After reporting how Instagram influencer marketing was now a billion dollar industry, marketing agency Mediakix has conducted an investigation into the murky world of online fakers.

The website created two phony Instagram influencer accounts: 1) a lifestyle and fashion-centric Instagram model and 2) a travel photographer. For the first account, Mediakix hired a model and populated content through a one-day photo shoot; meet Santa Monica local, "calibeachgirl310."

The second account, wanderingggirl, went one step further and was composed entirely of free stock photos. Amid snaps of the Eiffel Tower and whatever other picturesque vistas they could find, Mediakix peppered the feed with vague stock photos of blonde girls that showed only the back of their heads.

Their fabricated personalities now ready to rock, Mediakix set about acquiring followers. Instagram is able to flag accounts which it suspects of gaining followers by foul play — i.e., buying them — so they initially numbered their purchases to "only" 1,000 per day. Soon, however, Mediakix found they could buy up to 15,000 per pop without being suspected of wrongdoing. And the cost per 1,000 followers? Between $3-$8.

Of course, it's all very well having followers, but kind of pointless if none of them are engaging with your content. Mediakix paid around 12 cents per comment, and between $4-9 per 1,000 likes. For each photo, they purchased 500 to 2,500 likes and 10 to 50 comments. Mostly, the paid accounts would leave prosaic compliments like "good job" or "nice!"

After a while, the accounts hit the holy-grail 10,000 followers threshold, meaning Mediakix could sign them up for various influencer marketing platforms. Applying for new campaigns daily, the accounts secured four paid brand deals in total between them — two each.  The fashion account secured one deal with a swimsuit company and one with a national food and beverage company, while the travel account secured brand deals with an alcohol brand and the same national food and beverage company. Both accounts were reimbursed with monetary compensation or free product.

The experiment will come as a worrying development for those spending money on influencer marketing programs, with accounts boasting anything over 5,000 + followers known to be targeted by companies. As Mediakix concludes: "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."

For further in depth reading, head on over to Mediakix.

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