What happens when you pay for Instagram followers?

Brand and marketing for movers, shakers and change makers

A question we quite regularly hear from our clients is this: “should we buy Instagram followers to increase our engagement?”

Any agency will tell you it’s a bad idea to buy followers, but why? Have they ever tried it themselves?

If you’re considering taking the risk, put your phone down, hide your mouse under the desk and back away from the keyboard. Because I’m doing it, so you don’t have to.

What does it mean to pay for Instagram followers?

Paying for Instagram followers is like turning up to school with an army of robots to prove you are popular… well, a bit.

A business or individual may feel disappointed by their lack of followers on their social channels, and may look for ways to give their profile a boost. The idea being, if users see the profile has a lot of followers, they will want to follow it too.

Purchasing followers is a very simple process. All you need is payment details, and your account handle, and your account will be boosted with a whole bunch of new followers within 24 hours.

Sounds too good to be true, right? Let’s find out if that’s the case.

Setting up the Instagram follower test

To start, I created a fake Instagram profile for my alter ego, Emelia. Emelia loves fitness, healthy eating and going outdoors.

Personally, I love sofas, eating beige food and going indoors.

The creation of this account began the same as any other, filled to the brim with hopes and dreams, and a dash of salsa (I’ll come back to that).

Beginning with Instagram Best Practice

To begin Emelia’s new found fame on Instagram, I initially followed the process of any good social media plan – with a content calendar. Scheduling regularly, and planning your posts in advance is a great way to make your social posting more efficient and your impact more effective. With tools like Hootsuite, you can schedule all of your posts throughout the week in one go, and report on your results so you know which topics are most resonating with your audiences.

I also carefully curated a list of hashtags, by using Instagram’s search tool to search for topics relevant to Emelia, the most common hashtags for that topic come to the top of the search suggestions.

Hashtags are a great, organic way to reach relevant audiences, and I wanted my content to be found. I used a mixture of extremely popular, and more niche hashtags to ensure my posts were reaching a wide scale, but were easily findable for people looking at more specific terms in the future. It’s also crucial to use a variety of different hashtag combinations each time you post, to make sure you aren’t “shadowbanned” by Instagram due to spamming.

I even prepared my content calendar to be posted on the statistically most popular times of the day: Wednesday at 3pm, Thursday between 5 -11am, and 3-4pm, and Friday at 5am. With Thursday being the most popular day overall.

Missing out an important step of the journey

Because I was testing whether the phrase “build it and they will come” was true of Instagram, I decided not to include a crucial step of any social media best practice: Community Management. Speaking to and relating to your audiences is a crucial part of creating authentic connections via social media. It’s also good etiquette.

Through Community Management, your profile reaches more people, and they see you as an authentic and active member of the community. It’s called social media for a reason – if you don’t socialise, less people will be able to find your profile, and Instagram’s algorithm may think you’re an inactive user, or worse… a bot.

For this test, not including Community Management meant not following any individual accounts, not responding to any messages and CERTAINLY not liking anyone else’s posts. It was ALL about Emelia.

A Promising Start

So the first photo went up. I studied popular photos and saw that beautifully decorated smoothies were popular. However, I reiterate, I like beige food, and therefore had no fruit in the house. Thus the salsa smoothie was born (call back say whaaat?)

With good old fashioned hashtags and a dose of ambition, I received 14 likes on my first post in a matter of days. Users found my hashtags through either searching through, or following the hashtags that I used. This meant my hashtag research was working!

Cut to 4 days in. Following this process of hashtags and posting stereotypical images of health, travel and dogs, I had x3 the amount of followers than I was following, and a total of 118 likes on my photos.

Buying Instagram Followers

However, that isn’t enough for Emelia… we want to be world famous, you see. So we did the unthinkable. We bought 500 Instagram followers (Dramatic music, lights dim).

For $8 it seems like a great idea! Surely even if they disappear again, it’s worth trying right?

And it worked! Emelia gained 662 followers, whilst still not creating any genuine engagement with the community.

However… a few days in, and Emelia’s followers began decreasing.

What Happens When You Pay for Instagram Followers

In addition to losing all of my robot followers, I also lost some of my authentic following. Every post I created after I purchased followers had far fewer likes, too.

In purchasing followers, Instagram could see that my account was not authentic, and authenticity rules all in the world of social influencing. The Instagram algorithm stopped my posts from being seen by as many new people, meaning less people got to enjoy me pretending to be healthy. Devastating.

In addition, I was losing the following I had, because I did not respond, follow or engage in any way with them. A lack of community management made my followers feel disengaged, and made me seem inauthentic. Ultimately showing that I did not care about this very, very small community of genuine followers that I had.

Follower engagement is crucial in not only gaining new followers through showing authenticity, but it is also important for maintaining and nourishing your existing community.

Key Lessons from Buying Instagram Followers

Okay you can get your keyboards, mouse, phones and whatever else back now.

Emelia learnt that when trying to play Instagram as a game, it didn’t pay off. Social isn’t something that can be won. It’s a space to relate to people and businesses with similar interests as yourself, and to do this, taking time to establish a community is what makes the difference.

Authenticity Boosts Social Media Engagement

Through this experiment, I learnt a valuable lesson… everything comes back to authenticity.

You can have the most incredible strategy in the world, but if you’re not truly living and breathing your brand, and using social media with purpose, your audiences can feel that.

Emelia was a person I invented, that I personally do not relate to, my posts were inauthentic, my lack of engagement with my audiences was inauthentic, and buying followers was pretty ruddy devious too.

To be authentic on social media:

  1. Post with purpose – Make sure you aren’t posting for the sake of it. If you don’t care about your post, others won’t either. Your posts should be about something you really care about.
  2. Follow and engage with relevant accounts – You know your business/ self better than anyone, and if you find an account interesting, others probably will too. In following other accounts you are spreading your name, and showing what you are about.
  3. Respond to your engaged followers – Show your audiences that you see them, and value their input. Not only does this engage the individual, but people who see the post, and your response, will feel the authenticity in how you interact, and will more likely follow you in response.
  4. Be Active – Bulk posting is truly a great way to save time, but popping onto your social channels for even 5 minutes a day to check for interactions and to find and reshare stories, is a great way to show that you’re authentic in how you care for the community.

Don’t be like Emelia.

Kelsey Swarbrick

Kelsey Swarbrick

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