I recently came across a very interesting blog post that made me think differently about the social media world, specifically, “influencers”. The post in question was about the follow/unfollow crew on Instagram [mostly] — a very honest look at people that many of us follow or look up to, usually with a massive follower count. You may have already read the post … It travelled far and wiiiiiiiiide across the Twitterscope. The internet nearly lost its damn mind.
And then the post got deleted.
I’m sad about that. I’m not usually about the name n’ shame life, but I do believe that people should be held accountable for fraudulently misleading their audiences. Don’t even get me started on people who never disclose sponsored posts or collaborations on social media/in blogs.
Anyway, essentially, the post went into detail about certain influencers, bloggers, and even brands that had allegedly “cheated” their way to the top of the Instagram game. As in: used shady, fraudulent, or unfair actions to gain a big following, to then enjoy the privileges that being a big-number account brings.
PR boxes. Press trips in exotic countries. “Freebie” dinners, hotels, clothes, makeup, beauty treatments, the odd spot of Botox here n’ there.
(P.S. In reality, that stuff isn’t really FREE. The hours that go into creating a blog post/content to promote that “freebie” usually far exceeds the worth of whatever it was you were PR-gifted.)
The shady, fraudulent and unfair actions being discussed included —
- Buying followers.
- Buying engagement.
WHAT’S THIS INSTAGRAM FOLLOW/UNFOLLOW BUSINESS, THEN?
The game is very simple — follow a bunch of people, wait for them to follow you back, and then unfollow them. You’ve made them aware of your existence by following them and delivering a notification. This can all be done manually — individually following and unfollowing accounts, or automatically — using a bot or similar. The latter is a paid-for service, of which there are many. Some of those paid-for services go against Instagram T&Cs, and you could face suspension or even total account deletion by using them.
The Instagram website specifically states:
“Foster meaningful and genuine interactions.
Help us stay spam-free by not artificially collecting likes, followers, or shares, posting repetitive comments or content, or repeatedly contacting people for commercial purposes without their consent.”
“You must not create accounts with the Service through unauthorized means, including but not limited to, by using an automated device, script, bot, spider, crawler or scraper.”
Now, before I go any further, I just want to point out that I’m NOT talking about people who follow an account, realise the owner posts a load of crap or too frequently, and then unfollows; I’m talking about people who follow HUNDREDS and sometimes THOUSANDS of new accounts before then unfollowing a few days later. The goal is to get as many follow-for-follows as possible, and, chances are, that person/account will unfollow you whether you follow them back or not. That’s the way it goes. That’s how they work. These F/UF’ers will do whatever they need to do to boost their numbers.
A couple of the examples I’m about to show you below (with relatively small F/UF numbers) could very easily be natural activity. We’ve all unfollowed the annoying/repetitive people on social media; that’s what the unfollow/block buttons are for. And a big clear-out of inactive or dodgy-lookin’ followers could explain a big reduction of follow numbers on one or two days. However, some of this is F/UF activity going on for weeks and months … even years.
And now for the awkward bit …
I SEE YOU
Firstly, I/we can see that you’ve used follow/unfollow methods to grow your numbers. It’s actually kinda obvious. Personally, if I see evidence of it happening I’ll unfollow and/or block that account right away. That might sound like a harsh response to some, but all that follow/unfollow business is just wasting my time. Even if I like what the account has to offer, I’ll still block. I’m not being a pawn in your Instagram growth game, thank you very much. I’m over here trying my damned hardest to do things organically. Miserably. Jealously. Bitterly.
I AM MORE THAN JUST A NUMBER.
No, seriously, I’m fine.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone get called out on Twitter for their follower/following numbers.
“So-and-so was following 5,000 people yesterday. Now she’s only following 4,500. Can someone smell follow/unfollow?”
“I see a pattern emerging with this person’s follower count. It increases by exactly 100, 300, or 500 before going down by exactly that amount, a few days later.”
I barely pay attention to my own following/follower counts, so I’d have no hope of cracking down on everyone else’s … but this social-shame practice is going down.
The tea is being spilt.
Secondly, have you heard of Social Blade? Or Ninjalitics? You should probably check the latter out when you get the chance. It appears that Social Blade only works up to April of 2018 (for some accounts) due to Instagram API changes, but Ninjalitics still works. These are free services, open to anyone, and all you need to do is enter a Twitter/Instagram/YouTube, etc. username to find all sorts of interesting information about that account. After reading the informative post I mentioned at the start (which caused quite the stir on social media), I decided to have a cheeky little look at a few of the accounts that *I* follow — people who I actually look up to and respect. What I found was pretty shocking.
INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT 1:
(With 10K+ followers)
Day 1: Follows 190 Insta-accounts
2: Follows 200.
3: Unfollows 350.
4: Follows 350
5: Follows 200.
6: Unfollows 550.
7: Follows 155.
8: Follows 510.
9: Unfollows 149.
10: Unfollows 300.
11: Unfollows 170.
📈 Followed – 1605 | Unfollowed – 1519 📉
INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT 2:
(Slightly smaller scale, 5K+ followers.)
Day 1: Follows 150 Insta-accounts.
2: Follows 70.
3: Follows 80.
4: Unfollows 290.
Repeats once a week, for 12 weeks+.
📈 Followed – 300 | Unfollowed – 290 📉
INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT 3:
Day 1: Follows 40 Insta-accounts.
2: Follows 55.
3: Unfollows 110.
4: Follows 70.
5: Follows 60.
6: Unfollows 90.
📈 Followed – 225 | Unfollowed – 200 📉
INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT 4:
Day 1: Follows 100 Insta-accounts.
2: Follows 90.
3: Unfollows 130.
4: Follows 50.
5: Unfollows 60.
6: Follows 150.
7: Unfollows 140.
📈 Followed – 290 | Unfollowed – 330 📉
And the cycle repeats over and over again. Follow 100 people, then unfollow 100 people. That’s pretty much the long and short of it. The numbers may change, but they still unfollow as many accounts as they follow. There is some organic growth in there too, of course. Not a lot of it, though, and those larger F/UF numbers are indicative of bot-using/paid services. Who has the time to follow 600 accounts manually in one day?! Or unfollow 300?! Or even just 100?!
Thirdly, when you use bots or even manually follow/unfollow, your engagement will usually be quite low. The people who are now following you might not be interested in what you have to say or share, so they aren’t going to spend their time liking and writing comments on it. They only followed you because you followed them, and there’s a chance that they might unfollow you right back. But that’s why you see large accounts with 10k+ followers and only a couple of hundred likes and a few comments on each post.
Us “little account people” notice that kinda stuff … Just saying.
It is generally recognised that anything over 3% engagement is “good” engagement for an influencer, but I’ve seen some experts suggest 6% and above. I’m not saying that big [or any] accounts with an engagement rate of 3% and under are cheating in some way, but it doesn’t look good. Engagement is EVERYTHING. It’s not about the follower count anymore. Brands are looking for engagement. If you have 10,000 followers but you’re only getting 150 likes and 3 comments per picture, something isn’t right …
* Thing I shouldn’t say:
If you have 10,000 followers but you’re only getting 150 likes per picture — and you HAVEN’T Insta-cheated — your content/timing/strategy isn’t working for your audience. Like, at all. You might be shadowbanned, or you’ve seriously upset the Instagram algorithm gods.
Also, judging from what I’ve seen on the Twitterscope, brands and PR managers are looking at social stats on sites like Ninjalitics and Social Blade, and if I can see what’s going on with regards to buying followers and playing the F/UF game, they can too …
These days, you don’t even need those stats n’ figures websites to see what’s going on. I have a couple of apps on my phone that tell me what’s what, including new followers, new unfollowers, comments and likes that have been deleted by the account holder (usually because of account deletion), and more.
And again, these apps are being used to compile evidence for public naming n’ shamings against chronic F/UF’ers.
“This person has come up three times in the last week or so, following and then unfollowing me. I can see what you’re doing using the Followers app, FFS.”
We’re in a name n’ shame society now, and if you don’t play the Insta-game by the rules, you’re running the risk of being named n’ shamed yourself. We all make mistakes, though. I’ve never purchased a following, nor have I played the follow/unfollow game on Instagram; I’m far too stingy with my follows to put up with any ol’ tripe on my feed. But I can understand how it would seem like an attractive and easy way to boost your social media following. Just stop now … and hope that someone doesn’t go rooting around in your social stats history. And if someone does, just hold your hands up and admit that you made the mistake. The day you stopped doing it was the day you learned, right?
Life is all about learning.
The social media world definitely is!
AT THE END OF THE DAY …
I’m not bashing anyone who’s just trying to make a living. Go do you. I’m rootin’ for you! Just make sure you’re not pissing off half of the community you’re trying to immerse yourself in — something that the follow/unfollow game definitely does.
There are lots of ways to grow your Instagram account without having to resort to follow/unfollowing or other dodgy means. All that time following and unfollowing people could be much better spent actually creating content.
This post is in NO way intended to offend. I have no intentions of naming n’ shaming. Feel free to leave comments, but remember this: we are ALL mistake-making people. It’s not too late to stop F/UF’ing, but people *CAN* and *WILL* still see previous stats and activity if they go looking.
FURTHER RESOURCES + READING: