Photographer Proves How Easy It Is To Buy Followers and Fake Being an Instagram Influencer

Photographer Proves How Easy It Is To Buy Followers and Fake Being an Instagram Influencer

It’s well known that many Instagram influencers will do anything — including buying fake followers — in order to increase their appeal to potential brands for partnership. Now photographer Trey Ratcliff is exposing the “cunning tricks” used to do so, proving how easy it is to have companies pay you for sponsored posts.

Ratcliff claims to have gained insight from encounters with aspiring Instagram influencers at luxury travel events over the past few years. Many, he says, were paid anywhere between $1000 and100,000 for a single post. Not to mention brands frequently gift products, or provide flights, hotels, and meals free of charge.

It’s a well-known fact that Instagram suffers badly with fake spam profiles, and paying someone to make a load of these bot accounts follow you is one of the most popular ways people fake Insta-fame. In a quest to see what “buying influence” could do for him, Ratcliff created a fake of his own, purchasing his 104,000 following in the process. It set him back around $40 for every 30,000 followers he bought.

Impressed by the numbers, the reception from marketing agencies was warm, with many of them suggesting relevant brand partnerships.

Of the experience, he said:

I see quite a bit of suffering out there on social media, and that’s why I wrote this book. I hope it is a fun way to open the door, if even just a little, to have people become more mindful in their daily activities. Social Media, if used wrongly, can really add to a lot of undue suffering.

Another source of suffering is some of these Instagram Influencer charlatans are using completely unscrupulous tricks to gain a big following and engagement to trick brands into giving them the seemingly ideal lifestyle that is perfectly Instagrammable. So, a lot of people suffer anxiety when they see this stuff online because they feel like losers.

But that is all based on a lie, so there is zero need for you to have any internal suffering by comparing yourself to a crook.

Compiling everything he learnt in one place, he has now released the book, entitled “Under the Influence – How to Fake Your Way Into Getting Rich on Instagram: Influencer fraud, Selfies, Anxiety, Ego, and Mass Delusional Behavior.” It retails for  $10 for the digital Kindle Edition and $18 for the paperback.

Lead image credit: Georgia de Lotz on Unsplash.

Jack Alexander's picture

A 28-year-old self-taught photographer, Jack Alexander specialises in intimate portraits with musicians, actors, and models.

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i would hope that most users over the age of 15 (physically AND mentally) know that social media "influencers" are mostly liars, cheats and fakes. despite this, companies pour millions of dollars into SM marketing and it just seems that a lot of companies make so much profit that they just dont know what to do with it anymore, so they literally give it away, kinda like "venture capitalists."

or maybe it's just an elaborate ploy so they can play the victim card for profit once this whole thing is finally exposed for what it is.

i remember being raised, both in home and at school, that nobody likes a bragger, yet that's all a "social media influencer" really is (no matter if they're lying or not). sometimes i feel like i was the only one raised this way and that modesty and humility are words people generally dont know the meaning of anymore.

sounds like an interesting read, although it's something well known by too few already. i would prefer a piece done by an investigative journalist, though.

How's that saying go? "A fool and his money are soon parted?"

Corporate America (and corporations everywhere) are not the fools... but are using all of the other fools for profit (influencers AND their influenced consumers).

I'm rather enjoying this particular shit-show...

To be fair, getting paid 1000-100'000$ for a single post sounds like a sweet, sweet deal to me. I'd say the loser in this scenario is the consumer who follows these influencers.

I know many well educated adults who don't have a clue that you can cheat the system, even some that work in advertising... So I don't have much hope for this changing any time soon.
Btw, I think that someone took a page of this guy's book and has sent me a whole bunch of bots/fake likes/fake followers, I've had to make my account private to get some peace.


The world would be just fine without Instagram. In fact, I'm pretty sure we'd be better off.

The world would be better off without social media, period. While some people might use it in a utilitarian way, (e.g. to keep in contact with far-flung relatives) most use if for frivolous bullshit which wastes their time and makes them feel miserable. All the while handing over every private bit of data about them to a company that is utterly bankrupt morally and ethically.

Future generations are going to think we all suffered some form of collective brain damage in this era.

"The world would be better off without social media, period."

Eh. I think the world would be just as shitty. Maybe we wouldn't be as aware of it but social media is here to stay. It's a window into the worst and best that humanity has to offer. It's everything turned up to 11. I personally think it doesn't carry any innate positive or negative value because it's only as good/bad as the people who use it. People will catch on eventually.

Social media isn't the only way you're being watched online. Visiting (or any site) is putting you into an audience pool for digital advertising. Anything you do without the safety of a private VPN is leaving a paper trail.

I am not naive enough to think social media is going anywhere, I just think it is an incredible waste of time and resources, and is creating catastrophic privacy & mental health issues which we don't even full realise yet.

On using a VPN, I do use a VPN: Private Internet Access.

Besides that, I block advertising and routinely delete my browser's cache. Even if despite all of this some information about me is still being obtained it is a far cry from the amount of info Facebook has on people who visiting multiple times a day, share intimate details about their life, engage with companies and so on.

I'm still trying to get a handle on why people are so afraid of marketing. It's not the FBI or CIA, and even then do people have something dirty to hide? Marketing folks are just trying to sell products to their ideal consumer base, that's all. The information they collect isn't to black mail people in the future or steal their identity... it's to market things

So, how long have you been in the marketing game?

Marketers aren't some benign intermediary between company who wants to sell a thing and the people most likely to need such a thing.

People don't dislike marketing and advertising because they have something to hide, a rather foolish suggestion, people hate marketers and advertisers because of their all-to-often unethical and amoral approach to their craft.

I've been a marketer for 15 years since February. Marketers use digital marketing to better target the audience we are selling to, i dont know what is amoral or unethical about say knowing you like photography and showing you a b&h ad. Seriously what is there to hide from marketers? Like i said most people that are woried about hiding this information usually are worried someones going to find out they are into something not so good. But even then they got to worry about law enforcement not marketers.

Why are you bringing up law enforcement and crime? Why are you trying to draw such an extreme and utterly unrelated example? People can dislike marketing and advertising obtaining information about them without feeling it is akin to being spied on by the state. Tone the hyperbole down. I know you are a marketer and that might be hard, but try.

If you have been in marketing that long you jolly well know marketing isn't "Oh, this person is a photographer, maybe they might appreciate this ad".

Don't forget your Credit Card purchases! That info is sold to marketers.

Just having your phone with you (your weather apps are always tracking your location) when you walk around is tracking where you go with a lot of detail and that data is going to marketers.

You're right, I cannot completely conceal myself from the eyes of marketers and advertisers short of moving into a hole in the side of a mountain and becoming a crazy eccentric who shuns the modern world but I am willing to argue I do a lot more than most to make their job more difficult.

I certainly don't use social media to like/follow companies, political parties, social movements and activist pages, & post intimate details about myself which is all used to create a complete dossier of me as an individual to be manipulated by cynical companies.

Exactly. You use that grocery store card you love getting discounts with? It's for data collection, so marketers can market

I absolutely agree with your point of view. I'm also from those people who use private browser app from and try to preserve information about themselves from search engine. Our safety must be in the first place!

Well good for him...johnny-come-lately with that news though.

It's been a known thing for quite some time. Just view 10 of the highest follower count insta-photographers. If you can get through the fatuous ramblings that accompany the posts you can clearly tell what's going on.

Many brands use social media "influencers" rather than actual photo/video professionals because of the real/perceived reach.

I'm a bad influence....just ask my wife.

As someone who works for an advertising agency and more specifically on a digital marketing team, I think the claims mentioned in this article are a bit inflated.

"Impressed by the numbers, the reception from marketing agencies was warm, with many of them suggesting relevant brand partnerships"

Any agency that just throws money at a profile without doing the necessary background research is not a very good agency. It would be pretty easy to figure out if someone's vanity stats were likely purchased. Typically before spending the client's dollars, one would measure engagement and reach and determine if the spend has value against other marketing efforts.

I get that social media is viewed negatively and generally, I think people pay too much attention to their own digital clout. That being said I think people should take Trey Ratcliff's words with a grain of salt... Does this happen? Sure. There's an exception to almost every rule... Is it normal? Unlikely.

I'd love to be in the room for a client reporting call at those agencies.

You'd be surprised then how many "not very good agencies" there are out there...

I'd be interested to see which agency was willing to throw $100k at a post. I want to call BS on his claims. Sure there are agencies working with clients that have that type of budget but those clients aren't going to toss $100k at some random influencer without having done their research. $1000 slipping through the cracks is one thing (Still stupid) but $100K? Not buying it.

Read the book ;) (I just did...)

I don't see it worth the investment since gaming the system is not rocket science. Everyone's a business prophet these days. The countless YouTube pre-rolls are getting out of control. This author seems to be playing the same strategy. Make yourself look like an authority to those who have no clue and get them to purchase your knowledge.

It only took me 20 seconds to audit his account and see that only around 29% of his followers are real... Any agency worth working with would see right through this.

A decent agency should go through a stringent audit process yes.

I can't imagine how pseudo influencers are further keeping their business. Every company paying these people should have means to check their ROI. If this is little to none, this probably would spread out in the marketeers world. The would lead to a bad repute and the infuencer is out of business.

It seems a little strange that Fstoppers keep posting articles about how much money you can make from Stock Photography, but then using photos for free from Unsplash.

Exactly. They could at support some of us by buying photos from Adobe or SS.

I remain both surprised and disappointed the boys (Lee and Patrick) are still on board with this.

It's worth noting that Fstoppers comprises of over 70 writers, each with a different opinion.

very easy to buy likes to page. I bought 500 when I started my photography page on FB. and it wasnt through FB

But did the 500 help your business initially?

the reason I bought it was so it doesnt look like im a new guy with new customers.

Coming from Trey Ratcliff, a pseudo photographer if ever there was one. Have you been to his website? He's simply a bandwagon-jumper using all the tricks in the book to make money with clever marketing. He is no artist though despite running workshops on such. His photos are mediocre at best. No, he is a fantastic marketer through and through. Companies should hire him to head their marketing departments as im sure they would do very well. Don't hire him as a photographer though.

It's more complicated than that. High following it's not enough to work with real business..fake followers are easy to spot and they don't engage with your profile. There are many free software than can even spot if you're using follow/unfollow strategy. People are not so easy to fool.

So by publishing a book is Mr Ratcliffe therefore making money out of those who want to scam money out of brands? Not sure if that's irony, satire, just desserts or what.

exactly what I was thinking he faked something to sell something and suckers are buying into reading his book about faking it to make money which is what he did ?

yeah I hope not all the younger generation and some of the older get caught up in this idiocy and start to pull away

I wish that Instagram never posted the number of followers. If you liked someone, follow them. Then people could post and be followed by those they liked, and not play games to simply build followers.

It’s unbelievable how people fake it! I bought the book because of this article (so fstoppers is an influencer for me).

My biggest problem with buying through Instagram influencers, though, is that of course they’re doing it for money. And you don’t get to see customer ratings, like on Amazon. It’s difficult to trust anything.