As Instagram has become more saturated with influencers, it has become increasingly difficult to build a big following at a fast pace. It is understandable for someone who is having difficulty growing to question why others have gained a large audience but they have not. You are not alone. This has become a main issue for a lot of influencers and finding a way to consistently grow your audience and build your business gets harder and harder every day. However, trust me, buying likes and followers has long term, career damaging effects and is not the solution.
Once influencing became a more established career option where you can make good money sharing with your audience, services and business have developed a way “to help” influencers grow their audience and engagement. The reason I put “to help” in quotes is because buying followers or likes is a short term solution.
Pros & Cons of Buying Followers
Honestly, there is only one pro to buying followers, which is to appear that you have a large audience that you are able to share with. The larger your audience the more appealing you are as a creator for a brand collaboration. This initially looks appealing to potential brand partners as they see value in large audiences because then the brand or product is showcased to more people and have farther reach.
Unfortunately the list of Cons FAR outweighs that one pro. Don’t get me wrong, this maybe used to work, but once there were a bunch of brand collaborations that under performed by a large margin, the brands started to look into why.
Why didn’t the content drive any engagement? Why did no one buy the product or even visit the campaign link? This is because there was no TRUE engagement. Those followers were bought to put on a face but cannot drive any real results, because those followers are either bot accounts or inactive accounts. This means there would be no way for them to actually engage with a comment, like, story view, swipe up or link click from your bio.
Once this phenomenon became more public the media took it upon themselves to research what was happening. There were and still are plenty of articles written about the battle between softwares that can detect fake followers and ones that can buy followers. Wired had an article back in September 2019 where they found out that “A report by cybersecurity firm Cheq projects that these fake fans will cost brands $1.3 billion in 2019 alone.” Meaning brands in total will waste 1.3 billion dollars on uninfluential ads with zero reach.
JUST IN 2019! Imagine how upset brands and PR agencies are facing this reality. That is why there have been a handful of softwares created where brands can just plug in your account name and determine how legit your following truly is, to protect themselves and to ensure authentic results. Even simple tools, like this one from Hype Auditor, which tries to develop an answer as to how authentic your account is out of 100. Also, read the ‘Note’ section below the tool where they describe how they came to the answer they did.
GRIN also has a great tool for influencer credibility for Youtube and TikTok. Check it out HERE to test your account!
It needs to be said that these tools are still fighting to win the battle against fake followers. It is quite difficult to truly know how authentic an audience is, as I am sure you can run some quality influencer names through that tool and you might not get a high score out of 100. Keep in mind, this does NOT mean these people are necessarily buying followers. The tools job is to find trends that would support an inauthentic audience.
Another con to buying followers is the lowering of your engagement percentage (average combination of likes and comments on your posts). This has become a huge stat that brands look at when determining who to trust and work with. Imagine you had 30K following and 5% engagement, but were having a tough time growing, so you buy 20K followers and get yourself to that 50K mark. You feel great when you look at the account. This decision comes with serious consequences because now your engagement rate has dropped by 3%. From a brands perspective, the 30K influencer at 5% engagement is a better fit and more likely to drive some great awareness around their brand and product, than a 50K influencer with only 2% of their audience engaging with their content.
Now…there is a way to fix that, right?
“I will just buy Likes to drive my engagement back up!”
Well yes, you could but unfortunately likes are becoming less and less important. With Instagram officially removing the ability to view likes worldwide in November 2019, people are not jumping on the hype of someone’s post going viral and are only engaging with a like to things they truly care about.
Engagement is still a huge part of determining the success of a post or campaign but imagine buying 10K likes for your post but only getting 15 comments. The brand comes to you and asks for stats and you send them a screenshot of that, they are going to be extremely confused as to how you received such high likes but nobody engaged in the comments. It becomes obvious to the brand as to how you received high likes and possibly could be labelled as “inauthentic”.
Having one of these experiences with a brand or agency could truly tarnish you as a trustworthy and authentic influencer. Not only this, but unlike buying followers to get to that 50K point, buying likes will have to be a never ending process, as you will need to continue to purchase for every post to keep your engagement up. Over a 1-3 year period, this could REALLY hurt a bank account and truly get you nothing in return. This pattern will only result in more money going out of your pocket to keep up with the results you want. As well as less money coming into your bank due to an untrustworthy opinion of your account, lowering brand collaboration opportunities.
So, how do I come across as authentic?
The reality is, moving forward, likes are becoming less important and truly engaged comments, saves, shares, link clicks, and swipe-ups, which are easily tracked, are becoming the driving factors for campaigns. For those of you who have not experienced this process yet, when money is on the line, brands expect results and ask for…
People speaking about the product or service in your comments for paid partnerships or even just talking to you about your caption or your image is what drives true and authentic engagement. Interact with your audience and drive real conversations, especially when it comes to brand partnerships.
A save, if you do not already know, is when someone has saved your post for later. This could be because of a location you visited, an inspiring caption you wrote, or even a product you are sharing they want to remember for later. For brands, this will start to become a strong stat you SHOULD share with them in your final reports so they can see people are saving your branded post to go back to at a later date.
Like a save, but instead of saving it for themselves, they are sharing your content with a friend or group of people. This is almost even stronger than a save because that follower has been inspired to share that piece of content with someone they know for some reason. Again, a strong stat to share with your brand partners.
If you are running a campaign where you are driving people to click a link in your bio, to shop, or view, these stats can be great for showing off conversion (how many followers you converted into potential buyers or users). If you are getting 100 people clicking your link from a campaign, that is awesome! You have inspired someone to learn more about that product or service and therefore done your job. You have succeeded at influencing them to leave their social media app to view something else.
Like Link Clicks, sharing the stats of how many people swiped-up from one of your stories is critical, because again, you have convinced them to dive deeper into what you are sharing. Find unique ways to get people to swipe-up and learn more. If you can have a strong swipe-up conversion, that can be a VERY important part of you selling yourself to brands and for future partnerships.
Comment Pods & Group Giveaways
There are actually a couple other ways where influencers have found ways to grow their accounts and raise engagement. These are definitely not as detrimental to your reputation as buying followers and likes, but they still drive untrue followers numbers and engagement percentages.
Commenting pods are where a group of influencers have decided to be in a group where they put notifications on when someone else from the group posts, so that they can comment within the first 10-20 mins to drive higher engagement at the beginning. However, how can you prove these comments are not actual real engagement, just from an influencer? This is why it is hard to put these at the same level as buying followers or likes.
I am sure you have all seen a group giveaway before, but if you haven’t, it is basically when a group of influencers have joined together with some sort of travel company or brand partner and do a giveaway between 10-30 influencers. It could even be a product package that was bought by the group of influencers. In order to be entered into the giveaway, you have to follow all those accounts, so influencers participate in this because there is potential to grow tens of thousands overnight.
The issue with this is sure, you may retain 50% of these people after the giveaway is over, but those people didn’t start following you for any reason other than to win something, so they are not true, authentic and organic followers. Which, ultimately, means they won’t contribute to your engagement percentages and perhaps, like I explained above, can decrease your overall engagement percentage. Also, as a follower, with some of these giveaways, you never know if a winner was ever actually chosen and if they received their FREE trip or prize. This could easily make it seem like the influencers involved in the giveaway only cared about the growth and not about the giveaway itself.
Focus On Value
You will hear me saying this over and over. The only true way to grow is just commit and be consistent. Focus on the quality content and value you are bringing to your audience. Forget about your numbers, forget about money, focus on building the most engaged and authentic audience you can. Keep delivering high quality and valuable content for them to digest and you will take your business to where it needs to be. Remember, the saying “quality over quantity” exists for a reason.
Just remember, you got this. This can be a very lonely and tough industry. You have to WORK to be the 1% that are truly successful at influencing. Don’t get down on yourself, keep your head up and keep grinding. If you put in the work, it will eventually come and in the long run, you will be so happy you didn’t try and take those short cuts.