Style-Delights: The Reality Of Fake Instagram Followers: Are Top Fashion Bloggers Buying Fake Followers?

September 22, 2014

The Reality Of Fake Instagram Followers: Are Top Fashion Bloggers Buying Fake Followers?

Today's post has been a long time coming. 
As a blogger who has worked with some really reputed brands via my blog, I know social media campaigns with bloggers are a big part of any brand's marketing and PR strategy. After all, bloggers are the 'voice of real people' and what better way for brands to connect with their customers than through a blogger? These days, the bloggers are also referred as influencers who not only can introduce a brand to a customer in the most positive way, but also persuade them to buy it. As an ambitious blogger who takes her blog seriously and has grown it into more than a hobby, I have often wondered what constitutes an effective online influencer? Is it the quality of their content, ability to network with 'right people' or just pure statistics? {Because lets face it, brands want to connect with as many people as they can via a campaign. So more the number of your blog readers and social media fans, the more valuable a blogger is to the brand.} But can these numbers be manipulated? Can a blogger 'fake it till you make it'? There has been a hush hush talk for many months now about the authenticity of fashion bloggers' social following and that how easy is it to buy 'followers'. Last week the  popular fashion news sites like racked.com and Daily Mail carried story about how fashion bloggers 'fake it till they make it'. The article accused some of my favorite bloggers of buying the fake followers on instagram and twitter. I was IN SHOCK! I didn't believe it! How can they work with reputed companies, be the ambassadors for big brands and rake in money via their blogs if they are inflating their numbers. The article had some bloggers sources and some speculation that the top bloggers started with fake followers and once they became big, the true followers kinda came in organically. But these articles didn't put a credible source to confirm their allegation. So I decided to do some investigating of my own! I decided to test this theory and try the buying fake followers thing for myself to see how different a real follower is from a fake follower. And what I found was a real----

I tried a site racked.com had mentioned that promises to give 'real followers' and 'genuine likes' without violating instagram account policy. Just to test the theory, I bought the lowest package of 100 followers for just $3 and a monthly package of  'likes'. (Full Disclosure : Before delving into this experiment, I had 1300+ organic followers that I had generated with genuine social interaction and am quite happy with my small but authentic number.)
I don't want false 'likes' or fake followers to boost my numbers or my ego. I'd take one genuine follower who is interested to hear what I have to say than 100 fake followers who are silent. Anyhow, just to see how the fake accounts look like, I got onto the program. With the 'buying' I immediately got 100 followers. All of them looked totally fake to me! The one thing those accounts have in common is they have usually one syllable name that doesn't make any sense (like 'Ovaiucker'  or 'Aulordan' or some such.) They either have no post, or just couple of pictures that also make no sense. Random smiling face picture or a picture pulled from internet with no hashtag. They have either no followers or just a couple of followers but they follow many. Some follow 100s of users, some follow 1000s of users, but on deeper inspection, I could see the common theme of their following pattern. These accounts also didn't seem to have 'regular'accounts in their following list - like a normal instagram user should have - a friend, family of clsassmate etc. They only follow professional insta users. Without naming names I cam say that I found these 'fake' accounts followed a lot of 'TV personalities'/ reality stars (kardash..aaanchoo!) celebrity stylists / make up artists/ fashion bloggers and fitness experts. Not only from US, but from all over the world. In short, these fake users follow all those accounts that might benefit from having a large following. 
I also did some probing about the followers of all the bloggers racked and daily mail accused of buying the followers, I can honestly say that Rachel Parcell of Pink Peonies seem to have real followers. They might not be useful to a brand that is only US based because her users seem to come from all over the map. But her users seem to be real people (some are private accounts, and I found out that fake accounts can not be private) and looking at the number of comments and engagement on her instagram, it seems authentic. So I don't want to back up racked.com accusation about her. I wonder why she was singled out with her picture etc on these websites when all other international bloggers seem to have more 'sleeping' followers than her. Song of Style followers (after scrolling down a lot of follower histort) seem to be a mix of fake and real - some weird accounts thrown in. But I guess brands don't care which country followers come from and what demographic they are as long as some of the bloggers fan base is good customer material.
In my 'experiment', I found out that some of my 100 followers I bought also followed  Kristina Bazan of Kayture, Miroslava Duma and other such popular fashion bloggers. And by going into the 'followers' of such popular bloggers showed a LOT OF such profiles - the ones who follow a lot of fashion accounts but never post a fashion related picture in their own accounts! Exhibit A - this user (who is a fake follower - bought online in my bundle of 100 followers) is following 21 users - ALL fashion and style related big accounts - so it is safe to assume that she might be interested in fashion and at least knows how to use instagram. But if you look at her public profile, she has no post, no followers not even her profile picture!

And here is a list of some accounts from her 'following' tab

Few more of such fashion enthusiasts who diligently follow the high fashion bloggers. Here are their own profiles -

and here is a glimpse of the list of accounts they are following. 

Seems like these followers are really into high fashion and street style but NEVER post their own style.! *fishy*
Please note that I am not saying the couple of examples are the absolute proof/truth. It may be a carefully crafted social media padding or it may be just a co-incidence. Or may be lot of people make instagram accounts just to see the pictures and not engage. May be they follow 'suggested users' and end up following same set of bloggers. Or just the fact that when you are a big instagram user, you can't avoid fake followers from following you, who knows! I am just trying to understand a pattern here. In my experience, people who are interested in fashion and are on instagram, are usually the ones who want to show their own style too. So these 'sleeping' accounts who follow so many of the uber stylish bloggers, but never share even a picture of their own style (or #OOTD) seem little off!
I am also not suggesting that top fashion bloggers need to buy followers after they make it. May be they did buy followers in the beginning just to look popular. But now they seem to be in fashion media a lot, and once you get promoted by big names, you get even bigger. So I guess it may be a self fulfilling prophecy.  In my experiment I found that there are a lot of bloggers/instagram users who had the sleeping followers. Now I believe for sure if there are thousands and thousands of followers and very few comments and likes that account may have bought the followers. 

However, for bloggers like me who want to believe that content is the king, it sounds sad that good content might get neglected and the social media following might be considered sole criteria for the brands. I can only hope that when I can do this much 'investigating' for no monetary reward, a brand marketing team that is being paid monthly wages, will surely look into the authenticity of fashion bloggers' influence! or NOT.

But I guess in a world where everybody wants to be famous, you can't blame those who buy fame. It is true that --

During the recent Fashion Week in New York, I met a a blogger friend of mine and we discussed about the reality and perception of fashion industry and specially of the fashion bloggers. We both thought that fashion is a world of perceptions. Now don't get me wrong, I am a fashion blogger and I know it is hard work and a lot of thought goes into a simple outfit style post or a small blog feature about style, but having said that, I think it is fair to say that fashion bloggers really have to portray their online persona in a more glamours way than their real life! In a world obsessed with the 'next big thing'  the fashion bloggers need to maintain the perception of actually being THE big thing. To be noticed as a serious influencer, you have to act like you have got this! The top bloggers seem to have constant, engaging content (might be frivolous for some, might be cool for some) on their instagram and fair to say that people may like to follow them for pictures.
I will say this though - fake followers don't engage, they don't respond and they don't give feedback. But in fashion world (that is notorious for its narcissistic nature), may be one is happy to listen to the echo of their own voice.
In conclusion, I feel sad for bloggers who buy online followers because it means they are either looking for validation of their own self worth from outside, or that they are just living a lie! Andy Warhol had once famously said,"In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes". It seems like we are living that future! In a world of reality TV and social media celebrity and street style 'stardom', the fame looks like a low hanging fruit anybody can grab if they just try!  

 BTW, just to make things clear, I canceled my account with the company that sends 'free likes' after a day as I was done with my probe. They didn't respond to my email about not keep the account active for a month and just stop sending 100 likes for a picture for a month!) Now to avoid their 'likes' I post a picture after midnight when most of my real followers are off instagram, and as soon as I get those instant fake 100 likes, I delete it and then post it again so I can see who 'really' liked the picture! Phew!

But unfortunately, my account will active for a month anyway and I might get likes from the fake users. I know some of you might think that I'd like to have more likes/followers even if they aren't real, but let me assure you that I don't like to just hear the echo of my own voice! However, I'd like to engage with you real insta users:-) If you are out there, check out my instagram 

 PS.


 PPS. Please don't consider this post as accusation of any sort against the mentioned instagrammers. I am big fan of some of these bloggers' style and admire their business acumen. But the purpose of my post is to share my experience. I now have a better idea how to spot a blogger who has fake followers and I AM,,,,


Linking up at Monday Mingle and Monday Bloom

75 comments :

  1. It just seems crazy to spend any money on fake followers on any social media. Like anyone, I do get excited when I have a like or a new follower but the most valuable part really is the interaction with so many people. IG is my favorite social media since it's immediate and you really can develop some IG friends too.

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    1. That is true Alice. I like when people like my content for what it is, not because they get paid to like it!

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  2. Very very interesting article. You should get this printed in a newspaper or magazine. Love the research you did and how you put across your observations. Before reading your post, I did not even know that one could "buy" followers. Its a bit too much. But yes, in today's world where everyone wants to be famous, not very surprising I guess. Thanks for sharing this, and to make it clear, I am a genuine follower :) I really love your style.

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  3. Great insights and I wanted to read till the end, so engaging! Its great that you did this probe for yourself . ITs an eye-opener. I hope brands realise that there can be other qualitative metrics to measure blog popularity! Sadly the business world understand only numbers!

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    1. Thanks Ila. I hope that brands do take the social media buying into account when they work with bloggers!

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  4. Rachel uses a bot, like a lot of the other girls - to get real followers...it follows a ton of people and few days later unfollows them, its happened to me a lot by thesr big number bloggers so I finally researvhed and realized that's what ut was...

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    1. Wow..didn't know that! This whole shady business of social media buying is kinda annoying!

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  5. I don't see why people would want to pay for follower. I use some people are just really greed. Thanks so much for sharing this info with all of your reads.

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    1. I know Amy! I always thought that the followers come because of great content!

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  6. This is very interesting and I don't ALWAYS assume that people are buying fake followers, but sometimes it seems to happen very quickly that certain bloggers have a huge following. I kind of believe in the "fake it until you make it" saying, but not in this sense. Buying fake followers to make more money from brands seems so silly, but I guess it works, right?! I wish brands would take MORE time to learn about the person they are working with. I know they need to see numbers, but wouldn't an authentic fashion blogger with fewer numbers, but REAL interactions make more sense than someone with a ton of followers who never gets comments, questions or interactions. I guess the bottom line is who is driving traffic to their sites. ^^^ Also, very interesting Megan, I didn't even think something like this was possible.

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    1. Yes, Rachel, I would only hope that brands know what they are doing when they look at the social media following. I think now the top blogs have a big fan face that is genuine but it seems like most of them had to resort to fake followers in the beginning just for appearance sake...

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  7. Such an interesting post, Jyoti. I am glad you posted it & I agree with you completely. I'd rather have a small active bunch of organic followers than 100's of fake ones.

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  9. I agree that quality content doesn't seem to matter to brands anymore. All they want to know is the number of followers you have on social media. With the big bloggers buying followers it makes it harder for smaller bloggers like myself to grow because the numbers keep getting inflated more and more. You can never really catch up. Oh well. I loved this post though!

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  10. On an interesting note.,.. My bloglovin follows spiked bizarrely maybe a month ago. We're talking 500+ increase in like a day or two. I emailed. Bloglovin about it (because they seemed odd:. Not just bc it happened all at once, but also because they followed ALL the same people it seemed). Bloglovin didn't respond to me but *poof* they we're gone.

    Then a few days later they started reappearing again. Not quite as many as original.... But still rapid and same odd accounts.

    It might be like that Facebook thing. Where companies getting paid for likes "mass follow" or like things - anything and everything - to not look as suspicious....

    There's some video out there about the Facebook thing. Super interesting actually

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