Influencer marketing and fake followers

The latest trend in promotions, influencer marketing, has become highly popular because of the increased returns on investment. It’s a successful strategy that leads to more sales conversions than regular social media marketing and advertising.

The premise behind influencer marketing is that brands pay big money to people with loads of followers on social media for them to promote products. The more followers you have, the more you can charge brands for a social media post.

Influencers with over 100 000 followers can charge over R13 000 per Instagram post. If you have over 3-million followers, a big brand can pay you up to R1-million for an Instagram post or R400 000 per tweet. This is a massive amount of money but your brand will be seen by a huge audience – most of which trust the influencer and their endorsement of your brand.

However, one major flaw has reared its head in the world of influencer marketing; fake followers. Brands are beginning to realise that not all influencers amass followers organically. Some people pay for followers or rely on fake ‘bots’ to increase their following. It’s obviously not good for a brand to be paying hundreds of thousands of rands only for their ad to be seen by fake or autonomous accounts.

Brands axe influencers who buy followers

Big brands have started to cut ties with influencers who buy followers or use fake accounts to boost their numbers. Unilever announced that they have stopped working with influencers who engage in such fraudulent practices.

Instead of looking at the number of followers that an influencer has, brands such as Unilever have started focussing on impressions per post (or the number of real views and clicks per post). Autonomous accounts and bots don’t create impressions, so this is a more accurate way of judging an influencer’s following.

Businesses are swiftly moving away from the ‘pay-for-reach’ model of influencer marketing in favour of a ‘pay-per-impression’ approach. This reduces influencer fraud and the trend of incentivising influencers to buy followers.

Fraudulent posts and solutions

Agencies and brands are taking a more strict approach with influencers and fraudulent posts. Detailed contracts and terms and conditions are being agreed upon by businesses and influencers that prohibit any misleading posts and artificial follower numbers.

Influencers are also being banned from incentivising their followers to engage with posts. Some influencers pay certain followers to click on links and engage with posts, which not only results in inflated impressions for brands, but it is also morally questionable.

There are two basic ways that brands get around these issues; paying influencers a flat rate, regardless of how many followers they have and paying per thousand impressions. The first strategy is simple and easy – each agency decides what they will pay for influencer promotions and that’s the standard rate.

The second strategy is a little more complicated but it means that influencers with more followers get more money for their posts. Brands will establish a cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) and the influencer will benefit from having more engaged followers.

For example, a CPM of R150 means that an influencer with 100 000 followers can get paid R15 000 per post if all of their followers see the ad. If an influencer uses fake followers, they will have fewer impressions and their remuneration will much less. The impression data can be retrieved from Instagram’s business accounts insights.

This pushes influencers to attract real audiences and refrain from buying followers as they can earn more money from having legitimate followers. Impression-based pricing models also stop influencers from charging excessive fees. It regulates the whole system and keeps the market competitive.

Influencer marketing is a successful tactic used by many brands and agencies today. Partnering with a popular personality means that trust is already established and the sales process becomes a lot quicker. Brands just need to ensure that their chosen influencers are legitimate and have real followers.


Sorted Design Agency is a creative company that constantly looks for solutions to other people’s problems. These problems come mostly in the visual format, such as graphic design, logo and illustration, but we’re experts in brand development, website design, and digital SEO campaigns as well.


Based in Pretoria and Cape Town, Sorted has been in the content marketing industry since 2006. We assist your company with its corporate identity by communicating core values through content and articles written for your website, blog and news area. This content is supported by AdWords and social advertising, which facilitates wider reach and audience growth. Turn your website into a business tool.


Sorted also owns two other businesses; InkFish Print Studio – a printing company that handles a range of promotional materials for businesses and other services for individual customers, and Pampiri + Kie – a gifts and stationery store selling online and in-store. Both of these companies operate from Cape Town and Pretoria.


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