Under the Influence: How Instagram Bots Are Escalating Influencer Fraud

Under the Influence: How Instagram Bots Are Escalating Influencer Fraud

In December of 2014, Instagram embarked on a purge of fake and spammer accounts in what it termed an effort to improve user experience. This move was met with surprise, anger, and frustration, as millions of people lost thousands and even millions of followers. 

The rich and famous weren’t spared either; Justin Bieber, Barack Obama, and Ariana Grande all lost millions of followers.  

According to US News, the famous rapper Mase, deleted his Instagram account after his follower count dropped from 1.6M to 270K! 

More bloodbath was to follow a few years later.

In July of 2018, Twitter also purged millions of fake accounts. Celebrity users such as Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry, and even Twitter itself lost millions of followers; its CEO, Jack Dorsey, shed a whopping 200,000 followers. 

The world could no longer ignore the bot problem.  

 

What Are Instagram Bots?

Bots are computer programs designed to carry out automated tasks that are too repetitive or tiresome for humans. Instagram bots are programmed to act like humans on the social network; they follow other accounts and like, share, or even leave comments on posts.  

These automated services can inflate engagement rates by liking and commenting on posts to make specific profiles appear more popular than they are.

According to The New York Times, an obscure company called Devumi made millions of dollars by using 3.5 million automated accounts to sell over 200 million Twitter followers to celebrities, politicians, and athletes.

One of the most well-known bots on Instagram was Instagress, an online service that allowed would-be influencers to grow their followers quickly at a fee. Others include Follow Adder, Magic Social, and Like Social. 

These Instagram bots, despite their super speeds and high work rate, lack basic human intuition and sensitivity. They can only carry out tasks they are programmed for, and cannot think or be creative. 

For this reason, bots are infamous for leaving irrelevant, repetitive, nonsensical, and insensitive comments on Instagram posts.  

 

Non-Human Web Traffic Is on The Increase

Although the massive takedowns by Instagram and Twitter highlighted the bot problem, they did little to eradicate it. Fake accounts operated by bots are still prevalent on social networks, with up to 10% of all Instagram accounts deemed to be fraudulent. Estimates show that almost 100 million Instagram accounts are fake!

The problem of non-human actors on the Internet is not new. 

The Times reported that at one point in 2013, over 50% of all activity on YouTube was generated by bots masquerading as people. 

Studies also indicate that over 40% of all web traffic is consistently generated by bot activity. 

If anything, bots are increasingly infiltrating the Internet, aided in no small part by advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning. 

If bots are so terrible, why would anyone want to use them?

 

Why People Use Instagram Bots

The main reason why people use IG bots is to inflate their vanity numbers artificially. 

Instagram fame is potentially worth a lot of money if you are an influencer; the Instagram influencer market is set to hit nearly $3 billion this year. 

Influencers are ranked by their follower counts and engagement rate. Therefore, the more likes, shares, and comments an influencer generate, the higher their engagement rate and, subsequently, the endorsement fee.  

Buying fake followers is a booming business; demand for counterfeit Instagram followers is up 71% in 2019

Bots can boost Instagram vanity numbers in several ways. This includes using the popular follow-unfollow method, where bots follow an account, and then once it follows you back, they immediately unfollow it. This mimics the high follower-to-following ratio common in genuine accounts.

Secondly, bots fraudulently pad likes, followers, shares, and comments by coordinating their activity with thousands of other bots. After all, such metrics are the only way to tell how popular an Instagram account is. 

It’s no surprise fake influencers are popping up by the day to hunt for a fortune of their own.  

 

Are Brands Using Bots Too?

Certain brands are using bot services in a bid to legitimize their underwhelming IG accounts.  

Such disreputable brands use Instagram bots to bloat their vanity numbers to appear more credible and authentic to audiences. This is meant to manipulate followers into buying a product in the false belief that many other users approve of it. 

Election campaigns are also increasingly using bots to send automated messages to online users. 

According to Twitter, 50,000 Russian-linked bot accounts posted mainly-false election messages that reached nearly 700,000 users in the run-up to the 2016 US election 

Certain brands also use bots in an attempt to create false momentum behind a product launch. The intention is to influence genuine users to like and comment positively on a product once they see how popular it is with other users. 

 

Instagram Is Cracking Down on Bots

Instagram and other social media sites have aggressively cracked down on fake accounts. This is by deleting fake followers, shutting down bot services, as well as removing likes and comments that violate its policies. 

Facebook says it has deleted over 750 million fake accounts in the third quarter of 2019 alone

Facebook and other platforms use machine learning tools that detect fake accounts as well as accounts that use bot services to boost follower counts or raise engagement. 

Instagram is also testing the removal of engagement metrics such as likes and follower counts from the platform as a permanent solution to fake engagement metrics. 

 

Risks of Instagram Bots

Influencers or brands trying to pad their engagement metrics must be aware of the severe risks associated with Instagram bots. While bots might ostensibly deliver results in the short term, the risks of using them far outweigh their short-lasting benefits.

 

There are:

Ad Fraud: Using bot services to pad your numbers to deceive advertisers is an unlawful act that will attract ad fraud penalties. These practices are also plain deceptive, unethical, and repugnant to users who will quickly shun your account. 

Nuisance: Bots can be a significant nuisance to audiences when they post irrelevant or nonsensical comments. Those irritating and emoji-laden comments only put off audiences and potential buyers from your influencer or business account. 

Diminished Influence: Padding your influencer metrics will not translate into increased conversions or awareness. Your influencer campaigns will consistently fail to deliver tangible results. This is the ultimate test of genuine influence because it cannot be faked.

Permanent Deletion: As mentioned before, your account will be deleted from Instagram, leading to a much more significant loss of brand awareness and reach. Additionally, when the inevitable Instagram purge arrives, you will lose all your fake followers and likes.  

Reputational Damage: Brands and influencers alike can damage their reputation when word gets out that they are using bots to inflate their vanity numbers. Increased scrutiny and analytic tools are now making it easier to identify accounts that use bot services. 

 

How To recognize Influencer Accounts with Bot Activity

It’s not hard to spot fake influencers or phony engagement on an Instagram account. 

Here are the tell-tale signs of bot activity:

  • Very few posts in an account with a large follower count

  • Nonsensical profile names for followers

  • Meager engagement rates for accounts with many followers

  • Missing profile pictures in followers who actively comment and like posts

  • Poor quality content despite high follower numbers and engagement rates

  • Spammy ads or posts in comments

  • Emoji-heavy comments that do not rhyme with posts

  • No Instagram stories or story highlights

It is important to note that since celebrities and influencers use public accounts, they too are vulnerable to bot activity and fake engagement. 

Celebrities such as Lebron James have had their accounts followed by bot services. However, these fake followers form a tiny percentage of the total follower numbers, in contrast to those of fake influencers. 

 

Get Authentic Alternatives to Instagram Bots

For influencers looking to grow their reach and raise engagement, providing audiences with high-quality content is the way to go. Influencers can only gain genuine influence by establishing themselves as subject-matter experts in a particular niche. 

Delivering content that is engaging, entertaining, inspirational, or informative will also help you to connect, build trust, and bond with audiences.  

Influencer marketing has a much higher ROI than other advertising channels including radio and TV

Studies show that influencer marketing campaigns deliver a higher number of new and engaged followers to your Instagram account than any other method. 

If you want to know how to grow your follower numbers authentically, click here to learn how our influencer marketing campaigns can completely transform your brand. 

Don’t be fooled by bot services and fake influencers; drive genuine followers and engagement into your Instagram for the best conversions at a fraction of the cost!

Just click here to learn more.