Did you know that over $1 billion dollars was spent on Instagram influencer marketing in 2017?
It certainly makes sense! Aligning your business with an influencer who has “pull” with your target customers can be an authentic and meaningful way to get in front of the right eyes, increase your brand awareness, and showcase your products in a creative way.
That’s why influencer collaborations and sponsorships have nearly replaced traditional ads and are a huge part of a social media strategies today.
But before you get to signing any contracts, you need to make sure that the Instagram influencers you’re working with are the real deal.
These days, it’s incredibly easy (and cheap) to buy followers and likes, and you can even buy Instagram followers from vending machines.
So how can you identify fake influencers and find authentic ones?
Aside from your intuition, here are 4 simple ways to check the legitimacy of that super cute blogger you can’t wait to work with:
How to Find Instagram Influencers Tip #1: Check Their Follower to Following Ratio
Before you even scroll down your potential influencer’s Instagram feed, check their follower to following ratio. It’s a tell tale sign of authenticity.
Influencers tend to follow 1 to 5 percent of their total following. Anything much higher than that is likely the result of growth hacks and foul play like follow, like, and comment bots that quickly grow follow counts without growing fandom, loyalty, and personal brand.
For example, if an Instagram influencer is following 5,000 people and only has 15,000 followers, that’s a warning sign to look closer into the authenticity of their account.
How to Find Instagram Influencers Tip #2: Check Their Engagement to Follower Ratio
Another quick way to make sure you’re getting good bang for your buck with Instagram influencer marketing is to see check their engagement to follower ratio.
Technically, engagement rate is calculated by engagement: impressions, but since impressions data is not publicly available, the best you can go on is to see how many likes and comments an Instagram influencer gets, relative to their following.
Check at least 10 of your influencer’s posts to verify their average engagement. The number of comments and likes should reflect how many followers they have. Generally, you’ll want to see an engagement rate of 2 to 3 percent.
Of course, because of the ever changing Instagram algorithm, their posts won’t be shown to all of their followers (and not all their followers who see their posts will engage with them), so these numbers are just general guidelines.
A ratio of 4 to 6 percent is excellent, while posts in the high tens and twenties are considered “viral.”
Something to pay attention to is that not all comments are created equal. Comments like “great post!” and “love this” can often be the result of comment bots. Look for legitimate sentences, questions (with answers from the influencer), and feedback that’s specific to the content.
You’ll also want to make sure that you’re checking a variety of posts, as engagement rates on Instagram these days heavily fluctuate due to the algorithm.
Also, an emerging trend is that Instagram influencers are now boosting their own Instagram posts to get more exposure in the algorithm. For example, this could be why some posts might have 6,000 likes while others only have 900.
How to Find Instagram Influencers Tip #3: Look at the Lifespan of Their Account
This one is less clear-cut, especially in the world of the Instagram archive feature, but the length of time that an influencer has been active on Instagram is a good way to tell if the account is legitimate and their followers are real.
While viral success does happens, it takes most Instagram influencers years of often unpaid hard work to grow their dedicated, loyal following. If an account is really new and has a large following, chances are that some of their followers are fake and unengaged.
With some niche subject matter aside, the same goes for very long standing accounts with small followings. You want to trust an influencer who knows how to grow their followers and engagement over time — and will do the same for your brand.
How to Find Instagram Influencers Tip #4: Check the Quality of Their Content
What people “like” on Instagram is often subjective, but if you’re in the brand world, you should know quality when you see it. Regardless of follower size, if an influencer’s content is bad, move onto the next one.
The best ways to ensure you’re working with real, quality Instagram influencers is to use the above four checks. Once someone has checked out, these extra steps can help you ensure the legitimacy of your upcoming endorser.
Research Their Past Campaigns
Once you’ve determined that their following is real, they’ve got plenty of engagement, and their content looks great, there’s a few more steps to take to ensure you’re getting what you paid for.
Before you pull the trigger, remember that these personalities have plenty of “lurkable” examples of past campaigns. Take a look at past product posts or anything tagged as sponsored to get an idea of how the influencer approaches paid content, and how their followers react.
Use Third-Party Influencer Search Tools
One of the easiest ways to vet your Instagram influencers is to use third-party tools like Fohr Card or Social Blade to test the legitimacy of an Instagram account’s followers.
Fohr Card offers a number of tools for businesses to determine whether or not an influencer has an authentic following on Instagram. For example, their Follower Health Tool provides a breakdown of an influencer’s followers to following ratio, username, bio, number of posts, and then calculates an overall “score” based on how the influencer ranked in each of those categories.
Similarly, Fohr Card’s Verified Followings tool acts as a sort-of badge for influencers to prove that they’ve built their following organically, without the use of bots.
According to Senior Account Manager Marie Cravens of Fohr Card, “[With the software] all the guesswork is gone and I know I am always guaranteeing my clients that the influencers we put forward to them to potentially partner with are among the most authentic and highly engaged the platform has to offer.”
Another third-party tool to use is Social Blade, which provides a ton of insights and analytics for businesses that are seeking out authentic influencers. With Social Blade, you can see the number of followers an influencer has gained and lost every day across a period of time. If you notice any big “jumps” in follower growth with, it could mean that the influencer is using a bot to grow their account.
With all that said, third-party tools are not perfect, and sometimes spikes in new followers can also be because of a press article, Instagram feature, or a post going viral on the Instagram Explore Page.
If you have any questions about the legitimacy of an Instagram influencer that you really want to work with — just ask!
As the saying goes, if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. And same goes for Instagram influencers! That’s why it’s so important to do your due diligence and check their legitimacy before you partner with influencers for your sponsored Instagram posts.