Let’s face it. Sometimes more is better. Or at least, more feels like it should be better, especially when it comes to social media followers. Take a mental scroll through your Instagram followers and be honest: How often have you looked at a certain account and judged the user based on how many followers they have? That blogger with 10,000 followers? They must be killing it. That account with 250 followers? Bless them for trying, but maybe you’re going to hold off on a follow-back until their numbers are a little bit higher.
For better or worse, too often we judge the “success” of our social media presence based on the number of followers we have to like our cat/kid/vacation/outfit of the day/breakfast posts. It’s how the average person gauges influence too—more people = more eyes on something and therefore a bigger impact. In theory, at least. But just like that envy-inducing snap you begrudgingly double-tapped this morning, not everything online is as it appears.
For a little over a year now, I’ve been slowly and steadily trying to build an Instagram presence for my passion project—a blog all about the best meal of the day, breakfast. But after 18 months of building my profile, my follower count was just shy of 400.
Granted, that’s 400 more than I started with, but it still leaves me a few digits away from being classified as a bona fide influencer. I post on a semi-regular basis. I always use appropriate hashtags. I engage with my followers and I follow and engage with other similar accounts. Basically, I do everything that you should be doing—but where it’s my passion project and not my day-job building my Instagram following often takes a back seat.
I’d heard about various websites and services available to buy Instagram followers. And I was genuinely curious as to how the whole thing worked. So, in the name of science, I paid $13 Canadian dollars and purchased 750 shiny new followers.
There are lots of services out there. But I’m not going to tell you which one I used or even share any links. That’s what Google is for if you’re interested. Why? Because refer back to the title of this piece! I bought followers so you don’t have to!
Here’s what I learned:
Quantity does not equal quality.
I had a pretty good inkling this would be the case going into this experiment, but it was nice to have some validation. After I purchased those 750 followers, it took about 24 hours for them to actually show up on my account. They came in fast and furious once it started and in the span of about 20 minutes, my follower count went from just shy of 400 to nearly 1,200. Though I didn’t click on every profile to see, I’m pretty sure the accounts were exclusively bots—aka fake user accounts—not real people. Again, not a shocking revelation, but still interesting to note. You get what you pay for, I guess.
And even though I nearly tripled my follower count, I didn’t receive any additional likes or comments on my posts. Although I could have purchased that option too, for a mere $17/month.
While it was interesting to see how quickly I gained all those news followers, what was really interesting was how quickly I started to lose them. As of writing this post, I’ve “lost” around half of my purchased followers.
This is likely due to Instagram flagging and shutting down all those fake accounts. This is actually good news as it means as a platform Instagram is working hard to ensure the authenticity of its users. It’s bad news for me, however—there was no guarantee on my $13 investment, so now I’m out the cash and the followers.
Nobody likes a cheater.
If it seems too easy or too good to be true, it probably is. Simply buying your way to a large following is skirting the point of social networks in the first place. These platforms are meant to foster community and encourage communication with like-minded individuals. If you’re buying all your friends, likes, comments, etc. then what’s really in it for you? Sure, you might be able to fake your way to some influencer marketing deals, but savvy brands who are doing their homework (see below) will catch on sooner rather than later.
We live our lives online. And as it becomes easier to fake everything else, authenticity is going to gain more importance. The more authentic you can be, the better off you’ll be in the long run.
Do your homework.
Online—as off—nothing is ever as it seems. Next time you’re getting follower envy, take a few minutes to carefully evaluate those accounts. Do they have thousands of followers, but just dozens of likes/interactions on each post? Are the comments genuine and specific? Or just a lot of generic “love this!” or heart emojis? These are tell-tale signs of accounts that have perhaps had a little boost in their follower count numbers, if you catch my meaning.
As social media consumers, it’s important to be savvy and know who you’re following and why. And if your job—like mine—involves building partnerships with influencers, this step becomes even more important. For brands, simply handing out free product—or paid compensation—to somebody with a large number of followers is not enough. It’s important to evaluate those followers and make sure you’re going to be engaging with real people and not just automated accounts.
As for me? The reason why I choose to have a blog—and a social media presence to support it—isn’t for paid endorsements (not that I’m opposed to that…). It’s a chance to connect and share my passion for breakfast. Instagram is another communications channel and another platform to connect with people who also share a passion for the most important meal of the day. Sure, I’d love to share that with more people, but that’s the key—I want to share and connect with people. Not bots. Not purchased followers. Willing participants and fellow brexperts, only.
It’s estimated that Instagram has 800 million users. That’s a whole lot of potential communities to engage with and friends to make. So get out there and get to it—the good old-fashioned way.
——— Mel Hennigar is a former Senior Creative Strategist at NATIONAL Public Relations