According to Instascreener, over the course of just three months, North American advertisers wasted $65m by distributing Instagram posts to bots rather than real-life consumers ready to part with their hard-earned cash. Despite achieving little success, these advertisers collectively spent $340m on Instagram advertising during the same time period – a 95 per cent increase compared to the previous year.
Even the largest of brands have fallen victim to fake followers, and Febreze topped the list of brands with the highest percentage of them. In the US, there are said to be 49 million fake accounts, compared to just 10 million in the UK – so is it really any surprise that we’re being caught out by so many of them? Brands need to steer clear of bots, as although they provide a nice boost to their follower count, they skew analytics and suggest that the company may be untrustworthy. More importantly, a paid advertisement that’s primarily reaching bots will leave you with low conversion rates and a dwindling marketing budget.
On a small scale, individual users are encouraged to report bots to Instagram using the app’s built-in feature. Typically, a bot can be identified by the ratio between the number of posts and followers. If there are less than a couple of posts but they’ve got thousands of followers, hit ‘block’ then ‘report’. But larger businesses simply don’t have the time and resources available to take this manual approach – and automated systems offering to do the leg work pose security risks to the company.
Just over a year ago, Instagram promised to clamp down on third-party apps which influencers use to build ‘inauthentic’ audiences. Instagram began using a tool powered by artificial intelligence to remove likes, follows and comments from accounts that have used these apps. Influencers were also asked to reset their passwords, as they may have provided their log in details in order to use risky third-party apps. A couple of months later, it was revealed that these efforts had actually made little to no difference to the worst offenders.
While fake followers do skew companies’ analytics, what’s more alarming is that 12 per cent of influencers are still purchasing fake followers. As a result, influencers could be receiving sizeable earnings in exchange for promoting products to an audience mostly constructed of bots – with companies being totally unaware. Given Instagram’s experimental move to hide the number of likes on each post, influencers are already worried. Could this make them more inclined to try and up their follower count in the hopes of securing more brand partnerships?
In most cases, businesses are left with few options but to report the offending accounts, look for unusual patterns in follower-to-engagement ratios and analyse the quality of influencers’ content, audience and engagement. Until Instagram finds a better solution to nip the problem at the bud, business must simply try their best to avoid potentially fraudulent partnerships and acknowledge that a sizeable proportion of their audience will likely not be authentic.