Escape Influencer Fraud Traps to Build Real Value on Instagram
Here’s what you need to know to build a valuable Instagram account and avoid influencer fraud.
News flash: You can’t hack your way to Instagram success.
Since 2018 the most important Instagram metric has been engagement rate (ER), and with good reason. Engagement has become a key measurement of the health, strength, and value of an account. Long gone are the days when all that mattered was the size of your following.
In 2020 the newest metric to take center stage is authenticity.
If you want to make money as an influencer you need to be aware of these two changes:
- Spam activity is increasingly sophisticated and wide spread, so Instagram is fighting back. Instagram is cracking down using highly evolved artificial intelligence via their algorithm.
- Brands are relying on tools with new AI technology to see behind-the-scenes. Brands are able to understand the actual value of influencers before they spend their marketing dollars.
The graph below illustrates the decrease in engagement from 2018 to 2019 which is a direct reflection of the increased amount of influencer fraud.
- What is Influencer Fraud?
- What Activities Contribute to Influencer Fraud?
- Authenticity Score
- 1) Audience Reachability
- 2) Audience Authenticity
- 3) Rate of Follower Growth
- 4) Rate of Following
- 5) Authenticity of Comments
- 6) Comments to Likes Ratio
- 7) Consistency of Likes on Posts
- Influencer Fraud and Authenticity Score Question & Answer
- Avoid Influencer Fraud and Protect the Value of Your Account
What is Influencer Fraud?
Influencer fraud is the result of inauthentic activities creating fake growth or fake engagement.
The fraud starts when these impatient influencers connect with brands to advertise their products and services. Usually, a brand agrees to pay a fee based on the number of followers the influencer has and ends up wasting their time and money.” Hype Auditor.com
What Activities Contribute to Influencer Fraud?
While influencers are continually coming up with new tricks and new names, here is a general list:
- buying followers
- buying story views
- buying likes and comments
- comment pods
- follow trains
- engagement groups
Your authenticity score is now the value that companies are looking at to understand whether to invest their marketing dollars in you or not.
An authenticity score combines seven different measurements to create a value rating. This score represents how authentic your activity, your followers, your engagement, and your overall value is to brands.
- Audience Reachability (the percentage of audience who follow fewer than 1,500 accounts)
- Audience Authenticity (percentage of audience who look authentic)
- Rate of follower growth (looking for a steady, even growth pattern)
- Rate of following (looking for organic, even following pattern)
- Authenticity of comments
- Comments to likes ratio (looking for high comments to likes ratio)
- Consistency of likes on post (looking for low spread of likes between posts)
We will explain each of these seven measurements in more detail below.
1) Audience Reachability
There is a strong correlation between spam accounts and a high number of accounts they follow. This is referred to as “account following number.”
Technology and statistics of spam accounts have revealed that accounts following over 1,500 accounts are more likely spam or engaged in spam-like activity.
Also, accounts following over 1,500 accounts are less likely to engage with you, so posts are less likely to reach them. These accounts are referred to as “mass following.”
Instagram and AI measurement tools view a high account following as an indicator of spam. This shows us clearly that it’s important to stay well under this number. We already knew this. Keeping a lower following number is more important than ever.
A high account following number is suspect because a major source of spam activity on Instagram continues to be follow for follow (F4F) and follow/unfollow.
2) Audience Authenticity
It is cheap and easy to buy fake followers and has been so for years. When fake followers became readily available Instagram had to change, and it did. This changed the landscape and Instagram has been fighting back ever since.
Artificial intelligence (AI) detects many factors which determine the level of Instagram account authenticity. The rating is based on a continuum score between 0 – 100.
3) Rate of Follower Growth
- Creating incentivized following is inauthentic activity.
- It goes against the guidelines of Instagram.
- What is artificial incentivization? Anything that artificially motivates people to press follow.
- The main examples of this are giveaways, particularly large giveaways and loop giveaways.
- AI easily recognizes any growth anomalies like spikes in growth, which results in a lower engagement score.
- Authentic growth is a steady rate of growth over time.
- Anything else lowers an authenticity score and likelihood of establishing Instagram fraud.
4) Rate of Following
- The fight against F4F (follow for follow) or follow/unfollow is revealed with this metric.
- Even if an account keeps their number of following down below 1500 the pattern of following and unfollowing is easily tracked by AI.
- An up and down following graph greatly lowers an authenticity score.
5) Authenticity of Comments
- While all comments count and are seen by Instagram, not all comments are created equal.
- It is a recently rebuked myth that comments under four words don’t count. They do count.
- But at the same time, comments shorter than four words still lower your comment authenticity score.
- Comments from comment pods are detected and also lower your authenticity score.
- The quality of the source is also measured (how authentic are the accounts leaving comments).
- It’s important to understand that who is commenting matters.
- It’s important to know that how they comment matters.
- AI is advanced enough to understand why they are commenting and if it is artificially motivated in any way.
- All these analytics combine to reveal the truth behind engagement.
What can you do?
- It seems obvious, but we’ll say it anyway. Never participate in a comment pod.
- While you can’t control the quality of your followers’ comments you can encourage longer comments.
- Don’t encourage one-word responses by asking people to vote for their favorite color for example, or vote yes or no.
- Ask open ended questions that require more than a one-word reply.
- Always respond to your followers’ comments with unique replies. Don’t repeat same answers, i.e. “thank you so much!”
- Never reply using less than four words.
- When you do this, you are spamming yourself and lowering your own authenticity score and increase the risk of Instagram fraud.
6) Comments to Likes Ratio
- The higher the ratio of comments to likes the higher the authenticity score.
- This is a key indicator of the overall quality of follower.
- Is your audience connected with you?
- Is your audience engaging with you?
- A tight-knit community doesn’t just double tap. They spend the time to leave comments.
- Is your content powerful enough and your relationship with your followers strong enough to elicit high comments?
- The higher the comment to like ratio the more authentic your following.
7) Consistency of Likes on Posts
- The lower the spread of likes between posts the higher the authenticity score.
- Maintaining a consistent level of engagement is another indicator of real vs. fake engagement.
- Consistency is an indication of a reliable, present, and engaged following reacting regularly to your posts.
- A large spread of low to high engagement shows a lack or audience reliability. It is also an indicator of artificially incentivized engagement.
Read this article by the Yoga Nomads to learn more about what it means to be authentic on Instagram.
Influencer Fraud and Authenticity Score Question & Answer
Q: Where do I find my authenticity score and my ER rating?
A: Head to HypeAuditor.com. You can get a free report for one (and only one) account. After the one free report you will not be allowed a second without paying so be sure to get your own account checked. You need to provide your email and create a free account before they give you the report. It’s definitely worth it. Hype Auditor will email you once a week with an update to your account, which is always useful information.
Q: Can you clarify the different between account following, follower number, following number etc.? It gets so confusing.
A: It is confusing. “Follower number” or “account followers” refers to how many people follow you. “Account following” refers to how many people you follow.
Q: What is a comment pod?
A: A comment pod is an organized group that agree to comment on each other’s posts. It’s a tit for tat arrangement. It is similar to follow for follow, but it is comment for comment.
Participating in comment pods actually lowers an authenticity score because AI recognizes comment pod activity as inauthentic.
Another downside of comment pods is that they are very time consuming. Your time is much better spent engaging authentically with accounts and building real relationships.
Q: Can comment pods work if they are real people with real accounts leaving quality comments?
A: In the past comment pods could actually help a feed, at least temporarily. But because of advancements in AI, Instagram and brands see through this hack. Participating in comment pods now lowers your authenticity score.
Q: What about other organized engagement groups? Can they signal influencer fraud?
A: Beware of other organized engagement groups masquerading as perfectly innocent social groups where you can “make real friends” and boost your following and engagement. Even if these groups say that following is optional, you usually have to follow all the hosts (sometimes 8-20 people). Plus, just like comment pods they require reciprocal liking and commenting. This is same inauthentic activity masked in another name and slightly different clothing.
Q: How can I make sure that Instagram doesn’t think my activities signal influencer fraud?
A: We know this entire topic can make even the most confident Instagrammer a bit paranoid.
Here is a review of what NOT to do so Instagram doesn’t think you’re a robot:
- Following or unfollowing too many people in a short amount of time. If your follow number is too high and you’re trying to lower it, spread this task out slowly over time.
- Don’t play the follow for follow game. Even worse is the follow and unfollow game. This is the blatant spam activity.
- Commenting on too many accounts in a short amount of time. This is major giveaway for Instagram fraud.
- Liking too many accounts in a short period of time.
- Repeating the same comments or replies too many times. Try to make each response unique.
- Reposting exact content.
- Repeating the exact same hashtags over and over. If you use hashtag lists that you copy and paste keep those lists to 15-20 and be sure to add unique hashtags that are specific to each post as well.
- Instagram used to have published limits for all activities. This is no longer the case. Limits are based on multiple factors including age of account, size of account, engagement of account.
- Following more than 1500 accounts. This puts you in the suspicious category of “mass following”.
Q: What if I have participated in inauthentic activities in the past? Is there a way to fix it and steer clear of influencer fraud moving forward?
A: You may want to try to identify and remove the followers who are lowering your scores, i.e. fake accounts and accounts not engaging.
Q: How do I identify fake accounts?
Here are some recognizable characteristics that are common among fake/bot accounts:
- Following more than 1500 accounts
- Foreign accounts (non-US)
- 0 – 6 posts
- Meaningless account names, often with numbers (computer generated)
- While these accounts are easily recognizable with AI, it’s a slow and tedious process to do manually.
- In severe situations the other option is abandoning the account and starting over.
Q: Do you recommend we regularly remove accounts that looks suspicious or aren’t engaging?
A: This is a personal decision. While AI technology can tell if accounts are authentic or not it’s not as easy for people to determine. We don’t recommend doing this if your ER and authenticity scores are good. Your time is better spent focusing on creating amazing content and engaging with your followers and your community.
If you have more than 10% followers that are bots or suspect, then it might be something you should do to recover your account. If your account is rated as inauthentic because of past activity brands may blacklist you. In these extreme cases it may be necessary.
Q: How do I identify and remove accounts that aren’t engaging?
A: This is how you can identify accounts that you may want to delete from your follower list.
- Accounts that are following over 1500 lower your audience authenticity and reachability scores. Also, accounts following over 1500 are less likely to engage.
- Look at your “least interacted with” list. This may include people that are following too many accounts and don’t interact with your account enough.
- Before you start removing a lot of accounts another option is to go through your “least interacted with” list and try to reengage.
Avoid Influencer Fraud and Protect the Value of Your Account
Let’s be clear. No account has a perfect authenticity score. Not everything is in one’s control. For example, bots follow all kinds of accounts. Uninvited followers are engaging in follow for follow. Not everyone is going to leave a comment over four words. You can’t stop these actions. But there is a lot we can do to protect our accounts to make them as authentic as possible and avoid influencer fraud.
Thanks to Instagram’s machine learning algorithm, fake interactions (such as using bots or comment pods) are now identified and ranked as such. Instagram’s algorithm is improving and getting smarter every single day. Because of this we need to be prepared for more and more transparency.
With billions of dollars at stake, Instagram is investing everything it can to create an environment that reveals and stops inauthentic actions and rewards authenticity. Now that you are armed with this knowledge your account has a huge advantage over accounts trying to buy or cheat their way to the top.