Not all Instagram followers are created equal

Instagram followers

Are all Instagram followers created equal?

A while back I wrote a blog post outlining a number of reasons why you should stop comparing yourself to others on social media. The reasons I gave focussed on you not having insight into another brands resources, strategy, experience or budget, however after a little experiment I just ran on Instagram, I’d like to add another reason you should stop comparing yourself on social media; you don’t know if their followers are legit.

As a platform, Instagram has firmly cemented itself as a big hitter. The statistics for Instagram include 400 million active monthly  users, some 70 million photos uploaded each day and 30 billion uploaded since it entered the social media landscape 6 years ago (as at Sept 2015). On top of that, Instagram ranks as one of the most important social media platforms amongst the elusive and hard to reach teen market, so it’s no wonder small and big brands and Instagram celeb wannabes are clamoring to be a part of the scene. But the cynic in me questions how real the user data is, and how legit some of the users on Instagram really are?

I manage three Instagram accounts and I am fairly active on all of them. I spend a lot of time posting what I think are good images, adding relevant captions and using the best possible hashtags to suit the image, the audience and the account. Over time, I have built a small (a few hundred) but engaged following for each account averaging around a 10 -20% engagement rate and at times a whopping 50%. This far surpasses the reported 4% average engagement rate for Instagram, and the 0.5-2% engagement rate I get on Facebook or Twitter for two of the three accounts. It also reinforces that I am connecting with the right audiences on Instagram who enjoy and appreciate my posts, but like most, I have always wanted to get my numbers up so I can build a bigger audience platform to promote myself. Doing some quick sums, I worked out however that at my current rate of activity, it will take me about 3 years to get to 5000 followers and from what I have discovered is having this number of Instagram followers all it’s cracked up to be?

What I discovered on my Instagram journey:

In the interest of research, I took a peek into the illicit world of like4like and follow4follow accounts, hashtags and services that pop up in my Instagram feed. I jumped online and researched how to grow your Instagram followers, watched countless YouTube videos from those with tens of thousands of followers and even took the plunge and signed up to a service guaranteeing a certain number of followers for a small fee – just to see what would happen, and I must admit, I feel slightly dirty.

  • Whilst it goes against Instagram’s terms of use, a lot of people and brands are buying Instagram followers and likes, therefore there are a lot of people making money out of this
  • There are a lot of apps/bots out there that will do this for you for free (trust me, nothing is for free) by automating your liking and follow activity in order to generate likes and follows in return – tread carefully here
  • Forums are full of social media marketing agencies sharing their tips for the best follower and like software/apps/bots (which makes me wonder if their clients know what’s going on)
  • Every scam or ghost Instagram account looks the same – a slightly dodgy/sleazy profile pic, less than 10 images in their feed, a small number of followers, and they are following thousands
  • My engagement rate plummeted, as my followers became overtaken by spam accounts
  • The big hitters are all doing it. Amongst the big Instagram accounts I follow, I found a high proportion of followers who fit the scam/ghost account profile and their engagement rates are sitting around 2-3%, indicating that they are after all only average and their vast audience doesn’t really care enough to double tap

The biggest lesson I learned for growing Instagram followers

It takes time. If you want to build a loyal, engaged community, I wouldn’t recommend buying or automating your followers/likes activity. Instead, I would recommend you go ‘old school’ and take the time to find the right audience to connect with, legitimately like their images and leave comments on the ones that really impress you, most of them will return the favour (it just might take a bit longer). By doing it this way, when it comes time to ask them for something in return you will have a better chance of them responding to you – and after all, this is why you should be using social media.


About Zena Churchill

Zena Churchill is a Director at Max & Buddy Consulting. She has worked in senior level business roles across national and multinational corporations, as well as being a small business owner. Zena is a strategic thinker and brings a practical, straight-forward approach to marketing and social media. She has a passion for training & development running practical business workshops for small business. Zena is a Certified Practising Marketer (AMI), sometimes tutors in Marketing at the University of Wollongong and is a Senior Consultant with Trinity P3.

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