I’ve been watching Twitter. I’ve been listening to the conversations about fake followers and I’ve also noticed many people buying them.
Let me start by saying this; anybody who has any experience of social media marketing can see when somebody has bought followers from a mile off. When your following jumps by the thousand overnight. When your content is getting 17 likes contradictory of your 7,000 followers. And, when your follower list is compiled of bot accounts. It’s not rocket science.
As somebody who operates in this world, I’ve noticed two things:
- Brands are (thankfully) wising up to these people and aren’t offering them as many opportunities as they once did.
- Some freelancers, who are selling social media marketing services, are buying fake followers for their clients and passing it off as a genuine increase. Because the clients in question don’t know enough about social media analytics, they’re pleased with this rise and don’t think to question where it has come from.
Why Did I Buy Followers?
In order to write this article as fully as I’m able to, I needed to experience it all. As a journalist, I’m used to being thorough & I needed to experience the effects that buying followers had on my account personally. Thankfully, they’re now mostly gone from my account (more on that later) and I also didn’t take up any opportunities afforded to me whilst I had more followers than usual.
I did a simple Google search typing in ‘buy Instagram followers’. There are reams and reams of sites. I eventually opted to use Epic Followers which offers 2000 followers for £10.99. The followers arrived in my account about 2 hours later.
They trickled through in their droves – two thousand bot-like accounts sending my notifications into overdrive. I felt an immediate pang of panic. I wanted to go on Twitter and announce what I was doing to the whole world in case any of my friends in the blogging world saw and branded me a fake. After all, I’d seen witch hunts of epic proportions on Twitter. I’m perhaps slightly removed from the ‘inner circle’ of the blogging community, though, and because I hadn’t bought thousands of followers at once, perhaps it wasn’t quite as noticeable as some cases.
What Did Instagram Do About It?
The day after I bought the followers, Instagram announced its new shadow banning rules. To sum up shadow banning (also known as stealth banning or ghost banning) succinctly, it means that Instagram blocks your content from other users in the community but they don’t tell you you’ve been banned. One of the most popular ways to shadowban somebody is for Instagram to make their hashtags undiscoverable.
At this point, I panicked. The reason I chose to do this on Instagram rather than Twitter was because of Instagram’s ambiguous rules on buying followers. I worried that all of the engagement I’d built up over the years would be taken away – all for the sake of a blog post; hardly my finest hour.
I asked a few friends – who I’d told about my investigation – to double check my hashtags were showing; they confirmed they still were. However, a couple of hours later my Instagram was completely disabled. I couldn’t post anything or really use it at all.
3 days passed and I was allowed back on. Ever since, though (and even now after explaining the piece I was writing to Instagram) I’m still unable to use highlights. That was my punishment from Instagram for breaking the rules. I can’t see create highlights myself & I can’t look at other peoples.
What Happened To My Engagement?
Before I bought the followers I was averaging about 75-100 likes per post. My engagement was good. I was regularly dabbling in paid advertising, too. I often test paid adverts on my own account before transferring my ideas to my clients’ pages. If you do work in Social Media Marketing, I’d recommend doing this regularly to stay up to date with current trends of the industry before letting them loose on your paying customers.
My engagement dropped rapidly. In fact, it has only just started improving. At its worst, it was at about 11-15 likes per post. I’m now back up to between 35-60.
Engagement through comments remained generally consistent.
Did I Get More Opportunities As A Result?
I had a couple of emails from PR companies, asking if I’d like to review something or other. I was very honest with them for two reasons; 1. I operate in this space and I wanted to make sure that the companies in question were being a bit more vigilant to fake followers. 2. I don’t review products or accept paid advertising for my Instagram; it’s just not something I’ve ever been interested in.
Mostly, though, nothing changed. It’s a common misconception that if you buy followers you create a ‘buzz’ around your personal brand which then attracts more genuine followers. This didn’t happen to me. My content was being distributed by Instagram’s algorithm more frugally, so any advantages given to me by the increase in followers were counteracted by the lack of engagement.
It’s Not Easy To Get Rid Of Fake Followers
I was naive. I thought I would buy them, see what effects it had and then delete them off my account. In reality, the process is a lot more complex. I had to use an app and manually go through every single follower and delete the bots. It took hours. And, as I wasn’t willing to pay for the software I was using, I was limited to deleting only 200 at a time.
There are loads of apps dedicated to weeding out fake followers, but they don’t really tell you who the fake followers are – they only mark the people you’ve interacted with in the past. So, aside from your favourites on Instagram, you have to manually trawl through reams of people and determine whether or not their behaviour is in-keeping with a bot.
I only had 2000 to get rid of, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t too many. I’ve seen people buy 1000s and 1000s overnight. I pity them if they ever decide they want to get rid of the bots.
Why Would You Do It Then?
A good question — as far as I can see there is absolutely no upside. People who buy followers are driven by ego and a huge lack of integrity.
I will write about the ego involvement in buying Instagram followers in a post soon. I’ve seen such a pattern emerge as I’ve been researching for this post, though. I can spot somebody who has bought followers from a mile off, and most of them have out of control egos. It’s the need to appear important in the eyes of utter strangers that push people onto these bot websites.
In a way, it upsets me that people feel that their worth is dictated by the number of followers they have. If you produce good content, that is enough; be patient. What people don’t understand about buying this following is that they’re manufacturing an audience that doesn’t exist. If they’re selling products or services, they won’t get any more work as a result of it because the people following what you post aren’t real.
Plus, if you’re a brand with any level of social media understanding (which most good brands are), you should be opting for the users with the most engagement rather than those with the most followers. The same goes for book publishers, PR companies, sponsors etc. – it doesn’t matter what industry you operate in, if you don’t act with integrity, you won’t progress.
And, if you do get opportunities based on your fake number of followers then shame on you. Because you’re taking paid opportunities away from somebody who truly deserves it. There’s no shortcut to success, so please spend your time on creating a content plan worthy of a strong following rather than planning ways to cheat the system and cheat your fellow professionals out of opportunities.