Instagram influencer marketing is now a $1 billion dollar industry, and you don’t need a cute dog or a book-worthy lifestyle to get into the game. According to an investigation by marketing agency Mediakix, anyone can fake their way into signing profitable contracts with brands.
The agency created two fictitious Instagram accounts: 1) ‘a lifestyle and fashion-centric Instagram model’ and 2) ‘a travel and adventure photographer.’ For the first account, Mediakix hired a model and generated the entire channel content through a one-day photo shoot. Introducing Alexa Rae (calibeachgirl310). The second account was dedicated to Amanda Smith (wanderingggirl), and this time Mediakix went even further. The entire feed was composed of free stock photos of random places across the world and blonde girls, always posing facing away from the camera.
After setting up fake personalities and generating their content, the agency started purchasing followers. “We started with buying 1,000 followers per day because we were concerned that purchasing too many followers at the onset would result in Instagram flagging the account,” Mediakix stated. “However, we quickly found that we were able to buy up to 15,000 followers at a time without encountering any issues.” And how much does this army cost? Between $3-$8 per 1,000.
Essentially, if the followers don’t like or comment on posts, they’re kind of worthless. So the next step was to purchase fake engagement. “Once we had accumulated a few thousand followers for each account, we started buying likes and comments.” Mediakix paid about 12 cents per comment, and between $4-9 per 1,000 likes. For each photo, they purchased 500 to 2,500 likes and 10 to 50 comments. The entire experiment ended up costing Mediakix about $1,000 (around $700 for setting up calibeachgirl310 and around $300 for wanderingggirl). After calibeachgirl310 and wanderingggirl reached 10,000 followers (the threshold amount for signing up on most influencer marketing platforms), Mediakix started applying them for sponsorship deals. “We secured four paid brand deals total, two for each account. The fashion account secured one deal with a swimsuit company and one with a national food and beverage company.” “The travel account secured brand deals with an alcohol brand and the same national food and beverage company. For each campaign, the “influencers” were offered monetary compensation, free product, or both.”
The results are worrying for everyone spending money on influencer marketing campaigns. Instagrammers with a fake following and/or engagement could be defrauding brands from millions of dollars.