By 06/10/2020October 22nd, 2020No Comments
Instagram Ghost Followers Hero - Sociably Influencer Marketing


As more and more business moves online – with an even sharper rise thanks to COVID, no less – the important of social media influencers is also growing.  Even before the world was hit by the pandemic, influencers were a primary source of purchasing advice for an increasing segment of the population. It’s no surprise then that a year of lockdowns, restricted access to the high street and flourishing online content has accelerated this process, and the role of the influencer has never been more important in marketing.

However, this increasing prominence brings with it increased risks – and one of the primary worries of any business contracting an influencer is that their follower count is an illusion, and they’ll turn out to be a waste of money.

This is enough of an issue that these straw-dummy followers even have a technical name – ghost followers. In the past, while influencer marketing was in its infancy, a large following was enough to attract companies to an influencer, but as the field develops in complexity, quality of followers is beginning to prove much more important than quantity.

As we mentioned in our guide to influencer marketing, follower engagement and interest relevancy is much more important to a good return on investment than simple bulk, so it’s important to be able to spot an influencer with a large proportion of ghosts in their follower count. Most influencers don’t buy followers – the vast majority of them work hard to build organic, engaged audiences, and would never dream of jeopardising that with fake followers – but just in case, here’s our guide to ghost followers, how to detect them, and how to avoid them.

What are Ghost Followers?

In a nutshell, “ghost followers” are just that: ghosts. They look like they’re there, but they don’t have any substance.

They may be fake accounts, or just inactive accounts that no longer interact, but the main traits that they share are that they follow other accounts, don’t engage with content, and appear, at first glance, to be real. They rarely have any content on their profiles, and with the prevalence of bot farming, the vast majority of them are created by computer programmes in order to be sold to unscrupulous influencers or ordinary users seeking to pad their egos.

If you are considering working with an influencer, do a little research into their followers – if there are many who follow lots of accounts but don’t post, and who don’t seem to interact with many other accounts or have many followers of their own, there’s a good chance that they’re a ghost.

A few are bound to stick to any influencer with any reasonable following, but if there are too many the influencer’s engagement rate and credibility will be negatively affected.

To get around this, many influencers have now begun to market themselves for collaboration not just based on their follower counts, but also their engagement. In this guide, we’ll go through how you can help avoid ghost-heavy follower counts, both in your own in-house social media efforts and in the influencers your brand is working with.

Instagram Ghost Followers - Sociably Influencer Marketing

The Problems with Ghost Followers

Ghost followers harm the accounts they latch onto in two ways: loss of credibility and reduction in engagement rates.

Loss of credibility is a fairly straightforward consequence of buying fake followers for your social media account, and it may cause disastrous reputational damage to an influencer, but the effects on engagement are much more pressing to a marketer’s concerns so we’ll spend more time on them here.

How Ghost Followers Affect Influencer Marketing Strategy

Follower count can be used to quickly assess the performance of a social media account, and the division of micro- macro- and mega-influencers is made based on total number of followers. Naturally, a high proportion of fake accounts will skew this and cause havoc with attempts to predict campaign performance, so it’s more sensible to look at engagement rate first, and follower count second.

As a quick example, let’s imagine 2 fitness influencers: one, Harry, who has 50,000 followers, an average of 50 likes per picture, and ten or so comments, and another, Lauren, who has 10,000 followers, an average of 1,500 likes per picture and 50-60 comments.

At first glance, Harry’s profile seems more impressive, but on inspection, it becomes obvious that Lauren is the more valuable prospect, as her engagement rate is much, much higher. That higher engagement rate more than makes up for the lower number of followers and will make her a much more effective influencer for a marketing campaign.

How To Tell Which Instagram Users (Probably) Have Genuine Followers

Buying ghost followers is a terrible decision for the health of your social media account, and some influencers still do it – but many, many more have put their hearts and souls into building their audiences, audiences of real people who are passionate about that influencer’s work and the subject area they’re working in. Brands want to work with these influencers, because their audiences are genuine, engaged, and ready to be influenced.

Here’s how to go beyond just looking at numbers of likes, and tell whether the influencer you’re thinking of partnering up with has a genuine following, or just an army of ghosts:

They’ll tell you

If an influencer has a genuine and engaged following, they’ll be more than happy to tell you about it – they’ll usually share engagement statistics on their posts or talk about what percentage of their audience interacts with and shares their posts. If in doubt, ask to see their engagement statistics on their most recent posts – a large following with almost no engagement is a bad sign.

Comments they receive are genuine

Take a look at the comments on their most recent posts. It’s possible to buy engagement, not just followers, but these engagement bots or networks never provide in-depth or high-effort comments the way an actual follower would.

Large numbers of copied-and-pasted comments that are all the same, single word comments like “Amazing!” that could fit any post, or emoji-only comments with no specificity are all signs that engagement may not be genuine.

They post high quality content

On most social media platforms, if a user is posting high-quality, clickable and sharable content, they’ll struggle not to build a genuine following. On the other hand, even the most popular influencer will lose followers if their content is boring, low-effort, or not engaging, so you can get a good idea of whether an influencer’s following is predominantly real by looking at the quality of their work.

They use hashtags and geo-location tags

Both hashtags and geotags significantly increase a post’s organic reach and likelihood of being discovered naturally. Influencers who tag their content with relevant hashtags are trying to promote their work organically to interested potential followers, while anyone who bought their following doesn’t need to do so and may not be in the habit of putting in the effort.

They may host contests or other engagement-focused events

Contests are one way for influencers or brands to drive lots of organic engagement, and can be as simple as following, liking or subscribing for a chance to win something. These events are usually based on increasing organic follower count, and they rely on an engaged audience to work, so influencers who have bought followers or engagement likely won’t use them for fear of being exposed when the event fails.

Instagram Ghost Followers - Sociably Influencer Marketing

How Can you Prevent Ghost Followers On Your Own Accounts?

Ghost followers can become a problem on a brand’s own account if you’re engaged in organic marketing, paid retargeting campaigns or PR campaigns, so it’s best to keep them to a minimum if you can. The good news is that large numbers of ghost followers don’t normally just happen – they need to be acquired one way or another. Here are a few things to avoid if you’re concerned about ghosts:

Don’t buy followers, ever

This should really be obvious. No matter how good the deal is, when followers are purchased, they’re never worth the money. The fake followers won’t meaningfully interact with your profile, if they interact at all, and the reduced engagement and participation rates will be telling.

Be careful when buying an existing Instagram account

Acquiring accounts can be tricky, since you often don’t know what proportion of their followers are real – and since the seller is selling their account, they have an incentive to artificially inflate the numbers… and their asking price.

In any case, once your brand has gained control of the account, they’ll need to be very careful about maintaining the same style and standards as the old owner, or any real followers on the account will leave. Worse, on many platforms, evidence that an account has been sold is enough to receive a ban from the platform altogether. It’s a strategy whose risks vastly outweigh the meagre rewards.

If all else fails, leave it to the pros

If your brand account already has a lot of ghost followers, it can be tempting to balance the scales by buying engagement on a few posts or joining a network of users who’ll exchange likes and comments to boost their engagement. However, just like buying followers, this strategy rings hollow – the engagement isn’t real.

The only real solution to ghost followers is to build a genuine, organic audience – or leave it to the professionals. By outsourcing to a professional influencer marketing agency, you’re outsourcing not just the work of building an engaged, enthusiastic audience – you’re also outsourcing the work of finding trustworthy influencers with genuine followings and real influence over real people.

Ghostbusting: How An Influencer Marketing Agency Can Help

A professional influencer marketing agency like Sociably can cut through all of your worries about ghost followers, engagement rate and influencer screening, and get straight to creating effective influencer marketing campaigns. This is because any influencer marketing agency worthy of the title will have long-standing relationships with carefully-vetted influencers, and they’ll know what sort of engagement rates can be expected on any campaigns. Influencers with fake followings are screened out during the vetting process, and never make it onto the contact rolls of a good influencer marketing agency.

By working with an influencer marketing agency, you’re able to hand over the job of building trusting relationships with quality influencers, and since the agency has already done that, they can then quickly put together a high-quality campaign.

When influencer marketing agencies run campaigns across multiple social media platforms, they can even work with the most relevant influencers on each platform, and partner effectively with the best influencers for your brand’s niche.

The end result is a campaign depth and thoroughness that’s hard to match without professional help.

Need Some Marketing Help?

We’re a leading influencer marketing agency because we’ve got strong, longstanding relationships and trust with high-quality influencers, and we can always deliver the engagement and reach a campaign needs to be a success.

We’re able to handle your campaigns from inception to final report, so if you’re ready to get things moving, send us a message and let’s talk about what we can do for you.


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