We believe all online marketers have heard of the recent follower fluctuations on Instagram. The phenomenon went viral in social media as the Instagram users who were affected the most were celebrities and influencers, who naturally shared their confusion in social media. The sharp decreases on Instagram followers were picked up by several media, for example, Fast Company, Mashable, and Fortune.
In response to the large press exposure, Instagram announced that the follower losses were essentially a glitch, and all affected accounts had their followers returned. The end, right? Not exactly.
We’ve analyzed Instagram’s follower fluctuations
InfluencerDB’s data team quickly identified that the Instagram channels facing the highest percentage of follower fluctuations all also seemed to show suspicious behavior typically indicative of purchased followers and engagement (likes/comments). This is where the story gets even more interesting.
Let’s take a closer look for instance at the Daily Follower Changes for the account that lost and recovered the highest percentage of followers during this fluctuation. You will see radical and unattributed follower spikes (there are no text/image mentions by other accounts that would increase this account’s visibility) beyond the alleged glitch. See below:
Does this mean this profile and other affected accounts are purchasing their followers? Not necessarily, as context can significantly affect how we interpret the data.
A good example of follower spikes which at first glance don’t necessarily make sense is Coachella‘s Daily Follower Change. The graph displayed below also shows strong follower increases:
Despite the seemingly unnatural follower increases, it’s quickly apparent that @coachella’s follower increases correlate with the spikes in Earned Media Value. Or, in non-robotic terms, Coachella’s following grew during the 2018 festival season and again upon the announcement of the 2019 lineup.
0.01 $ followers creating distrust in Influencer Marketing
Instagram reported the February follower fluctuations as a glitch but based on both, the uneven distribution in follower losses and the suspicious activity associated with the most severely affected influencers, it seems likely that Instagram intentionally eliminated fake accounts before reverting the decision.
It is still incredibly easy to purchase fake Instagram followers for as little as 1-3 cents each and Instagram has been trying to fight against the fake followers & engagement market. Despite Instagram’s November press release warning of upcoming removals of fake likes, comments, and followers, the last significant and permanent removal of fake accounts identified occurred in late September 2018.
For some, the pure idea of an entire market of fake social media engagement sounds astonishing, but the amount of fake engagement is giving marketers and honest influencers a headache and identifying fake influencers becomes more critical. To create a better understanding of the scale of fake influencing, a random bunch of fake follower vendors and prices can be found below:
The Drum reported in January 2019 that Instagram’s fake follower purge has had ‘little effect’ on fraudulent Influencers. Last month’s follower fluctuations should have been the next step in the process of eliminating fakes from Instagram, but it wasn’t.
As the influencer marketing industry is struggling with trust already after the famous disaster of Fyre festival, we hoped to see Instagram taking a stricter stand on transparency in the platform. The future shall show whether there will be more activity here soon.