You’ve heard the term before; ‘fake followers.’ It’s a phrase and accusation that most popular photographers have had thrown at them at one time or another. And while the unwarranted accusations are a problem in their own right, the reality of people buying followers to extend their perceived value is a real problem within itself.

As someone who has always been fascinated with how social media works and the transition from stranger to a paying client, I decided to do an in-depth look into fake followers, and explain how to detect and expose those who have purchased followers…if that’s the kind of thing you’re into.

Detecting Growth and Fake Followers

By far the easiest way to identify fake followers on someone’s social media is to implement monitoring tools such as SocialBlade. SocialBlade is a tool designed for people to monitor their individual progress and growth but is also an excellent tool to track your competitors as well.

As easy as it is to type in someone’s social media handle, you’re able to see their growth or decline over the last 90 days on a number by number basis, as well as in graph form. While the individual counts on new followers are insightful to see how someone’s presence is growing or shrinking, the real benefit to detecting if someone has purchased fake followers is through the graph format on the bottom of their layout.

Organic growth is going to look like an ascending line upward, showing that their follower’s numbers have accumulated over time. On these, you’ll occasionally see small spikes, when they had their work or profile featured somewhere, but it can also be an indication of purchasing fake followers. The general rule of thumb is if they have steady growth and then a jump of fewer than 1500 followers in a day, it’s likely just a feature. If it’s slower growth and an increase of 5K or more followers, then you’re probably looking at a period where they bought followers.

To show examples of this, I’ve sacrificed my own Instagram account as an example of typical organic growth without the purchasing of fake followers, as well as a social media account which has clear evidence of purchased followers.

Offering my account up to scrutiny, as you can see, I have a pretty steady level of growth on my account, with the occasional small spike from features and releasing of new work. In addition, there is a fluctuation of new followers over the last 30 days, showing that the page is growing – a characteristic not typically shared with purchased followers – as bot accounts will get purged and deleted regularly.

However, in the case of the purchased follows, I’ve used a few random accounts as an example. As you can see in their following, they’re losing followers on the regular, which is a result of bot and spam accounts being deleted. In addition, you can see that they’re often following people in mass quantities, and then removing them as they follow back – a clear indication of a follow/unfollow bot.

In regards to their growth over time, it’ll be filled with a pretty steady decline, followed by a spike in growth over the course of a day or two. While one could suggest that this is a feature that’s causing the spike, the steady decline of followers following the spike is usually an indicator of bots, as who is going to look at an accounts feed, decide to follow that account, only to unfollow it a day or two later?

While SocialBlade doesn’t tell you everything on someone’s social media, as it usually only dates back to the last six months, it can help you determine the reality of someone’s growth or your own.

Why is This Important?

One could write this off as being petty and without much positive focus on your own business, but understanding if someone purchased followers can have immense value. And the most significant benefit is through mentorship. Personally, I’m a huge advocate for the community aspect of photography, and encourage anyone and everyone to find people they appreciate and respect and reach out to them for guidance. That appreciation isn’t just limited to technical skills within photography or videography, but also within the world of social media and marketing. I have an immense amount of respect and appreciation for those who can effectively market themselves, but it’s important to understand the authenticity of their reach.

Interaction > Numbers

Another reason why this is important as it further assesses the reality that interaction is always more important than numbers. Brands now more than ever are looking at the actual numbers from their investments and finding that an account with 1.5 million followers doesn’t have value if the interaction is only at 1% and doesn’t match the marketing of the brand. For reference, any interaction above 4% is usually considered good. To get a quick look at your interaction and engagement, check out this interaction calculator.

Per a study conducted by Markerly Stats in 2016, the expected interaction stats for Instagram accounts without purchased followers is broken down as follows:

Average Like Rate: 8.03% Average Comment Rate: 0.56%
1k – 10k followers:
Average Like Rate: 4.04% Average Comment Rate
10k – 100k followers:
Average Like Rate: 2.37% Average Comment Rate: 0.14%
100k – 1M followers:
Average Like Rate: 1.78% Average Comment Rate: 0.09%
1M – 10M followers:
Average Like Rate: 1.66% Average Comment Rate: 0.06%

By looking at the numbers above it’s pretty easy to deduct that purchasing fake followers to your account has adverse effects to your account and further limits your interaction, considering that the purchased followers are generally ghost accounts that offer no interaction outside of the ‘follow’.

[REWIND: Where Photography Lens Design Is Heading | Price, Functionality, Quality & Practicality]

Understanding your own level of interaction, growth, and who is liking your work just makes you more marketable, and the same principles apply when looking over your competition. Knowing and understanding the authenticity of your market, clients, and competition will help you focus on what you need to improve and build your social media accounts into a successful marketing tool, hopefully with authenticity, and not paid spam bots. And if you like the work, and aren’t a robot, feel free to give my Instagram account a follow.