We’ve all seen influencers take over our Instagram feeds—living their best life at exotic hotels, indulging in food packaged as perfect flatlays, and documenting their daily routine on GoPros, with a little help from those annoying selfie stick. And for an onlooker, it can be really fascinating—just the fact that a regular person is famous because they know their angles, lighting and editing, and that their perfectly packaged life earns them followers, endorsements and big bucks, despite their audience knowing how manufactured it all is. But while Instagram engagement is all about being visually pleasing, there’s more to their strategy than meets the eye. If you’re wondering just how influential these influencers really are, a new study by Swedish e-commerce start-up A Good Company and data analytics firm HypeAuditor has found that many influencers in India have more fake followers than fake smiles.
The study analysed 1.84 million Instagram accounts in 82 countries and found the three regions with the most fake followers on the Facebook-owned platform are the US (49 million), Brazil (27 million) and India (16 million).
In a statement to PRWeek, Anders Ankarlid, CEO of A Good Company, said, “Companies are pouring money into influencer marketing, thinking that they are connecting with real people and not Russian bots. In reality, they are pouring money down the drain and giving away free products to someone who acquired a mass-following overnight.”
While influencer marketing has emerged as an irreplaceable part of any brand’s marketing strategy, getting bots as followers isn’t a new issue, as industry watchdog @Diet_influencer—which regularly calls out people for amassing fake followers—will tell you. But even this account is just a drop in a very polluted ocean, and clearly, influencers know how to squeeze out the best results from toxic waters. Additionally, another survey conducted with 400 anonymous influencers also found that 60 percent of them continue to pay to their boost engagement, often even buying likes and follows.
The study estimates that Instagram fraud is costing companies at least $750 million in a market worth approximately $1.7 billion. Marketing firm Mediakix estimated that influencer marketing on Instagram alone could reach $2 billion by the end of 2019.
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*Disclaimer: we used a different stock photo in an earlier version of this story that was changed upon the subject's request.