It will come as little surprise to any marketing exec that influencers may not be all they appear to be -- and no, we're not talking about cosmetic procedures. Research from influencer agency Takumi does, however, surprise with the huge proportion of these so-called "celebrities" who are claiming to be true followers.
Let's be up front about one thing. It is possible for people to inadvertently attract fake followers as bots go around the net trying to look like normal human beings reading news articles and following people in social media.
As a point of reference, when I've spoken to experts in this area, they generally suggest a low single-digit percentage of fake followers for someone with lots of fans is, very roughly speaking, an acceptable, accidental proportion.
With that in mind, let's now wonder how sixteen out of seventeen contestants have at least 50% fake followers. For the majority of these wannabe influencers, the proportion is 60% and with several it approaches nearly two in three.
It leaves us with just one contestant who has more real, human followers than fakes. Even then, it's still a case of only just.
Interestingly, one of the contestants with a fake following rate of 52% shows a rather unusual pattern. Apparently the person who has 342,000 followers enjoys an unusually high proportion of "fans" and activity come from India, Brazil and Mexico.
Either he has inexplicably caught the imagination of the public where the show doesn't even air or, as Akumai points out, he has attracted a massive following in three of the worst countries for bot farms. Ponder that question for a millisecond before you decide which is the more likely answer.
It's also worth wondering why several of the accounts suddenly leapt in follower numbers before the contestants were even announced -- meaning that, according to Mobile Marketing, six accounts are being investigated by Instagram for unusual activity.
This sorry episode in wannabe influencer history will surely have to go down as a massive warning to brands that when dealing with overnight success stories in particular, follower numbers need to sometimes be taken with a pinch of salt.
At the very least, brands should be aware of the need to deploy technology that can track who buys likes from bots and who has a more genuine following.
For me, this is yet more proof that attention will increasingly turn toward micro influencers: those people who have a few thousand, maybe tens of thousands, of followers who are generally engaged in what the person has to say -- typically in a niche interest or sector of an industry.
It would also suggest that influencer marketing needs to move beyond likes and embrace desired outcomes, such as a rise in brand awareness or how many people clicked through to buy the item being promoted.
This has to be the only protection against bots because they tend not to be aware of brands and certainly don't buy products, although they are rather adept at making people look more popular than they are.