Brands are allocating ever higher budgets for influencer marketing, but a new study of Facebook-owned Instagram has found that huge sums are being lost to bots and other types of fraud, with India and Indonesia among the worst affected markets.

According to Swedish e-commerce start-up A Good Company and HypeAuditor, a data analytics firm, 26 million followers of Indian Instagram influencers are fake, leaving 38 million considered to be safe.

A similar number of accounts in Indonesia (25 million) are lost to either bots or mass followers, while Japan has seven million fraudulent users.

It means that India and Indonesia rank in the top four worst affected markets in the world, behind the US (49 million) and Brazil (27 million), and just ahead of Turkey (13 million). In total, Asian markets have 58 million fake users, Mumbrella reported.

Based on analysis of 1.84 million Instagram accounts across 82 countries, the research suggests that Instagram’s monthly active user data may be overrated by as much as 45% and that global marketing spend worth $744m is being wasted.

Part of the problem, it appears, is the large number of “engagement pods”, the system whereby groups of Instagrammers join forces to like and comment on each other’s posts to give them a boost.

This is particularly true of micro-influencers, it is reported, who are also said to have the highest level of anomalies in followers and automatic likes.

Anders Ankarlid, co-founder and CEO of A Good Company, told Mumbrella that he was motivated to conduct the research after discovering discrepancies between the firm’s influencer marketing spend and its sales figures.

“We recommend looking further at the correlation between your influencer marketing spend and your sales numbers,” he said. “It could be that you are spending a big part of your budget on influencers without an organic following.”

Facebook said in response that “inauthentic activity has no place on Instagram” and that it is devoting significant resources to detect and stop this behaviour.

“Since the early days of Instagram, we have auto-detected and removed fake accounts to protect our community,” Facebook said. “Last year, we took the additional step of removing inauthentic likes, follows and comments from accounts that use third-party apps to boost their popularity.”

Sourced from Mumbrella; additional content by WARC staff