How to Stop Fake Instagram Accounts Engaging With Your Ads

August 17th, 2023

Instagram is one of the most effective PPC platforms for many brands, especially those in the fashion, health, beauty, and nutrition industries. With two billion active monthly users, it’s the third largest social media platform in 2023, just behind Facebook and YouTube.

But statistics suggest one in ten Instagram accounts are fake. Based on that estimate it means there are currently around 200 million fake Instagram accounts.

For marketers who spend a chunk of their ad budget on Instagram, this should sound alarm bells. This massive amount of bot activity means you’re probably paying for fake ad engagements and fake site visitors. Along with the pervasive level of influencer fraud taking place on the platform, advertising on Instagram can often result in a return on ad spend than expected.

But there are also lots of lucrative advertising opportunities on Instagram. So how can you advertise without allowing fake Instagram accounts to compromise your performance marketing efficiency?

In this article, we’ll dive into the marketing issues caused by fake accounts on Instagram. You’ll learn how to spot fake IG accounts, understand the different types of fake accounts, how they impact your business, and how to stop them wasting your ad budget.

Meta Verified: Instagram’s New Paid Verification System

First, let’s talk about Meta Verified, Instagram’s new paid-for verification system launched off the back of Twitter Blue (now called X). Meta Verified allows users to pay for a blue tick next to their name, therefore proving they’re a legitimate Instagram user: not a bot or a fake.

On the face of it, this looks like a way for Instagram to boost its own revenue. But it inadvertently points to just how bad Instagram’s bot and fakery problems are. And instead of tackling it properly themselves, they’re passing the cost — and the responsibility — to the end user.

Writing in Time magazine, Mariah Espada reports:

“These services seem to be targeting content creators, with a growing following, who may want the extra security. But the average user is still vulnerable to hacking and impersonation. Nearly one-fifth of U.S. teens and adults experienced their social media accounts getting hacked within the first three months of 2022, according to a survey conducted by Deloitte.”

Plus, verifying paid accounts doesn’t help advertisers. There’s no way to allow only verified users to see your ads. And even if you could, you might be cutting off a huge chunk of your potential audience. 

Advertise to Active Buyers, Not Fake Profiles

Ads are for humans, not bots. Get a demo and save up to 20% of your advertising budget by automatically eliminating fake ad engagements across all paid channels.

The Business Impact of Fake Accounts on Ad Engagement

If Instagram ads are a key part of your paid social strategy, you expect them to increase your reach (and your revenue). But when there are so many fake Instagram accounts out there, there’s a good chance your ads are reaching bots rather than real users, at least some of the time.

A Netacea report found that nearly three-quarters of businesses lost revenue through advertising to bots.

Bots automatically scroll through reams of Instagram posts every minute, clicking, following, and posting as they’re programmed to. Throughout this process, they inevitably end up clicking ads.

Bot clicks are worthless to your business. These users won’t convert or bring any value, but you still pay for the click. As a result, your metrics are skewed, your paid media return goes down, and your conversation rate suffers. That means you can’t fully trust the data Instagram provides you — and the problem can end up contaminating your Google Analytics data too. 

How Influencer Fraud Impacts Businesses

Some influencers exacerbate the Instagram bot problem. A report by HypeAuditor found that just 55% of influencer followers were real, with the remaining 45% made up of bots and other fake followers.

Influencer fraud happens when people create fake accounts or purchase fake followers so they can claim to have a greater reach than they actually do. They then leverage to charge businesses more based on their follower numbers, or promise levels of engagement that are much lower in reality. 

Knowing which influencers to collaborate with is key to avoiding influencer fraud. Andrew Maartensen, Sales Director at Open Influence, says:

“If you’re investing thousands of dollars into an influencer marketing play, you have to understand that the potential for fraudulent activity as far as creating a risk in terms of your investment is very low. And the red flags that we see around fraudulent activity are also pretty obvious from the onset. So it is very easy to not only mitigate the negative effects from your campaign by simply selecting the right influencers, but it’s also on us to educate ourselves around the true media impact of fraudulent or suspicious engagement.”

Free tools like Modash’s Fake Follower Check show you the percentage of fake followers for each influencer’s Instagram account:

The Problem With Instagram’s Advantage+ Automated Campaigns

Advantage+ is Meta’s fully automated shopping and eCommerce campaign type. While it offers value for many brands, there are some known issues with Advantage+, namely:

  • Less control over targeting — It’s more difficult to narrow your targeting to the specific audience you want to see your ads.
  • Less control over your ad spend — Relying on automated campaign types hands over much of your ad spend control to Meta algorithms.
  • Limited audience insights — Meta won’t give you as much data about who your ads are reaching, so you can’t use this to refine and optimise your ads.

All these factors make it easier for Meta to hide inefficiencies related to fake user activity. You can’t see what’s happening within this walled garden of automation, so it’s more difficult to uncover bot activity.

In addition, automation is only going to become more prevalent on these platforms. So while Advantage+ can and does deliver good results, you need to exercise caution when using them. Retain as much manual oversight as you can to prevent wasted ad spend.

How to Identify Fake Instagram Accounts

Some fake accounts are easy to spot. Most Instagram users will have seen fake activity on their own accounts. There are a few telltale signs that an Instagram account is fake:

  • No profile picture or bio
  • Usernames that include long number strings
  • They follow lots of other accounts but don’t have many followers themselves
  • Rapid, generic comments that appear automated.
  • Recent account creation

These comments are clearly the work of Instagram bot accounts:

Bot activity is so prevalent that regular Instagram users spot fake Instagram accounts everyday. In our Driva / Lunio case study, Declan Flaherty, Digital Marketing Manager at Driva, said:

“I’ve witnessed the bot problem on Meta first-hand based on the number of friend requests I get from fake users, and spam comments popping up everywhere on Facebook and Instagram.”

Going private can address this for your own account, but this doesn’t work for businesses, who want to reach as many (real) people in their target audience as possible.

Identifying Bots in Ad Performance Data

If you want to know how bots are affecting your Instagram ad, check your ad performance data. The following indicators can help you identify how fake account activity is affecting your performance marketing efforts:

  • Suspicious click through rate peaks — Bots often operate on a regular schedule, so spotting unexpected peaks in CTR at unusual times can be a sign of bot traffic. 
  • High bounce rate from Instagram traffic — Most bots won’t stick around to browse your website once they’ve clicked your ad. 
  • High traffic volume but low conversion rates — If lots of bots click your ads, they can cause your ad traffic to peak, but they won’t convert.

Bots aren’t always to blame for these patterns, but they can be. So if you spot them, it’s worth looking into the issues to establish the underlying cause.

Reporting and Blocking Fake Instagram Accounts 

When you spot a fake Instagram account, you can report it to Meta so they can explore and verify the account. But this isn’t a practical solution on a large scale.

You should make a point of reporting any fake accounts you see on your business Instagram page, but don’t rely on this as a way to sort out the problem.

How to Prevent Fake Instagram Accounts Engaging with Your Ads

Here are three ways to stop fake Instagram accounts impacting your performance marketing.

1. Vet Influencers Carefully

Ensure any influencers you work with are legitimate and have genuine reach among your target audience.

Tools like Modash can help you determine the percentage of fake followers they have, but there are also more advanced influencer marketing platforms that can help you find the right influencers to work with, such as Klear and Traackr

2. Be Proactive 

Don’t wait until you have a bot problem to take action. Keep a close eye on your ad performance metrics so you’re familiar with your normal data patterns, which will make it easier to spot anomalies caused by suspicious accounts. 

When you know what normal performance data looks like, you can spot and resolve fake account activity before it eats into your ad budget. 

Manual oversight can be time-consuming and labour-intensive. Plus, sophisticated bots can impersonate humans more easily, making them harder to spot. So while it helps to know your data, you may want to combine this technique with others to keep fake Instagram accounts at bay.

3. Refine Your Targeting 

Adjusting location and placement targeting can help you eliminate Instagram click fraud. If a surge in invalid clicks coincides with a spike in traffic from a specific country and device, you can exclude this country and device from future ad placements.

Use this approach with caution, especially if you’re excluding regions in countries where you have an active customer base. You don’t want to exclude potentially valid traffic, so make sure you’re certain of the source of these clicks before you stop showing ads.

4. Use Lunio

Lunio is a performance marketing efficiency platform that removes invalid traffic from all your paid media platforms, including Instagram.

Lunio detects and blocks bot activity on your ads, without impacting conversions from genuine humans. So you can block fake Instagram account activity without compromising your paid social success.

In fact, Lunio reduces wasted ad spend by up to 25%. So you can reinvest this money across your Instagram campaigns and get more conversions without increasing your spend. 

Advertise to Active Buyers, Not Fake Profiles

Ads are for humans, not bots. Get a demo and save up to 20% of your advertising budget by automatically eliminating fake ad engagements across all paid channels.

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