A social media experiment has revealed how simple it is to create a fake Instagram account that can be used to make money.
Marketing Agency Mediakix created two ‘influencer’ accounts using purchased followers and comments, and managed to secure four paid brand deals.
The organisation constructed a “lifestyle and fashion-centric Instagram model" and "a travel and adventure photographer.”
The former, called calibeachgirl310, was made by taking photographs of one girl in multiple locations during a one - day photoshoot.
The latter, called wanderingggirl was created using exclusively free stock images of popular, scenic destinations like Paris and Maui.
Stock images of young blonde women photographed in different travel destinations were used to depict her.
The next step was to ensure the page appeared as though it were updated regularly, and they did this with daily posts from the Instagram accounts.
They bought 1,000 "followers" per day from websites selling fake Instagram accounts, and when Instagram failed to detect the practice, they started buying 15,000 at a time - with a price range of $3 to $8 (£2 - £6) per 1,000.
Eventually, the accounts had amassed a collective 80,000 followers (30,000 for the travel account and 50,000 for the fashion account), and Mediakix were able to move on to simulating engagement.
"Once we had accumulated a few thousand followers for each account, we started buying likes and comments. We paid around 12 (£0.09) cents per comment, and between $4-9 (£3 to £7) per 1,000 likes. On the lower end of that price range, it took around 24 hours for the likes to appear, whereas, on the higher end of that price range, likes were delivered instantly. For each photo, we purchased 500 to 2,500 likes and 10 to 50 comments."
The Instagram accounts were signed up to marketing platforms, where they were able to pick up four sponsorship deals.
"The fashion account secured one deal with a swimsuit company and one with a national food and beverage company.
"The travel account secured brand deals with an alcohol brand and the same national food and beverage Company. For each campaign, the 'influencers' were offered monetary compensation, free product, or both."
"Instagrammers with completely or partially fake followings and/or engagement present advertisers with a unique form of ad fraud that's becoming more and more commonplace and could be siphoning tens of millions of dollars from brands," Mediakix writes in a different post.
Influencer marketing – the use of social media product placement – is a relatively new strategy, Mediakix says, used to “organically target an engaged audience and increase brand awareness”.
Some of the world's biggest celebrities, including Kendall Jenner, Katy Perry and Justin Bieber have all been accused of inflating their social media presence through the purchasing of followers.
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