A report by cybersecurity firm Cheq projects that fake fans will cost marketers $1.3 billion in 2019 alone.

But it isn’t the cost of buying fake followers that’s doing the damage. In fact, type the keywords ‘buy Instagram likes’ into Google, and the top result will offer up 100 at the bargain-basement price of $2.95.

There’s even (no joke) a coin-operated vending machine called Quick Fix that will sell you Insta likes and followers in seconds for just a few bucks.

So… how are marketers getting screwed here?

Good question, grasshopper. It’s the inflated cost of influencer marketing that’s the problem. 

Whatever your thoughts on influencer marketing – I hear audible groans from some, jumps to its defense from others – there’s no arguing the fact that its big business. The influencer marketing industry is predicted to reach $10 billion by 2020.

You’ve seen the video of Nick Offerman drinking a Lagavulin scotch next to a fire for 45 minutes, right? That’s big-time influencer marketing.

But with the ability to pay micro-influencers (those with less than 100K followers) to plug your wares (often costing less than $500), influencer marketing has become affordable to businesses of all sizes.

I still don’t see the problem, bud.

I’m getting to that. As it turns out, 20-30% of all influencers artificially inflate the number of followers and likes they get.  TRANSLATION: Marketers are paying 20 to 30% more for nothing.

Here are a few ways influencers inflate the numbers:

  • Comment pods – groups of influencers who agree to like and comment on each other’s posts.
  • Botting – Using automated fake accounts to inflate like and follower counts.
  • Fake followers – Real people that like and follow accounts

Ok, so what’s being done about it?

It’s a war.

The tactics of these purveyors of fake likes are getting more sophisticated. For example, Instagram and other IG audit tools began flagging accounts that saw an unusual spike in followers, indicating that a batch of fake followers may have been purchased.

Sellers and influencers fired back by selling “drip followers” that are added more slowly.  EXAMPLE: This site is offering 3600 followers every month (dripped out at 120 per day) for a whopping $66.

So… what’s going to happen here?

As it is was with the black-hat SEO’s vs Google, this war pits those that are manipulating the system against a massive technology company.  Google won its battle against black-hat SEO because it had to. If they didn’t beat the spammers, a competitor would have. SEO today is played by Google’s rules and that’s not changing.  

The war against Instagram will be lost as well, but at what cost? Will Instagram crackdown as Google did, slashing and burning offenders both manually and with algorithm changes?  It seems likely. In fact, moves like hiding like counts on posts show that they’ve already begun.