Viral Visionaries

Viral Visionaries: How do you spot fake followers?

Viral Visionaries: How do you spot fake followers?

In an era of buying followers and botting (we've got a great feature about botting) it can be difficult to spot a genuine audience from a fake one. 

To ensure you're going to get the ROI you're after, it's important to tell apart the actual influencers from the social accounts with large numbers but zero engagement.

This week, we asked our panel of industry experts how to spot a fake audience and what to consider when paying for an influencer's time, audience and effort. 

Pascal Clarysse CMO-at-large Eden Games

Pascal Clarysse started looking for so-called Growth Hacks a good decade before the buzzword was coined.

Clarysse used to be the marketing driving force at, where he was in charge of relentlessly spotting new trends, waves and magic holes. In recent years, he's served as a marketing consultant for various indie studios, participating in launching mobile games and the occasional Kickstarter campaign.

Fake followers, or old followers who no longer engage, are different things but have pretty much the same effect for the buyer: these accounts are not actively engaging with the content.

This is why one should never ever buy anything based on vanity metrics like followers or subscribers. Look at the views of all videos or the engagement metrics of posts over the last 30 to 60 days. This is what you buy.

Kat Peterson Reelstyle

Per Pascal, I think that is just it, spotting a fake (bot) follower is very difficult and fruitless, a 'real' dormant user is just as ineffective when it comes to brand activity.

It's always important to consider, average views (versus subscribers) or look at a rolling 200-hour average (versus followers) when considering streams and further consider things like, comments, likes etcetera.

Again, this is all pending your brand is looking for downloads or engagement, if the metric measured is purely impression-based this is perhaps not as important.

In terms of "how big of a problem is this", I'd say it isn't a very big problem as most brands are not doing blind buys in the space and at least consider KPIs and metrics before making a spend.

Philip Hickey VP, Marketing & Communications Seriously

Philip Hickey is a former professional basketball player turned award-winning marketeer. Currently, he is responsible for marketing and communications at Seriously.

Engagement rates tell a better story of the influencer’s impact.
Philip Hickey

When we vet the talent we work with, we focus solely on engagement. Subscribers and followers are actually not part of the equation for us.

Engagement rates tell a better story of the influencer’s impact - how active the influencer’s audience is, if the audience will be open to external messaging, and how the influencer’s content resonates with them.

By looking at engagements rather than subscriber or follower numbers, we’ve been able to weed out, as best as possible, influencers with fake followers/subscribers since they don’t and won’t have as high of an engagement rate.

Brian Dodge CEO Spartan Elite

Agreed, if you just focus on engagement and price based off views then you don’t really need to worry to much about fake subs. Most big YouTubers wouldn’t risk fake activity as it will get you terminated from YouTube.

Danielle Lagos Senior Social Media Executive Substance Global

Engagement rates are a crucial indicator in spotting if an influencer has fake followers. Sure, they can #follow4follow their way to a high number of fans but you can’t fake likes, views and comments.

It is still a problem across all platforms when people still put more weight on fan/subscribers rather than the engagements content gets – and those are the only indicator their content has been effective with their audience.

But people are getting more clued up on the issue and the tide is turning. When collaborating with a social creator, check their engagement views on the last month of content and don’t be afraid reach out to agents and influencers for their reach and engagement numbers.

Benedikt Seitz Senior PR and Marketing Manager GameInfluencer

Benedikt is a language enthusiast who has closely followed the gaming and e-sports scene for years. He is responsible for all things concerning communication, marketing and public relations at GameInfluencer.

Subscribers, followers and fans are a vanity metric that no marketer should be paying too much attention to when estimating an influencer's impact.
Benedikt Seitz

Agreed that subscribers, followers and fans are a vanity metric that no marketer should be paying too much attention to when estimating an influencer's impact for a particular campaign.

However looking at video views, impressions, concurrent viewers or engagement doesn't really get rid of the problem, as views and even engagement can be faked or bought.

Granted, it's harder and more expensive than buying followers, so when suspecting something's fishy, looking at views and engagement should definitely be your first step.

However, non-public data really is the way to go. Analysing stats like viewer location or viewer retention paint a much clearer picture whether an influencer's stats add up.

And of course, past campaign performance, as in click-through and conversion rate, shows whether an influencer actually has influence or just high numbers. We just recently wrote an article that covers this matter in a bit more detail.

Britt Bagnall Founder Cherry Pick Talent

We have so many clients who still get stuck on the number of subscribers or followers, rather than how well a creators content performs, what their average views are consistently on their channel or what their engagement is.

That is what’s most important when choosing the right influencer for a brand or campaign, not how many people clicked subscribe way back when or how many were bought.

It’s much more important to look at the views rather than the subs.
Britt Bagnall

If you’re partnering with a talent, your brand and messaging is only seen by the number of views that video has, so it’s much more important to look at the views rather than the subs.

A dead giveaway that views have been bought or subs/followers are fake is the engagement. If a creator has one million views on a video but barely any likes, dislikes or comments, that’s a clear indication that someone’s putting some spend behind their content.

We tend to see this more often with young creators, where their parents are dead keen for them to be “famous” and so they buy subs and views to make them look bigger than they are. A total waste of time in my mind.

It’s also a red flag if the creator is English speaking and a huge chunk of their comments are in a foreign language. All signs point to buying followers. This is a lot more common on IG.

The other issue with sub to view ratio is something we are seeing a lot of with the OG talent on YouTube; the talent who have been around since the beginning.

Though their subscriber base is huge, their average views tend to drop from the old days. That’s just due to their audience growing up and the space getting more saturated.

James Beaven CEO Keymailer

Fake, bot accounts, and even 'giveaway' lottery channels that require a sub or follow for entry devalue followers and views as metrics, although they still remain useful. As our esteemed VVs here have said: engagement is the essential measurement.

For publishers, developers and PR agencies using Keymailer, we've created a ranking system specifically for gaming channels using a weighted algorithm calculated on subs, watch time, audience and interactions (SWAI).

This looks at a 35-day period to allow for content creators and broadcasters taking breaks, can be biased towards livestream platforms or VOD, and ultimately will extend right down to genres and individual games.

The upshot is a ranking system that sees past the disparity that followers and views can often create, and elevates channels into view based on engagement.

Hopefully we'll be making an announcement in the coming weeks as we expand out the SWAI computations.


Danielle Partis is editor of and former editor of She was named Journalist of the Year at the MCV Women in Games Awards 2019, as well as in the MCV 30 under 30 2020. Prior to Steel Media, she wrote about music and games at Team Rock.