The days of faking your way to Insta-fame could be numbered, with Instagram launching a new push to eliminate inauthentic followers and likes gained via the use of third-party tools which promise to boost your on-platform presence.
As explained by Instagram:
"Every day, people come to Instagram to have real experiences, including genuine interactions. It's our responsibility to ensure these experiences aren’t disrupted by inauthentic activity. Starting today, we will begin removing inauthentic likes, follows and comments from accounts that use third-party apps to boost their popularity."
That could be a major blow to many prominent users - various investigations have found that fake follower and like services are widely utilized across social platforms, with many seeing follower count as a status symbol, a measure of popularity. Given such, PR people obviously want their clients to have bigger follower numbers than rivals, while some modeling agencies, reportedly, won't even take on clients unless they meet a threshold for Instagram followers on their personal account.
That then leads to fakes - and when you add influencer marketing into the mix, where people can earn money based on the size of their perceived audience, it's easy to see why such services have become popular.
And they're easy to find too - a simple search for 'buy Instagram followers' comes up with a range of 'authentic' tools.
As noted by TechCrunch, some of the more popular Instagram follower tools have been shut down in recent times, including Instagress and Social Growth. But many others remain, and while there's a market for such options, more will continue to appear. If Instagram wants to cut them out, they'll have their work cut out for them.
So how will Instagram go about removing these inauthentic likes and follows?
"We’ve built machine learning tools to help identify accounts which use these services, and remove the inauthentic activity. Accounts we identify using these services will receive an in-app message alerting them that we've removed the inauthentic likes, follows and comments. We will also ask them to secure their account by changing their password."
Instagram also notes that many of these apps also use people's accounts to fuel further activity - like liking and following other accounts on their behalf. Those actions will also be reversed, eliminating their effectiveness.
It's an important move for Instagram, particularly, as noted, given the rise of influencer marketing. Parent company Facebook has been working to make influencer marketing more transparent, with tools like Branded Content tags and its 'Brand Collabs Manager', which seeks to connect businesses with relevant platform voices for marketing outreach.
Given it's so easy to buy influencers, Facebook and Instagram both know that they need to do more to ensure businesses are generating real results from their investment in the practice - otherwise the option loses credibility, and investment dips, which is clearly bad for business more broadly.
All social platforms are looking to do more on this front - Twitter's removing fake accounts at a higher rate than ever before and LinkedIn's improving its processes to remove spam and junk content. But Instagram, which sees the most influencer marketing investment of all social platforms, is where the effort really needs to focus.
While the brands themselves need to get better at identifying those with genuine influence over their target audience, any assistance the platforms themselves can provide will also help.
Instagram also notes that it'll have "more updates in the coming weeks" on additional measures it's taking to tackle inauthentic activity on the platform.