How to Spot Fake Social Media Followers

In 2018, Twitter, one of the most widely used social media platforms in the world, culled almost 10% of their user base that they discovered were fake accounts. 70 million accounts were dropped from Twitter over the course of the year.

To put that in perspective, that’s equal to the total number of Twitter users in the whole US! What!? It is wild to think there are so many accounts out there who aren’t even real people. It would be naive to think that this is a Twitter-only problem. Instagram influencers are infamous for buying followers to falsely inflate their numbers. But, not everyone intentionally adds bot accounts to their profiles. Odds are, if you have an Instagram account, you have a few followers that you don’t even know are bots.

So, why are fake followers a problem for your social media accounts?

Well, first off, fake followers usually don’t comment on your profile, or even like that many of your posts. They aren’t bringing real discussion to your page or helping to engage other users on the platform. Worse, they make you look bad! If someone goes to your profile and sees that you have 20,000 followers, but only follow 200 people, and get about 20 likes on each of your posts, they know something isn’t right with that equation. People get pretty judgy when other people have bought followers to make themselves look good, and it can negatively impact your credibility as a company. There are also some bots leave spam comments on your posts. Normally, you can tell it’s a spammy or bot comment because it has nothing to do with the content in your post, or it’s clearly trying to sell you something. You definitely don’t want robots commenting on your posts with “hey, buy 30,000 more followers and become an influencer” or “beautiful baby” on a post that is supposed to be a philosophical rant. 

On top of unwanted spammy content or irrelevant comments, there’s the fact that the FTC said they will be intervening when they suspect fake social media engagement. Trust us, that’s the last thing you want to get wrapped up in. Now that there is a precedent set that the FTC will take legal action against companies selling fake followers, hopefully companies will be deterred from selling them in the future, but there are still plenty of them out there for now. If you get one of these people sliding into your DMs offering you 50,000 followers–run!! It’s only a matter of time before that account gets found out. 

That all applies to a day-to-day social media user, but what about influencers? Many of them do use fake followers to beef up their numbers so that potential investors are willing to pay them more for product features. As a company, if you’re looking for an influencer to help with your marketing, you need to know if the account you’re considering paying is legit. Otherwise, you risk wasting your budget paying an influencer who isn’t as popular as they seem. If they have fake followers, you aren’t going to get the engagement you were looking for when you paid to have your product featured because those followers aren’t all for real. You just lost a bunch of marketing money. Ouch. 

How do people end up with fake followers?

It’s pretty simple really. Either one of two things happens: 

  1. Someone DM’s you with an offer to purchase “real followers” for your account that definitely aren’t fake and you buy them. Or, you specifically seek out a company that tries really hard to persuade you that their follows are different and pay them for followers! 
  2. You have a few bots or fake followers because social media platforms are riddled with them. 

To avoid scrutiny from the FTC or the social media platform you use, if you are #2 you want to delete fake followers that you see on your page. If they comment something spammy or message you and you find out that they’ve followed you. Get rid of them ASAP.

If you are thinking about buying followers because getting that organic reach just takes too long, think again! It will not end well for you. All the social media platforms are watching for this now. If they see a big uptick in your followers, see your account following and unfollowing other users in large numbers (something the bot companies often do), or see other spammy behavior coming from your account, they might just delete your profile. It’s now specifically against the terms of service for both Instagram and Twitter to buy followers. So they can, without warning, just delete you off their platform. It will be really hard to build credibility with your real followers again after that.

Not only could you lose your account, but you also might have to deal with the FTC. They have levied fines and legal action against people who are using fake followers and reviews to deceive customers, and cracking down on companies selling “likes” for profit.

How to spot fake followers and fake accounts

1. Odd follower to follows ratio

This is more relevant for judging other profiles you’re looking at, but one of the easiest ways to spot someone with fake followers is by looking at how many people they follow vs how many people follow them. A normal user is likely going to follow back most of the people who follow them. That’s just polite, right? But, if you got 10,000 followers overnight, your follower number is going to be much higher than the number of people you follow. On Instagram, this is displayed right at the top of your profile and is a dead giveaway. 

2. Only a few posts, but thousands of followers

 Another thing to watch for on suspicious profiles is a mismatch on the number of posts someone has versus the number of followers they have. If they have two or three posts but a high number of followers, that’s not a good sign. 

3. Poor Content

A fake account normally has very little content or content that is surprisingly bad for the number of followers they have. If they comment on your posts, they’ll comment things that clearly don’t fit the post, are grammatically incorrect, or packed full of nonsensical emojis. Sometimes they will post the same one word comment on thousands of different posts, so if you see a follower post the same thing on a bunch of your posts, delete them. 

4. Odd Profile Info

Often the fake accounts will have really odd things in their profile description. Either they won’t make complete sense, or will have little to no information. That coupled with an account with just three or four posts and thousands of followers is a red flag! Listen to your gut here, once you get started looking for fake accounts, they get easier to see. 

5. Sudden, Large Spikes in Followers

A fake account normally has very little content or content that is surprisingly bad for the number of followers they have. If they comment on your posts, they’ll comment things that clearly don’t fit the post, are grammatically incorrect, or packed full of nonsensical emojis. Sometimes they will post the same one word comment on thousands of different posts, so if you see a follower post the same thing on a bunch of your posts, delete them. 

5. Use a tool to analyze their numbers

There are a few services out there that will analyze an accounts follower to engagement ratio, and give them a score out of 100. You can normally just type the account’s handle in the tool to make sure that their ratios all look good. 

What to do now that you know about fake followers?

The good news is you now know what you’re looking for, and will know not to do business with people trying to sell you likes and engagement on your posts. But, that doesn’t help you when you’re looking at other people’s profiles. If you are looking to pay an athlete or influencer to pitch a product for you, make sure you assess their profile before you make any final decisions. Look at previous posts they’ve done and see what the engagement looks like. Are the comments spammy? Better yet, use one of those calculators to analyze the influencers you’re considering! 

You also want to be on the lookout for fake followers on your own page. You can scroll through your followers and find ones that look fishy to get rid of them, or just make sure you delete anyone who either messages you spam or posts it on your post. Delete those comments afterwards as well, for good measure. The most important thing is to keep in mind that bots are all over our social media (remember, Twitter culled 20% of their users). So, don’t assume all users are real, and don’t engage with obvious bots.

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