Fake Faker: Questions about fake followers and influencer marketing

Because of the allure of getting paid to promote brands to an online audience is so huge, and with the growth of Influencer Marketing, there are plenty of aspiring “influencers” around these days.

But how does a brand or business know who is a real influencer and who is faking it by buying followers or an audience?

Fake followers and Influencer Marketing aren´t two things that you want together.

Fake followers and Influencer Marketing, a battle for authenticity

Leigh van den Berg and Candice-Lee Kannemeyer are two popular beauty bloggers who set out to showcase how easy it is for “influencers” to purchase an online following.

Together they created Fake Faker, a tongue in cheek Instagram account that they set out to buy fake followers to show brands how easily audience and reach numbers can be faked.

Fake Faker: Fake Instagram followers with no engagement

I sent Candice and Leigh a few questions about Fake Faker and the fake follower problems that face anyone who wants to make use of influencer marketing.

From looking at the Fake Faker account, it’s pretty clear that you are poking fun with something that everyone on social media encounters: Influencer Marketing. Even through the parodying, you’ve made it clear that you bought 1000 followers, and that’s a real issue in Influencer Marketing. How did you come to the decision to do this?

Leigh: Candice and I are both popular beauty bloggers and regularly work with lots of different brands. Many of them know what they’re doing but of late, we’ve become horrified by the amount who’ve been completely suckered by ‘influencers’ who’ve clearly bought their following.

It’s pretty grating for people like us who’ve worked hard for years to gather a genuine following and spark good interaction, to sit at the same press launch with an Insta-faker. We spot them everywhere we go and just wish brands could do the same.

Clever!!!!

A post shared by @fake_fake_fake1981 on

How hard was it to get your first 1000 followers?

Leigh: It was easy peasy. We just googled ‘buy Instagram followers’ and picked the first site that offered the service. It cost us $9 (I paid with my credit card) and BOOM, the follows started rolling in. We hit 1000 within seven minutes.

Candice: The interesting thing is that these followers didn’t like any of our pic’s. Most likely because they’re bot accounts.

Is buying fake followers a prevalent thing? How do brands avoid working with influencers that have fake followers?

Leigh: OH YES! It’s everywhere. They need to know what to look for and we’re in the process of developing a workshop to do exactly that.

What advantages is there for brands in working with influencers, or even “micro-influencers”?

Leigh: It’s a great way to connect with a generation that’s ‘checked out’ of print and TV. (I don’t own a TV and haven’t bought a mag in years.) From a cost perspective, you can transfer more information for less money. There’s also an authenticity that comes with CREDIBLE bloggers and influencers.

Personally, I know I might become aware of something because I see it on a billboard, but I don’t make my buying decision until I see what real people i.e. my favourite influencers, those that I trust, have to say about it.

Having come from a magazine background, I know how it goes. You end up featuring whatever products your publisher dictates. (If a brand buys advertising in the magazine you usually have to feature their products in an editorial.)

My blog readers, however, are my besties. I’m very grateful for their trust so I’d never abuse that or compromise my integrity. Candice and I both regularly pass on working with brands we don’t believe in, regardless of what they’re paying. We run sponsored posts all the time, but the difference is that they’re for brands we believe in.

Candice: Well said, Leigh. If I could add one point. Having worked in magazines for 15 years, editorial integrity is a tad wanting. I’ve been told by many an editor to ensure I place a certain product in a spread and write a glowing review on it, “because, you know Candice, they spend millions with us yearly”.

Instagram and Twitter both have to be aware of the fact that you can buy fake followers. Instagram actively combats fake accounts by removing them. Is a fake audience limited to Instagram and Twitter?

Leigh: They should but they don’t. Our fake account proves it. And you can buy ‘fake everything’. From follows, to likes, to comments, to video views! And it’s not expensive either.

Candice: Interestingly enough, if you read IG good user policy, buying followers is NOT ILLEGAL, yet they both state it’s against their terms of good use policy. Why they allow it, I don’t know.

Fake Faker buy Instagram comments and likes

You’ve shown that reach can easily be bought. Some would argue that by advertising on social media in any way, you are simply buying reach. Brands are spending money on reaching new audiences, how do they make sure that money to buy reach is not wasted?

Leigh: Any brand investing in an influencer on social media is buying reach. It’s the same as placing an ad in a magazine. Thing is, you want to buy REAL reach, not fake reach.

Brands paying Insta-fakers to promote them are wasting their money as their ‘big audience’ isn’t real. The ‘people’ following them are dead/abandoned accounts or bots. It’s placing an ad in a mag that tells you they’ve got 1000 subscribers but really they’re only printing five copies.

Candice: They need to work with “influencers” who have a trusted voice in the industry and brands need to look at engagement over numbers, especially on Instagram.

Earning an income by creating an audience has become more common over the last 5 – 7 years. What advice would you give anyone who wants to monetize their online audience?

Leigh: Buy 10 000 followers and sell advertorials to brands that don’t know what they’re doing. KIDDING. Seriously? You need to work hard for a long time to create a genuine audience and THEN you can approach brands or watch them come to you. You can’t just set up a blog and go ‘great, where’s the money’. It’s a long game.

My advice would be to start doing it because you love it and if it becomes something you can monetize then that’s a bonus. Candice and I are both at that point now, but we’ve been working for years.

What message do you want to convey to brands and influencers with the Fake Faker account?

Leigh: In short? Brands beware! It’s time to empower yourself so you know who’s real and who’s faking it so you use your ad spend wisely. Candice and I are here to help you do exactly that – so watch this space.

Candice: Ditto!

Do your research for your Influencer Marketing campaign

Although tools like Socialblade are not perfect (Socialblade only shows you only the last two months worth of data), these tools can still help you take a closer look at the followings of influencers you might want to work with.

A successful Influencer Marketing campaign starts with research and a lot of it. It’s called a growth hack, not because it’s easy to do, but because it works really well when you put in the work.

Managing an Influencer Marketing campaign is not easy, but the marketing and SEO value you can gain from it makes it worth doing. Nothing is a bigger waste of time and advertising spend than running a poorly researched and unplanned Influencer Marketing campaign.

Take the time to follow your chosen influencers for a couple of days, and use tools like Socialblade to dig into their audience. You want to see not only the quality of the content that your influencer produces but also how the audience reacts to and engages with the content.

Don’t overlook the smaller audiences. Spending your budget on five smaller influencers that understand the type of content their audience is looking for, is almost always a better investment than blowing your whole budget on one big influencer (that might have a fake following).

Ruan Fourie

Ruan Fourie a content and SEO consultant. He is the founder and editor of gevaaalik.com. In addition to his blogging skills, Fourie has extensive knowledge around content marketing, digital marketing strategy and SEO. He has worked with brands like Microsoft, King Price, Opel, Vodacom and Castle Lite to assist with driving traffic to their campaigns and digital content.

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Vanessa Christiane - April 3, 2017 Reply

Great article! But how are you going to make Brands aware of these fakers?
I love to follow blogs, especially beauty bloggers to keep up with the latest trends and comment when I feel I want to.

Ruan Fourie - April 3, 2017 Reply

Brands should make themselves aware of influencers with fake audiences. Let the campaign goal and objectives do the talking. If there are no sales, no clicks on links, no driving of traffic or generation of leads, then the audience is most likely fake.

Brian - April 6, 2017 Reply

Bands need to understand what objectives to look for. Too many agencies and “Influencers” refer to “Potential Reach”. This is the worst KPI for a brand to focus on, it is very easily to manipulate, can be bought and offers no indication of what a brand can expect in terms of results.

Brands need to start asking for measurable results from previous campaigns in terms of post views, clicks to the brand, conversions, sales etc. If a blogger or social influencer has no previous campaigns then a performance based campaign should be negotiated.

As Ruan said brands need to spend more time researching the bloggers and social media influencers they intend on working with. And as with all things you get what you pay for

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