Opinion: Fake it & you won’t make it!

Krish Velkar Fake followers

Krish Velkar, Planner- Ogilvy Mumbai looks to understand – Why people buy fake followers? Who is buying & why is it a bad idea with tips about how to detect & remove fake followers

What’s the one thing a lot of brands and influencers have but aren’t happy with always admitting to having it? Fake followers! After the recent investigation of the Mumbai Police towards Bollywood celebrities like Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone suspected of having fake followers, I thought it would be best to further explore this topic. 

So, first, let’s understand why people could be buying followers. 

1) Social Proof:

Behavioral science explains this with a term called Social proof coined by Robert Cialdini. He defines it as a psychological and social phenomenon wherein people copy the actions of others in an attempt to undertake behavior in a given situation. Now, since people’s attention spans are reducing (Anderson and de Palma, 2012) consumers sometimes rely on heuristics/mental short cuts like in this case the follower count which is a social proof  to decide if they should follow a brand/ influencer’s page or not (Metzger, Flanagin and Medders, 2010). 

2) Source Credibility:

Academia has also showcased that influencers with a higher number of followers were significantly rated higher on source credibility compared to influencers with lower followers (Jin and Phua, 2014). 

3) Banks analyzing the number of followers of a loan applicant to judge their creditworthiness.

Recently banks and financial institutions in the U.S have started to analyze social media accounts of loan applications before granting the loan to see how popular the applicant is and help the institution understand the creditworthiness of the applicant (Cresci et al., 2015).

The above three points clearly showcase the importance and the need to have a high number of followers and why one might resort to buying followers. 

Now, obviously Twitter and Instagram are aware of this, which is why they are constantly deleting fake accounts that are essentially bots. When this happens the follower count of pages acquiring fake followers reduces drastically and the fake accounts are deleted.

So why should you refrain from buying followers?

  • Affects the brand’s/influencer’s reputation.

When a few people notice the followers of a page have been drastically reduced, many start posting content against it. Thus, leaving a lot of brands/Influencer’ reputation at risk (Penny, Ritson, and Fleming, 2018). Examples of a scenario like this follow.

Maze (Rapper) (Lost 1.5m followers and tarnished his reputation)

One such case is that of the rapper Maze. He lost 1.5 million followers in a day on Instagram and was down to only 272K followers. Due to this, he got trolled very badly which started affecting his brand reputation so much that he had to delete his Instagram account (Diaz, 2014). Narendra Modi the Indian Prime Minister also had lost a large number of fake followers and got trolled (Mahajan, 2018). However, it was not to the extent of Mase.

Hence, Twitter and Instagram are suspending accounts like these and not letting them get verified which is essential for the brand and an influencer. This helps us understand that going down this route places the brands’/influencers’ reputation at risk. 

Legal Action against companies selling and buying followers in the US

In Feb 2019 Devumi- A company in the U.S that sells followers and likes to nearly most of the celebrities/brands around the world was exposed. Along with that the brands and influencers associated with them were also exposed. This company was debarred from the practice of selling followers and engagement and a law has been passed in the U.S that this practice is now illegal (The Business Times, 2019).

David Berkowitz (VP at 360i -a reputed ad agency) suggests that this strategy is completely a waste of time as there is a high risk for brand reputation if someone notices this. Especially because this is an era where authenticity is regarded highly of and deeply valued (Louis, 2019).

  • It’s essentially cheating

This is because most often a brand pays an influencer based on the number of followers they have. But, if a large percentage of followers are fake and primarily bots it’s as good as stealing money from a brand! 

So now, the question arises on how to detect them?

Academic research has suggested that it is not possible to be 100% sure of the exact number of fake accounts an account has. Although, it has helped to identify fake accounts using machine learning by creating various academic models (Xiao et al 2015).

However, there is no evidence of these medals actually being used by influencers/brands (Based on my research). There aren’t any foolproof methods of understanding exactly how many fake followers exist but there are methods to understand an approximate figure (Ferrara et al 2016).

Also Read: All you need to know about the Fake Followers social media scam

Methods of detecting fake followers

1. Checking a drastic increase or decrease in followers using online tools.

This is one of the most basic methods which can be done by using a website called Social Blade. However, this is not 100% accurate as there could be other reasons for the increase and decrease in followers. 

2. Check the location of the majority of followers.

If an India based brand/influencer is creating Indian focussed content then naturally the most of their followers would be from India. This can be checked through a website called HypeAuditor. However, if that follower has a surprisingly large overseas count of followers especially from Eastern Europe or Southern America then there is a high chance of them being fake followers (Ward, 2018)

3. Calculate the engagement rate

To do that we first add the amount of engagement which is the number of likes, comments, and shares, divide it by the number of followers and multiply it into 100. An average engagement rate is 5% and if it’s anywhere close to 1% then there are extremely high chances of that account buying follower (Ward, 2018). However, it could also be that that account is highly inactive which is the reason for an extremely low engagement rate. 

4.Websites that claim to provide a one-stop solution to providing the fake follower’s count.


  1. Twitter Audit
  2. Fohr


  1. HypeAuditor
  2. Modash
  3. Fake Check
  4. Fohr

*Not all the websites mentioned have not been tested by me.

Also, sometimes because they are bots even if you have not purchased fake followers you can still have these ghost accounts following you without realizing it (ITP Live Middle East, 2018). However, the amount would not be as much as someone who has purchased them. 

Which big brands and celebrities have bought fake followers?

There are numerous people who have done it all the way from President Obama to Taylor swift (Business Insider, 2018). One study from Points North in 2017 concluded that big brands such as P&G’s Pampers (32%), Unilever’s Magnum (20%), L’Occitane (39%) and the Ritz-Carlton hotel group (78%) were among the brands whose Instagram sponsored posts had the fakest followers (Ritson, 2018).

How can we remove the fake followers?


  1. Twitter Audit ()
  2. Circleboom ()


  1. Spamguard
  2. IG cleaner

*The websites mentioned have not been tested by me.

Should you collaborate with an influencer/brand who has fake followers?

Dusit Thani hotel and Unilever have taken a strict stand on this point that they will not work with influencers who are buying followers (Bennett, 2018). However, the brand could analyze the account of the influencer and choose to only pay for the real followers of that specific influencer. It’s really sad that people are using this strategy. 

What do you do if you haven’t bought followers and this article was not of much use to you?

Fohr has come up with an accredited Health score to suggest that your account is clean and not buying followers or any engagement. This way brands and influencers can position themselves apart from the ones who are inauthentic () by posting their health score on their account. 

This article has been authored by Krish Velkar, Planner at Ogilvy Mumbai.