Is Your Brand's Influencer Really an Influencer? Check this out...

It feels as though we’re living in the “Wild West” of Instagram.

This world is rapidly changing, growing, and intensifying - and it’s every man (or account) for himself.

As algorithms continue to change, awareness, views, and growth seem to be further and further out of reach. There are days when we wonder if our channels are even valuable anymore, as it seems that only a fraction of our audience is seeing what we post. As content creators, we’ll be the first to say that it can be extremely frustrating.

But that being said, there’s SO much hope and opportunity in this space. This social media influencer world is only getting bigger - and influencer opportunities are continuing to grow. Now more than ever brands are realizing the sheer value that is social media marketing - the eyeballs, the personal connection, the quick turnaround, etc. And they are willing to pay top-dollar to work with big accounts. Awesome news for influencers and content creators like us, right?

Well, kinda.

Now, we’ve gone back and forth about writing this for months. We didn’t want to be “those” people, focusing on others when we should be focusing on ourselves. But what started out as a simple and sad observation has become something so increasingly out of control, we feel as though we HAVE to say something. (And hey, there’s a good chance you’re already aware of this!)

But if you’re a brand that works with influencers or you’re an influencer that works hard on growing and engaging with your audience, listen up - and boot up. It’s an untamed world out there.


What?! People can pay for followers and likes?!

Ok, so maybe that’s not new news. If you’re like us, you probably see DM’s slide into your inbox from time to time, asking you if you’re interested in buying engagement. The amount of emails we get about “Growing Your Followers Fast” and “REAL FOLLOWERS NOW!” is alarming. And what’s even more alarming is how many people are doing it, and just how sneaky the whole operation is.

Google “Buy followers on Instagram” or “Buy likes on Instagram” and you’ll quickly see how lucrative this industry is. For $10, you can buy around 500 instagram followers, and $1 will get you 100 likes! These followers and likes aren’t real people - they’re either bots or inactive accounts. No matter how “real” a company claims these accounts are, they’re not. They’re fake. Their follows and likes are empty. And it gets worse.

Instagram accounts can now buy custom comments. That’s right, now these “real” bots and accounts can be programmed to leave comments. For only $17.99, you can purchase 50 “custom comments” from females, males, or both (you chose)! You write the comments, they go into the system, and within minutes these accounts are leaving them on your post. And accounts do this. All the time.


Ok, whatever. So people are buying followers, likes, and comments. This affects me how?!

Here’s where our issue lies.

Most brands and companies pay for sponsored content based on the size of an account’s following and their engagement. Some will charge a flat fee, while others pay per like and/or comment on a post. Seems fair until you factor in how easy (and dirt cheap!) it is for content creators to purchase such engagement. Many influencers are making thousands of dollars off of fake metrics.

Large accounts that consist of fake followers, likes, and comments are becoming more and more common. We see new ones pop up every day. But why do we care?

Because we’ve worked hard for this. It’s our job now. We’ve built a brand and a voice through our travels. And we’ve gotten to know hundreds of others that do the same (shout out to all our fraaans!!). They’re authentic and genuine, they’re experts in the travel space, and their platform is now being compromised. And in the same way, we’re seeing brands spend their (oftentimes minimal) marketing budget on fake exposure. It’s ethically and morally wrong.

But if you’re savvy to it, this “cheating of the system” is easy to spot.


If you’ve never seen a fake account or a “bot” before, this is typically what they look like:

Very few photos, usually with no or minimal captions.

Other ways to spot fake accounts are:

  • Inactivity. If the last time they posted was September, 2015, chances are they’re not hanging out liking and commenting on Instagram

  • Foreign accounts that have conflicting agendas. We’ve seen what looked like a Russian menswear shop commenting on how delicious a (sponsored) granola bar looked. Could that be real? Maybe - but probably not.

  • Weird comments. It’s easy to tell when a comment is off, or doesn’t match up to the photo. If an influencer posts about their cute new Anine Bing sweater and comments are telling them they are “So funny OMG” and “You should be a comedian!”, they’re probably not authentic.

We know we’re not the first to tackle this issue. We know Instagram is aware of, and combating it daily. We know that this one little blog post isn’t going to fix the problem. But we hope it’s the start of a bigger conversation.

It’s amazing to us how many brands, tourism boards, and companies aren’t aware of this false engagement epidemic. So if there’s one thing we can end with, it’s this.


False engagement may be getting harder and harder to catch - but if you know what you’re looking for you can still spot it. (Keep in mind that every large account is going to have their share of random and inactive followers - it’s just bound to happen. Bobby likes to say that if you can scroll through an account’s followers ten times and more than five out of the ten accounts you land on are fake or not relative to whatever space the influencer is in, you most likely have a problem.)

Go through their feed, see who’s following them and who’s engaging with them. If it’s authentic accounts that are in their target demographic, EPIC! If not, you might want to deep dive a little more. If you’re suspicious, ask for screenshots of their story analytics. Those haven’t been tapped yet. (That we know of).

This space is just getting started. There is SO MUCH ROOM TO GROW. But if people keep misusing it, and brands stay naive, it will eventually crash and burn. And it goes without saying that this isn’t just in the “travel influencer” space - but all over Instagram.

Do your research. Keep hustling. And stay authentic.

- Bobby and Alli Talley