Does Instagram really fight fraud as promised?

In November 2018 Instagram made a statement that it will take a number of steps to reduce inauthentic activity:

“We will begin removing inauthentic likes, follows and comments from accounts that use third-party apps to boost their popularity. We’ve built machine learning tools to help identify accounts that use these services and remove the inauthentic activity.”

Did Instagram keep its word? Let us figure it out.

The most popular service to gain new followers that was provided by third-party apps was the follow/unfollow method, that’s because it is an easy way to grow an account and everyone can do it.
  1. An influencer chooses their target audience (using hashtags, geotags or competitor's account).
  2. The app is starting to follow the targeted audience. And some accounts will follow an influencer back.
  3. An influencer, using the same app, unfollow all new followers after a couple of days. This becomes a cycle.
According to HypeAuditor's internal research, up to 28% of influencers with less than 100K followers use the follow/unfollow trick to grow their number of followers.

Percentage of influencers who use Follow/Unfollow by followers number
Percentage of influencers who use Follow/Unfollow technique by followers number

It was fun while it lasted, the age of following/unfollowing 1000 people per day brought many marketers a good income.

Every new person coming to Instagram “marketing” read that one first. You follow and unfollow enough users and eventually your account will grow.

For example automation service like Jarvee, that costs $29 monthly, if you follow 1000 accounts a day with the conversion rate 5%, you will get 50 new subscribers a day, or 1500 subscribers monthly. The cost of a subscriber was 2 cents.

“Conversion rate into followers from massfollowing is a complicated issue. There are millions of factors. If you have 0 followers and 0 posts than you will get 0 CR. If you have a good-looking account, then 5% is minimum, 7% is good and 10% is ideal,” - says Tony Milov, CEO of InstaRobot.

The 5th june 2019 - Massfollowing is dead

That was before the 5th june 2019, when Instagram began to massively action block massfolower’s accounts.

And till now there are no exact numbers how many people you can follow per day. There are so many criteria that are taken into consideration by Instagram when making its mind on how much it lets you to follow.

It depends on the age of the account, you can do more follows with an older account that you can do with a fresh account; it depends on the proxy you use; on how the account was created; on the details you’ve entered and the usage patterns of the account in question.

At the BlackHatWorld forum there’s a theory that seems to hold true for most accounts, that you’re allowed a maximum of 6000 follows within a period of 30 days. This means you shouldn’t go over 200 follows per day.

Even if we take this numbers and again use automation service like Jarvee that costs less than $30 and follow 200 accounts a day with the conversion rate 5%, we will get 10 new subscribers a day, or 300 subscribers monthly. But to reduce action blocks we should use 4g proxy, that costs approximately $10 for 1 account. The cost of a subscriber will be 13 cents.

But it became much more risky and complicated. You should use proxies and VPN, and remember to refresh your proxies, you should be patient and slowly increase following limits.

“Good news, that Instagram started to fight with inauthentic activities and especially massfollowing. HypeAuditor's Audience Quality research revealed that, Micro-influencers (5-20K followers) can have up to 11 % of massfollowers audiences and this amount is considered as organic. Large numbers, I am sure that without massfollowers people will have more genuine experience on Instagram,”- says Alex Frolov, CEO of HypeAuditor.

Game is not worth playing when Instagram can block massfollowing account any time

The team at HypeAuditor has decided to conduct a small investigation into this matter. They selected a sample of 21K influencers from different countries who had been using follow/unfollow for at least 3 months. They checked their following activity in April and then in June, and July, when users started to complain about follow blocks.

As at April 21,173 influencers were using follow/unfollow. And in June this number rapidly dropped to 3,492. You can see these changes in the graph below:

The number of influencers who use follow/unfollow has dropped 6 times. More and more often, we see this pattern on the following growth graph:

What happened with services that automated massfollowing?

After the 5th June 2019 massfollowing services tried to adopt to new realities and guess new limits.

Some of them had to stop their sales as they could not deliver what they were paid for.

“Over the past few weeks I have actually lost almost all of my clients and my social media marketing agency because of some changes on Instagram. Revenue fall down from $50,000 per month to about $10 000. That is because the hurdles that Instagram has thrown towards us are so big,”-says in his YouTube video Dominic Riegel, CEO of MVRQ

Some services offered a safer semi-automated mass following. In this mode, the service will select the necessary accounts, send them by email and user just have to click on each link and click “Subscribe”.

But the majority just switched to masslooking and comments massliking.

Masslooking is the new Massfollowing

Google trends for keywords ‘masslooking’ and ‘massfollowing’

Stories masslooking is generating inauthentic activity by watching the Instagram Stories of thousands of people based on hashtags, geo or competitors account; after interaction some followers transform into visitors of your account and do some actions: likes, comments, subscriptions..

Maybe you noticed the increase of strange people that doesn't follow you but look your stories.

A thread on Reddit also poses the existential question: “Why do Russian Models (that don’t follow me) keep watching my Instagram stories?” (The answer to which is: Not for the reason you hope.)

“I sell stories masslooking and comments massliking. That works really well. There are no Instagram limits for comments massliking, we make 1000 a day, and that is normal, for massooking there are no limits either. On the basic rate we make 500 000 per day, on the VIP rate we can make up to 2 million,” - saysTony Milov, CEO IstaRobot.

“We have a self-educated algorithm that determines limit of stories per day that your account can view, so you get maximum speed, average account watches 500K - 2M stories per day, that transforms into average 20K visitors of account weekly. There is no statistics about followers increasing, that depends on the quality of the account. It is safe, the probability of block from Instagram is extremely small,” - says online consultant on the site , that offers masslooking service starting from 12$.

Instagram knows about this growth hack and is working to try to get rid of this latest eyeball-faking flavor of inauthentic activity.

In the coming months, it will introduce new measures to reduce such activity — specifically from Stories — but without saying exactly what these will be.

The technology race

“One way of inauthentic grows stops working and another comes to its place. We don't know how long will it take Instagram to stop masslooking but we know exactly that after that new “growth hacks” will appear,”- says Alex Frolov, CEO of HypeAuditor.

Influencer marketing is far from transparent. But it's possible to avoid losses associated with influencer fraud by implementing the comprehensive vetting process in your marketing strategy.

HypeAuditor is an AI-powered Instagram and YouTube analytics tool that helps to get insights about the creator’s audience, increase advertisers’ ROI, and safeguard authenticity in influencer marketing. It sets a standard for the Instagram analytics by providing the most accurate data.

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