Virtually everyone has a few non-active Instagram followers – the trouble is, they can seriously damage your chances of earning money as an influencer.
Sometimes, fake followers just happen – but lots of people have paid to have a few extra followers added to their account.
For anyone who wants to be taken seriously today, buying fake followers is a bad idea – but it hasn’t always been this way. Back when Instagram was fairly new, spending a bit of cash to boost your follower count gave instant authority and appeal – so there are plenty of accounts out there with more than their fair share of inactive or bot followers.
Whether you’ve bought followers in the past – or you’ve just picked up lots of inactive followers on Instagram, we’ll help you put things right.
This guide covers a handful of helpful points, including:
- Why inactive followers on Instagram are bad news for brands
- How to find your inactive followers on Instagram
- How to get rid of ghost followers
- Deleting ghost followers with an Instagram app
When you’ve finished reading, you’ll understand what you need to do to make sure your account is exactly what brands are looking for.
What is a ghost follower on Instagram?
On Instagram, ghost followers are fake or inactive users who don’t engage with any of the content you create.
Generally, these accounts have been created by an application referred as a ‘bot’ – a piece of software that automatically goes through the Instagram sign-up process in order to send spam messages and comments to other users.
Most fake accounts are easy to spot. They tend to have names that make no sense – often with numbers thrown in for no reason. When you look at the profile, you’ll normally see very low follower numbers – but they’re usually be following a huge number of accounts.
Of course, it’s not just the numbers that do the talking. Their content is usually poor quality or obviously stolen from other, legitimate accounts – and all their content will tend to have very few likes or comments.
Bot accounts aren’t the only ones to watch out for though. Sometimes, in an effort to get more followers, account owners hand over their password to spammers - who then hi-jack the profile. These hi-jacked accounts can be trickier to spot – but if you see a sudden change from ordinary pictures to promotional posts, it’s a good indication that it’s now a spam account.
Any account that’s been created purely to boost numbers or distribute spam is bad news, and you’re better off without them if you want to use your account to work with legitimate brands.
Why do ghost followers on Instagram cost brands money?
What harm are a few fake followers, really?
Well, to the brands that invest in influencer marketing – the answer might surprise you.
According to a report by an international cybersecurity firm, 2019 saw around £6.9 billion ($8.5 billion) spent on influencer marketing worldwide. The authors of the report calculated that 15% of the audience that ‘saw’ the posts that brands had paid for were actually bot accounts – meaning over £1 billion ($1.2 billion) worth of that budget was lost on fake followers.
For influencer marketing to make sense to a brand, it has to represent a solid return on investment (ROI) – essentially, it should create more money from sales made through influencers than was spent on the advertising in the first place.
This means two things for influencers. Firstly, brands will be very, very cautious about working with you if it looks like you have (or have ever had) fake followers. Secondly, if fake followers are a problem that influencers don’t tackle in their own accounts, then influencer marketing will rapidly decline in popularity – closing the door on your opportunity to make money online.
Fake followers are bad news for brands – which makes them bad news for anyone looking to work with those brands as a paid influencer.
How many Instagram followers are real?
So, how many ghost followers are there on Instagram?
A definitive answer is hard to find – but top cybersecurity firms say there are likely to be around 100 million fake accounts that are being used to circulate spam on the platform. When you consider that Insta has around 1 billion active users each month – that’s around 10% of active accounts being used to distribute spam.
The good news is, the legitimate accounts on the platform still represent one of the very best ways for brands to connect with potential customers. 10.7% of all referrals to e-commerce sites come from Instagram – and brands spend around 69% of their influencer budgets on the platform too.
For now, Instagram is a marketing favourite; so there’s no better time to be establishing yourself as an influencer with a high-quality, engaged audience.
How to stop Instagram spam followers
Before we explain how to do a fake follower check and get rid of any ghost accounts you find, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re not doing anything that will attract new spam accounts.
Rule 1: Don’t buy followers
It’s perhaps an obvious thing to say – but the quickest route to getting low quality, ghost followers is to pay for them.
Don’t be fooled into thinking you’re ever going to get legit followers if you sign up to buy them – and don’t be under the illusion that you’ll be able to specify the type of followers you get.
Plain and simple – don’t buy followers. They’re a vanity metric, and they will only ever cause you problems.
Rule 2: Don’t buy an existing account
Despite the fact that it’s against Instagram rules, there are marketplaces out there that offer to sell established accounts – complete with followers.
Well, unfortunately, it’s an offer that’s just too good to be true. You won’t get to see the account before you buy it – so there’s no opportunity to check for fake followers. What’s more, the chance of buying an account with a legitimate audience that’s going to be interested in what you do is very low – so when any good followers have left, it’ll just be you and your bot accounts.
Rule 3: Don’t buy likes or comments
If you’ve got a lot of followers but you’re getting very little engagement, it can be a red flag for brands who might otherwise be keen to work with you.
With this in mind - why not buy some engagement to even things out a little?
There are quite a few reasons this is a bad idea – not least because the comments you get will often be completely irrelevant and will come from accounts that are very obviously bots.
However, the biggest reason is down to how these bought likes and comments work. The apps and services that promise all this engagement will post pictures on your feed and other users to follow you and like them. You’ll get engagement – but you’ll also get a flood of dodgy-looking followers – making absolutely certain that brands stay well away from you.
Why is buying inactive followers is a bad idea?
We’ve talked about how you’re almost certainly going to end up with thousands of ghost accounts if you buy followers – but we know those impressive follower numbers are tempting – so it’s worth looking in a little more detail about why it’s such a bad idea.
1. Your engagement rates will nosedive
Lots of people wonder what the harm is in having a few fakes numbers to make you look a little more popular than you are – but ‘followers’ is fast becoming a useless metric as far as marketing teams are concerned.
Instead, brands are going to be keen to look at your engagement rates – and if no one’s interested in what you’re posting, then you can forget about working with them on their next campaign.
Think about it this way. If you’ve got 500 followers and you’re regularly getting 50 likes or comments on your posts – then you’ve got a 10% engagement rate.
Now, add 5,000 bought followers.
Your account looks more impressive at first glance – but those fake accounts aren’t going to engage – so you’ll still get the same 50 likes or comments that you got before. The trouble is, with your new fake followers, these 50 likes now represents an engagement rate of around 0.9% - so all that hard work that you put into getting a great engagement rate from 500 legit accounts is totally wiped out.
2. You’ll get plenty of spam
Ready to have your DMs flooded with automated messages and attempts to get you to click out to external websites?
If you buy followers, this is exactly what’s going to happen – and in the worst cases, it can lead to fraud and identity theft.
Bot accounts are designed to generate money – and they often do this by getting people to click through to sites that require credit card sign-ups, dodgy app downloads, or engagement in equally dubious cash-for-likes type scams.
Even if you don’t fall for the scams – it’s really annoying.
3. Brands know how to tell if someone has fake followers
You might be able to splash the cash if an impulse purchase jumps out at you from the sale rail when you’re shopping – but marketing teams just can’t.
Every penny or pound spent on an advertising campaign needs to be justified – and when it comes to paying influencers, a big part of that justification is proving that the account they’re planning to use represents a good ROI.
You know what ghost followers look like – and so do the marketing teams that take a look at your follower lists. You could get in touch with your favourite brand with the best email and look like the best influencer that’s ever knocked on their door – but if your followers look suspicious, they won’t waste their time on you.
4. Kiss goodbye to your reputation
When it comes to your own personal brand, there’s a big difference between stretching the truth and out-and-out ‘Instafraud’.
We’ve all shoved a pile of clutter out of the way to take the perfect selfie – and there’s no harm in applying a little filter here and there – but having fake followers is just deception when you’re working with a business.
If you’re caught out (and trust us, you will be), the brand will almost certainly blacklist you for future collaborations. Word spreads quickly through professional networks too – and you can bet that your competitors won’t hold back in letting people know about you’ve been caught with fake followers.
You could get your account banned
As if being blacklisted by brands and publicly shamed isn’t enough – you could find yourself with no Instagram profile at all if the platform detects suspicious activity relating to your following.
Sophisticated AIs are used by social media services to detect activity that is considered abnormal. Since very few people suddenly get 1,000 new followers, your account is likely to get flagged if you do – and these algorithms are developing all the time – so even if you feel like you’ve got away with it in the short term, Instagram is always working to make its service high quality for the brands that use it for advertising.
How to remove Instagram followers
Ready to get rid of those fake followers?
If you’re going to make yourself as attractive as possible for potential collaborations, cleansing your followers is an absolute must – but be warned, there are no real shortcuts that are as effective as rolling up your sleeves and doing it yourself.
What about apps that automatically unfollow ghost followers on Instagram?
There are ghost follower apps out there that promise to help you remove fake Instagram followers – but it’s important that any third-party apps and sites you use are just used as a rough guide.
Well, deleting ghost followers is something you’re going to want to dedicate a bit of time to – to ensure you’re doing it thoroughly and safely. The battle between bot accounts and detection tools is very real – and unless you’re willing to put in some hard work yourself, you’ll never be absolutely certain the spammers haven’t managed to avoid detection.
Make sure you follow Instagram’s platform rules
When you use third-party apps alongside Instagram, you also need to be aware of the rules that they are subject to – because if you use an application that breaks those rules, you could find that your account is disabled.
Section 23 of Instagram’s platform policy explains clearly that an application must not enable more than one action at a time. An ‘action’ is the network’s way of describing anything you can do through your profile – including liking posts, commenting – and crucially; deleting followers. If you use a mass Instagram unfollow app, you might find that the app you’re using breaks this rule – and you could risk losing access to your account.
How to get rid of ghost/fake followers on Instagram for good
The best way to unfollow ghost Instagram followers is to work through your follower list in a systematic fashion. It’s time-consuming – but it’ll leave you 100% confident that your profile is completely cleansed.
We’ve put together a ‘How to Get Rid of Spam Followers on Instagram’ checklist that’ll help you do the best possible job:
Step 1: Grab a pen and paper – or open a note on your phone. If you’ve got a lot of followers, you’re going to need to know where you’ve got up to if you (inevitably!) get distracted when you’re working through your list.
Step 2: Scroll through your followers. Obviously, you can ignore people you know or people who you frequently engage with – but it’s a good idea to check the profile of anyone you’re not familiar with. Remember the key factors to keep a lookout for:
- Instagram names/handles that don’t make sense or contain a lot of numbers
- Accounts with low followers but high following numbers
- Low-quality content – or content that seems to have suddenly become spammy
- A lack of engagement – low likes and comment numbers on their posts
Step 3: Get deleting. It’s a good idea to go with your gut feeling about whether or not an account is a bot – if something doesn’t seem right, it’s probably not. Remember, don’t get hung up on numbers – it’s quality that counts.
If you’re deleting directly from your followers list, just hitting the ‘remove’ button then confirming your choice on the pop-up will get the job done. If you want to remove the follower from within their own profile, you’ll need to tap the 3 dots at the top right, then choose ‘Remove follower’ from the pop-up.
How long will it take to remove ghost followers from Instagram?
Depending on your attention span, you might find it takes a few days of revisiting the task to delete all your ghost followers from Instagram – but it’s worth it.
In fact, every time you hit that ‘Remove’ button, imagine the noise of a cash-register in your head – because by working out how to get rid of spam followers on Instagram, you’re putting in solid foundations your influencer business.
When your account is cleansed, it’s a good idea to keep on top of it – deleting any new spam followers that crop up every week or so. Since your followers are listed in chronological order, it’s fairly easy to do this – as you’ll only have to work through the top of the list each time.
When it comes to followers, above all else, you should ask yourself – Does this account belong to someone who will add value to my Instagram community? Your answer is likely to be the same as any brand that you’d collaborate with – so don’t let a desire for a few more followers ruin your chance to make money as an influencer.