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Follower manipulation rife in SA as Instagram influencers cash in

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 21 May 2020

Influencer fraud is rife on South Africa’s social media landscape, with users falsely manipulating their follower numbers and engagement.

This as top influencers on Instagram are on average getting paid as much as over R11 000 per single post.

This is according to the State of Influencer Marketing in South Africa report compiled by marketing analytics company HypeAuditor.

A social media influencer is a user on social media who has established credibility in a specific industry. These are people with access to a large audience and they can persuade others by virtue of their authenticity and reach.

For this research, HypeAuditor analysed 16 609 Instagram influencers’ accounts from South Africa. The report uses data from a wide variety of sources, including market research agencies, Internet, social media companies, news media and the firm’s internal analysis.

For HypeAuditor internal analysis, it collected and aggregated open data from a variety of sources: social platforms, catalogues, Web sites, crowdsourcing, and many more.

According to HypeAuditor, there were 4 308 000 Instagram users in SA in April 2020, which accounted for 7.3% of its entire population.

“Instagram was launched in 2010 and rapidly gained its popularity. With its one billion monthly active users (June 2018), Instagram becomes not only one of the leading social networks but also the most important platform for influencer marketing,” says Nick Baklanov, marketing specialist at HypeAuditor.

On how much the influencers earn in a month, Baklanov responds: “It depends on the size of the influencer’s following and influencer’s niche. Let us say that on average, accounts that have over 100 000 followers can be paid from $650 (R11 700) per post.

However, the report found that over 48% of Instagram creators in SA artificially inflate their number of followers and engagement.

“The influencer marketing industry is projected to be worth $5 billion to $10 billion by 2020 but research shows the big number of influencers have falsely manipulated their follower numbers and engagement,” Baklanov says.

He points out the market growth is directly linked with the cost-per-post value. “How much a blogger would charge for a sponsored post hinges on one’s likes averaged per post and number of followers.

“This is the reason why fraud eventually became a thing – unscrupulous bloggers start buying likes and comments in bulk so that they can grab more money from the brands,” Baklanov explains.

He adds that influencer fraud is so common that marketing budgets are being impacted by it all over the world.

“The fraud starts when these impatient influencers connect with brands to advertise their products and services. Usually a brand agrees to pay a fee based on the number of followers the influencer has and ends up wasting their time and money.”

In most cases, Baklanov notes, the inflated followers are not real people. He says fake bots start from $1.03 per 1 000 “followers”.

Price depends on the quality of bots – with or without photos, what country has following or not, etc, he says.

The report also notes that on average, over 42% of South African creators use follow/unfollow to grow their number of followers.

The study shows that follow/unfollow is mostly popular among influencers who have between 5 000 and 20 000 followers; over 50.13% of them used this tactics.

According to Baklanov, influencers who use this trick have the bigger percentage of non-reachable audience, who don’t see their posts, thus they have a lower reach.

Core influencers in SA are women aged between 18 and 34 years old, says the report, noting there is also a large amount of male influencers aged between 25 and 34 years old.

“We have analysed millions of creators and ranked them by the number of real followers and authentic engagement – number of likes and comments that come from real people and influencers,” notes Baklanov.

“According to our ranking, as of May 2020, the most influential creator in South Africa is Abraham Benjamin de Villiers.

SA’s top influencers:

  1. abdevilliers17 – 10.2 million followers
  2. dean.schneider – 7.1 million followers
  3. boity – 3.8 million followers
  4. minniedlamini – 3.7 million followers
  5. casspernyovest – 3.7 million followers
  6. bonang_m – 3.6 million followers
  7. djzinhle – 3.2 million followers
  8. pearlthusi – 3.2 million followers
  9. amandadupont – 3.1 million followers