More than half (55%) of Instagram influencers were involved in some form of social media fraud and fakery in 2020, despite an eight percentage point decrease from 2019, according to a new study by HypeAuditor.
The research also found 45% of Instagram accounts were fake.
Instagram mega-influencers and celebrities – those with more than one million followers – were the worst culprits, with two-thirds (66%) of these accounts engaged in some form of fraudulent activity.
Nano-influencers – those with 1,000 to 5,000 followers – had the lowest proportion of fraud, which occurred in 42% of these accounts.
The most common tactics used included buying followers, likes and comments from click farms, buying story views and engaging with comment pods – where a group of Instagram users get together and systematically engage with each other's posts.
In some cases, influencers may be engaging in fakery without realising. HyperAuditor estimates that only 55% of Instagram accounts are held by real people.
Despite the high prevalence of fraud and fakery, the report predicts the Instagram influencer market will grow by 15% this year to a market capitalisation of $5.87bn (£4.27bn).
The report found that for every dollar advertisers spend on Instagram influencer posts, they receive $4.87 of earned media value, while 62% of marketers said they had seen an increase in sales when working with social media influencers.
The study also provided insights into audience demographics. It found that 81% of Instagram’s global audience are aged 34 and under, with 43% aged 25 to 34.
The study analysed more than 12 million Instagram accounts, 4.5 million YouTube channels and 5.2 million TikTok accounts.
TikTok reported the largest growth: its active user base increased by 60% to 800 million, which is closing the gap on Instagram (1.8 billion active users after 12% growth), and YouTube, which has about two billion active users.
Two-thirds of TikTok users (69%) are under the age of 24, with 39% between 18 and 24, while 41% of TikTok creators are nano-influencers with 1,000-5,000 subscribers.
On YouTube, 66% of users are aged between 18 and 34.
The coronavirus pandemic has given brands new opportunities to work with influencers as more online content is consumed.
Social media also became an important space for activism, with influencers adapting their content to address racism in line with movements such as Black Lives Matter.
However, the report found a spike in online shaming of influencers who were caught flouting lockdown rules in posts. One particular case involved influencers holidaying in Dubai (Chloe Ferry pictured with friends, below) as the rest of the country adhered to UK lockdown rules.
“The global pandemic offered unprecedented opportunities for influencer collaborations, [with influencers] who uniquely leveraged their platforms to drive awareness for social justice and political campaigns, and our new report reveals that whether they drove these conversations or sidestepped them, only the savviest influencers knew how to monetise them effectively,” HypeAuditor chief executive and co-founder Alex Frolov said.