What’s Trending

The fake biz of influencer marketing

Beware! Creating fake 'celebrity' profile can be easy, as media agency's experiment shows


Hankering to become a social media "celebrity"?

All you need is some patience and the willingness to stump up several hundred dollars for it.

In a bid to expose the issues plaguing the "social media influencer" economy, marketing agency Mediakix created two fake Instagram profiles recently.

For the first account, the agency hired a local model and shot the entire channel's content with costumes and props in a one-day photo shoot.

A fake profile of a fitness/lifestyle influencer - calibeachgirl310 - was then started to host the images.

Mediakix decided to take more risks with the second account - wanderingggirl - by using only freely available stock photos.

Wanderingggirl, one of the two fake Instagram accounts created by marketing agency Mediakix, which uses only freely available stock photos. Within weeks, the account had 31,000 followers. The profile also secured two sponsorship deals, days after Med
Wanderingggirl, one of the two fake Instagram accounts created by marketing agency Mediakix, which uses only freely available stock photos. Within weeks, the account had 31,000 followers. The profile also secured two sponsorship deals, days after Mediakix applied for new campaigns daily. PHOTO: MEDIAKIX/ INSTAGRAM

Some of the images used include iconic shots of Cinque Terre in Italy and the Eiffel Tower in France.

To lend credibility, the agency also inserted random images of the supposed travel and photography influencer, a blonde female teen whose face is never seen.

Mediakix then started buying "followers", paying up to US$8 (S$11) for every 1,000 followers.


  • NDP 2017: The live stream of this year's parade in 360 was a hit among Singaporeans who did not manage to get any tickets. The three-hour video had more than 240,000 views.

    SINGAPORE AIRLINES: SIA's new in-flight safety video is the top trending video on YouTube, according to search giant Google. The five-minute video shows an air stewardess giving safety instructions at various landmarks around Singapore.

    BRIGHTON BEACH CRITTERS: An Australian teen emerged from a night-time dip with blood streaming from his feet and ankles. His father captured hundreds of "sea lice" he said were responsible for the injuries.

There were cheaper options but those services tend to take a while before delivering on the fans.

"We were concerned that purchasing too many followers at the onset would result in Instagram flagging the account," the agency said. "However, we quickly found that we were able to buy up to 15,000 followers at a time without encountering any issues."

Within weeks, calibeachgirl310 had 50,000 followers while wanderingggirl had 31,000.

But to draw sponsorships and deals, the accounts also had to be active in engaging fans.

Mediakix set out to buy likes and comments, paying about 12 US cents per comment and up to US$9 per 1,000 likes. For each photo, the agency purchased up to 2,500 likes and between 10 and 50 comments.

Once the accounts were sufficiently padded up, their profiles were signed up to various influencer marketing platforms which typically require influencers to have at least 10,000 followers.

Mediakix applied for new campaigns daily, writing a short message to the brand or simply clicking a button to submit the profile for consideration. Within days, it hit pay dirt, securing two sponsorship deals for each account.

Calibeachgirl310 had a deal with a swimsuit company while wanderingggirl scored with an alcohol distributor.

They both also had deals with a food and beverage chain. Each campaign offered free products and monetary compensation.

Mediakix sounded a warning to brands against falling for this unique form of ad fraud.

Influencer marketing - a growing industry that is projected to reach US$5 billion by next year - is attracting unethical influencers who inflate their follower numbers and engagement rates artificially to compete and secure bigger, better sponsorships.

The best safeguard against this is to do proper research and due diligence to ensure the accounts are legitimate.


The number of social media users has crossed the three-billion mark, with the bulk of them accessing sites through their mobile phones.

A report, released by media company We Are Social and social management firm Hootsuite, says 40 per cent of the world's population is on social media.

Facebook is the platform with the most monthly active users (2.047 billion), followed by YouTube.

Closed social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are tied at third spot.

Instagram comes in at sixth place, after Chinese services WeChat and QQ.

Mobile adoption continues at a rapid pace, the report says, growing by 650,000 new users each day.

The average smartphone user now consumes more than 2.3GB of mobile data every month, most of which is used for video streaming.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 13, 2017, with the headline 'The fake biz of influencer marketing'. Print Edition | Subscribe