An analysis conducted by influencer marketing platform Klug Klug reveals that nearly two-thirds (58.5 percent) of Instagram profiles in India have a high proportion of fake followers, exceeding 60 percent.

“This concerning trend is particularly prevalent within the beauty and fashion sectors. These industries are grappling with influencers resorting to deceptive tactics, potentially resulting in significant financial setbacks for brands investing in influencer marketing campaigns,” remarked Kalyan Kumar, Co-Founder of Klug Klug India, in an interview with Money control.

According to the platform, only 2.48 million profiles out of the eight million surveyed demonstrate genuine and high-quality followers.

India currently leads in both the supply and demand for fake followers. Kumar highlighted the detrimental impact of fake follower fraud on India’s influencer marketing industry, valued at over Rs 1,800 crore, which adversely affects legitimate creators striving to expand their reach and attract brand partnerships.

“A considerable amount of fake follower activity originates from India, followed by Brazil and Indonesia. The suppliers of synthetic followers—profiles of questionable authenticity sold as genuine—are primarily based in Russia and Turkey,” Kumar explained. “The Middle East, particularly the UAE, also witnesses significant fake follower activity among top influencers, akin to India. Meanwhile, Indonesia has a 19 percent incidence of dubious followers on Instagram, compared to India’s 59 percent, as Indonesia is a major market for fake follower transactions.”

The cost of purchasing fake followers ranges from Rs 8 to Rs 50 per 1,000 followers on Instagram, noted Kumar.

As the influencer marketing industry expands, Kumar observed an increasing number of influencers across various categories in India resorting to buying fake followers. “Even micro and nano influencers are now purchasing fake followers, exacerbating the issue. Brands and influencer marketing agencies often select influencers based on their follower count, prompting creators to inflate their follower numbers to command higher fees from brands.”

Influencers are classified into five categories based on their social media following, ranging from nano influencers (100 to 10,000 followers) to mega influencers (over 1 million followers).

Kumar highlighted that brands typically lose 30-50 percent of their investment on campaigns due to fake followers. For instance, Kumar cited Sugar Cosmetics, which received tags from 11,000 female profiles in the past year, but only 3,000 profiles had genuine followings. This discrepancy means that if a brand engages with 100 influencers, at least 30 of them may not deliver the expected return on investment.

Approximately 25 percent of India’s influencer marketing budget, exceeding Rs 400 crore, is estimated to be wasted due to fake follower activity.

While fake followers are prevalent across influencers of all sizes, larger influencers also engage in engagement buying, purchasing likes and comments to boost their perceived engagement levels. “Major creators who monetize their content can afford to buy likes and comments, as these metrics need to be consistently maintained for every post, unlike fake followers,” explained Kumar. “Moreover, they purchase engagement to demonstrate higher interaction rates to brands. Many brands are unaware that influencers can manipulate likes and comments through purchasing.”

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