ve detailed above, is suspect AF:
Gaining 5k followers in one day on a an account that doesn’t have viral content, and the pictures are low quality is suspicious.
Engagement says a lot. If a blogger has well over 500k followers, for example, it means these followers are invested. They know things about your life and will reference these things in the comments on your photos. They’ll even take the time to read your captions and respond directly to the questions posed in the caption. The bloggers who buy followers, won’t have these kinds of comments on their photos. Their comments, instead, will be vague, generic, and/or emojis.
For example. In one of my recent posts I discussed that I am going through changes in regards to my platform, and I’m reconsidering the role blogging will take have in my life going forward. The comments on this photo reflect the fact that my audience knows me and is actively engaged in my content:
One of the bloggers I suspect is buying her followers has comments like so:
The photo she posted was for a HUGE milestone, and if in fact her following was real, her audience would be saying more than “just wow” or “so pretty.”
Here’s the thing: real creators are slowly but surely being pushed out of the industry in favor of people who either don’t have the talent, or are unwilling to pay their dues like the rest of us. In the last 4 months I’ve had two managers tell me that they weren’t interesting in working with me because I don’t have a large enough following. Meanwhile, my content is great, my pictures are fabulous, and I am a journalist and writer by trade. I have the undergraduate and graduate student loans to prove it, but none of that matters these days. Popularity reigns supreme and people are willing to buy it if they have to. And they’re making bank doing it. They are making upwards of 200k-300k a year, shamelessly going on fabulous press trips, and signing lucrative contracts, knowing very well that they haven’t done the work to gain access to these opportunities. And if I can spot fakes in less 5 minutes, I suspect that the brands hiring these “creators” simply don’t care. They may be in on the charade (I can’t imagine why), but they must be. All you need is 5 minutes and access to the internet to spot them.
So this, friends, is unfortunately the direction the industry is headed, and now you know. There are, in fact, many amazing creators who DO the work, they may not have millions of followers, but they matter, too. As I slowly leave the industry, my firm hope is that real creators start winning again.
Feel free to share your thoughts and questions below!