These days, with the amount of Instagram influencers out there, finding one isn’t the problem. But finding the right one can be more of a challenge. After all, how do you know what separates a great influencer from a lackluster one?

It all comes down to the metrics. Yes, their aesthetics and values are important but you also need to look behind the profile and make sure that everything is working okay.

If you don’t do this due diligence, you might just find out that the influencer’s profile isn’t as impressive as it seems, and that some of their followers aren’t even real.

Fake followers allegedly cost brands $1.3 billion on marketing campaigns in 2019. Fake followers and fake engagement are real, and you need to know how to spot them. Keep reading to find out what you should look for when choosing influencers for your Instagram campaigns.

Follower Growth 🌱

It's a good idea to check out the number of followers an influencer has. But it’s also important to look at how they got those followers. Did they acquire them steadily? Or did they suddenly get loads of new followers in a short window of time?

An example of healthy follower growth.

Followers are generally acquired slowly and steadily. Consistency and dedication to content creation win authentic followers, but it’s not an overnight process. If follower growth looks spiky, it may be showing something suspicious.

If you see spikes, check to see if the influencer went viral or hosted a giveaway around that time. Both are legitimate reasons for sudden jumps in followers.

But in the absence of those, know that those spikes could mean the influencer purchased fake followers. And while bots increase follower count, they’re not who you want to be marketing to.

Engagement Rate 👀

Equally important to follower count is the engagement rate. Engagement is the level of interest and interaction between an influencer and their audience. High engagement shows that an audience trusts in the influencer and enjoys their content.

Nano and micro-influencers typically have the highest engagement rates on Instagram. This makes them great options for any brand, and especially those that don’t have huge marketing budgets.

Most of the time, you can close collaborations with nano and micro-influencers in exchange for the product alone, which means the investment price is lower for your brand.

That being said, beware of engagement that is suspiciously high. Just like influencers can buy fake followers, they can also buy fake engagement in the form of likes and comments from bots. It’s important to stay informed about average engagement levels among influencers with similar follower counts.

For example, if you see that micro-influencers on Instagram tend to have around 2.4% engagement, and the influencer you’re evaluating has 24%, it's worth checking out.

On the other hand, extremely low engagement is also something to watch out for. It could mean that the influencer bought fake followers. These bots increase follower count but generally don’t interact with content, so they actually end up lowering engagement.

The other explanation is more legitimate but not any more positive: low engagement could also show that real followers simply aren’t interested in the influencer’s content.

Influencer marketing software can evaluate a specific influencer’s engagement rate compared to the average of their peers with a similar follower count.

Comments/Likes and Followers/Following Ratios 💁🏻‍♀️

These ratios can also reveal signs of a fake engagement or fake followers. The comments/likes ratio is useful because some influencers buy fake likes, but not fake comments. If this ratio is low, that might be the reason why.

Likewise, the followers/following ratio can reveal if the influencer is using the follow/unfollow strategy to grow their following. If you’ve used Instagram, you’ve probably encountered this at some point.

A random user follows you, and to be nice, you follow them back. Later on, they unfollow you without you realizing it. This type of tradeoff rarely generates real engagement, as your motivation for following them was politeness and not genuine interest in their content.

Audience Demographics 👥

An important part of any marketing campaign is defining the target audience. You want to make sure you’re reaching the right people for your brand. And with influencers, that’s no different.

While you can assume that an influencer will have something in common with their audience, you’d sometimes be surprised by the discrepancies. In order to make sure that an influencer’s audience matches your target audience, you have two options: (1) request this information directly from the influencer; or (2) use an influencer marketing platform.

Check out audience demographics like age, gender, location, language and interests to make sure you’re reaching the right people. You want to avoid missing out on opportunities because the influencer’s audience isn’t who you expected.

Make sure an influencer’s audience is located where you want them to be.

Imagine, for example, that you’re rolling out a new product in Spain and want to increase sales in that region. To help drive sales, you decide to collaborate with a Madrid-based influencer.

But little do you know that more than half of that influencer’s audience is actually located in Latin America, where your brand doesn’t operate. Now you’ve lost the opportunity to reach more potential customers in your target region!

Audience Authenticity 🙌🏽

In addition to looking into the audience’s demographics, check out their authenticity. The best way to do this is with an influencer marketing platform. The analytics can give us a sense of the percentage of followers that exhibit suspicious behavior that’s common in bots.

In this case, around 6% of the influencer’s audience looks like they could be bots.

Whether you pay them in product or cash, influencers are an investment. So make sure you’re investing wisely. You wouldn’t want to pay an influencer to promote your brand, only to find out later that a majority of their audience is fake.

Prior Branded Content 👈🏽

Another thing to check into is how the influencer’s previous branded content has performed. Look at the engagement rate on these posts, as well as the likes and comments. This can help you estimate how well an influencer’s content for your brand may perform.

Branded content metrics let you see how influencer’s content worked in past collaborations.

It’s also worthwhile to take a look directly on Instagram and see how (and if) an influencer disclosed their past collaborations with brands. Instagram recently started cracking down on hidden ads, which means following disclosure guidelines is more important than ever for both influencers and brands alike.

This is something you can stipulate in your collaboration agreement, but it’s also nice to find influencers who already know how to play by the rules.

Aesthetic and Values 🌟

Moving away from the hard data, you also need to consider the more subjective elements of an influencer’s profile. Take a good look at their profile and content. Do they mesh with your brand’s aesthetic? That point is especially important if you’d like to repost their content later on.

And more importantly, does the influencer embody your brand’s core values and message? If you’re a slow fashion, eco-conscious label, for example, maybe it’s best to avoid influencers who collaborate with fast fashion brands and who have a constantly rotating wardrobe.

Conclusion 🙌🏽

Choosing influencers for your collaborations can be tricky, but it’s easier once you know what to evaluate. If you’d like to learn more about how to find the right influencers, and detect and avoid fake ones, check out this influencer marketing guide.


This article was written by Kate Santoro. Kate works on the Marketing team at Heepsy, an influencer marketing platform that lets you search and analyze over 11 million Instagram and Youtube influencers.

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