Bloggers (influencers) buying fake followers on Instagram is something I find hard to get my head around. But who buys followers, I mean REALLY…?
I’ve been desperate to try and understand the logic behind buying fake followers ever since I heard it was a thing. I can’t decide whether it’s a self-esteem issue, in a “having more followers makes you look more popular than the other girls at school” mentality, a need to impress brands with your high numbers (which is what I’ve always assumed it was) – or something else. It’s something we’ve all known about for ages, we all talk about it on social media, but no one really knows who’s actually spending money on creating a fake following.
Whatever the reason, what it all boils down to is a matter of deception. Deceiving your real fans, deceiving your potential followers, deceiving your fellow bloggers, deceiving brands and PRs. And I know it makes most influencers – who are trying desperately hard to grow a following organically – pretty mad.
Today I put the question out on Twitter just to see what the general consensus was. Here’s a very honest answer:
So there you have it – lack of patience and organic growth taking ages is one reason. And you know what – organic growth IS hard. I know, I’ve been on Instagram for about 5.5 years and I’ve got just 17k followers. Now to some, that’s an awful lot. But it’s nowhere near what some brands consider a decent number and I have a LOT less than some of my peers.
And therein lies the other problem: Working with brands.
Buying fake followers (and likes, and comments) to work with brands
I think this is the one that most people assume is the reason why people buy followers: to get more lucrative deals with brands.
Because a lot of brands only work with influencers who have big numbers – and they don't always seem to check that the followers are real!
— Is_This_Mutton (@gail_h) February 2, 2018
It’s a reason that many, many bloggers have sadly said they’ve been given as feedback – that their numbers aren’t high enough. Brands want high follower numbers. But I’ve also heard that some unscrupulous, or plain ill-informed, or lazy PRs don’t have time to check the authenticity of an Instagram feed. They just “go with the numbers”.
But surely they’ll have low engagement, I hear you cry. But you can, of course, buy likes and comments as well. =shakes head=
Who knows whether the tactic really brings you in more money (to be honest most influencers are severely undercharging and don’t know their worth anyway). I’m afraid I don’t know anyone who has bought followers (or admitted to buying them), let alone being able to judge whether it aided their earning potential. I just know that every time I’ve read something about the buying of fake followers it gets people’s backs up.
You may consider this a little extreme, but one tweet I read a little while ago by a very popular and successful blogger said that (not a direct quote) buying followers was like stealing from other bloggers – you’re damaging their earning potential because you have deceived brands into thinking your stats are higher than they really are. Your stats are not a true reflection of what you have actually worked to achieve, and you’re taking the glory dishonestly and at the expense of others.
And I have to say I agree to a certain extent. It’s a sad state of affairs, but it seems it’s all too easy to buy fake followers when the meta descriptions of sites from a “buy fake followers” Google search say “Get more IG Followers and boost your reputation and sales today. Be visible NOW!” and “Enjoy Social Media Success Today!”
How to find out who buys fake followers on Instagram and Twitter
Now this was a bit of a revelation to me this week – there is a way to find out whether someone has bought followers. Or rather, you can detect huge spikes on a regular basis that are consistent with the numbers you are able to buy (it doesn’t literally show you their fake followers). Apparently it’s been around a while, but I was unaware of it till now.
Go to socialblade.com and enter the username (the ones we’d be interested in the most are Instagram and Twitter) of someone you want to look up. Here are the results for three accounts:
On the left: MY Instagram account, @notlamb. Middle and right: two other undisclosed Instagram accounts that were brought to my attention recently. (You’ll see I’ve purposely left out follower number totals – I don’t want them to be identified in any way.)
So if you look at my new followers each day, they increase by anything from 2, to 9, to 16, and up to 33. I tend to get a few less on weekends, and midweek I get a few more. Sort of. But you can see a general trend.
Now look at the middle account: +5, +7, +3, -1… and then on one day +2,067 and another +957.
The one on the right: A lot of LOST followers, but the “fewer followers” days are all in double digits: 53, 26, 23… then on three other days they increase by 293, 226, 226. Seeing as you can buy followers in increments of 100s and then 1,000s, it does look suspiciously like 200 followers are being bought at a time which then add to the double-digit organic numbers.
Therefore this is only a GUIDE – this doesn’t prove anything, and there could be all sorts of explanations as to why the increases are so consistently “random”. But you can look back much further than just the past week and see the numbers rise in graph form, and quite often they increase steadily then spike a little. Then increase steadily, and spike a little. And so on, and so forth.
A very important caveat…
What I must say right off the bat here is that IN NO WAY IS THIS MEANT TO BE A WITCH HUNT. I have absolutely no intention of outing those I have looked up, nor am I encouraging anyone else to do the same. There is nothing to be “done” with this information because while the site shows inconsistent spikes that are nice and “rounded” in their numbers, it does not in any way PROVE that someone has bought followers. It merely suggests that someone may well have been buying them when you can’t see how they have risen so quickly without being featured somewhere major or similar.
For example – take the wonderful Lyn of Accidental Icon. She currently has over 374,000 followers. Yet on the 1st January 2017 she had just (by comparison) 64,000 followers.
Lyn was featured heavily by Mango last year as she modelled for them in their SS17 campaign, and unsurprisingly her follower numbers skyrocketed (you can see the sharp spike around April/May which then kept rising). She’s a classic example of someone who almost certainly grew organically through a lucky break (but remember most lucky breaks are generated by sheer hard work!) and going viral.
There is also the case of when you may actually find that large chunks of likes have been added to your account without your authorisation – it happened to Forever Amber. Instabots randomly select you, add 500 free likes (maybe followers as well? I’m not sure – can anyone confirm…) and hope that you’ll be so amazed and wowed that you then pay for more. This is also something to bear in mind when looking someone up and only looking at their increases from the past week.
What to actually do with this information
So with all that in mind – witch hunts or trolling is NOT the way to go when you’re armed with this sort of information.
What I DO want you (bloggers) to do, instead, is to promote your organic following and reach to brands when you’re contacted by them (or approach them yourself). And promote it to your followers too. When you’re approached by a brand and they want to know your stats, tell them that your following is 100% organically earned (I added that information to my media kit) and that they can check your details on socialblade.com. The more we make that site known to brands and PRs, the more they might start actually using it and finding out this information for themselves and finally STOP going by follower numbers only – low engagement on high follower number accounts is often another way to spot a faker. Bought followers will not magic high engagement (only buying likes and comments will do that, more’s the pity for the honest ones among us).
It may seem a fruitless task – to find this out and then not “do” anything about it – but you can decide for yourself whether you wish to continue to follow them. Or whether you wish to link to them, or promote them to brands when the brands ask for recommendations. I’ll be silently unfollowing/no longer commenting/no longer liking a few accounts and no longer showcasing them in my featured blogger roundups or my monthly Best of the Blogosphere posts, for example. Nothing that I don’t already have the right to do at any time anyway and don’t need to justify to anyone.
Bigging yourself up, rather than putting others down, is the way forward in this industry. Also big up and support others – those that truly deserve it. Let someone else worry about what they’re doing if it seems like something shady is going on.
As my mother used to say to me, “I don’t care about what the other kids at school are doing. I care about what YOU’RE doing”. And I really care about what I’m doing…!
Hmmmm. In the past couple of weeks I’ve received emails asking if I want to up my followers. I always ignore them, but perhaps I should start reporting them as you suggest. One of them linked to a piece of artwork saying they loved it. I assume they thought it wa mine because of the name of my account. But it wasn’t, it was another Scottish artist’s work at a show. So they hadn’t even looked at my IG properly.
No harm done because I didn’t respond. But I’m very hot on crediting the RIGHT people. And if they can assume the work’s mine then they may say it is. Which would be unfair on the artist and make me look awful.
Thank you. for sharing this Catherine. Well the thing is that reports about influencers and bloggers are always only about the numbers. I also hold workshop for small companies on blogger relations. And one participant was all going -dollar-billed-eyed on me when she told everyone in the course how one “big” shot influencer had one day visited her store, mentioned it which led to some people ordering stuff at her store.
That is the thing. Big numbers = big sales. You don’t have to be reliable, honest, professional, whatever. So it seems.
2. Do not get my started on instagram. What evil witch has put a spell on all of us thinking we need to flog to that little icon deligently every minute of the day? I never understood the idea of buying followers. I do not even understand how it works. BUT what I also do not get is the manipulative algorythm of instagram. Growth? What growth? Takes time as in “not in this life?”
Have a lovely week. xo Sabina
I just blog for myself and don’t worry about brands or any of that stuff-LOL.
Thanks for hosting and I hope you have a great weekend.
Social Blade is such an eye opening tool isn’t it!
Another comment from me!!!! Absolutely with you 100% on this. I’ve known about social blade for a while. They’ll always be cheaters in everything in life. For me I get a kick out of every real follower and comment I get. That’s what it’s all about for me … conversations. I just wish brands would wise up. I know some accounts that have fake foundations and they have brands falling all over them to work with them. I wonder don’t they have to provide some sort of ROI to their clients? xo
That’s why I love your IG feed! You keep it real! I’m all about transparency and fun. And the more I blog, the more I realize why I got into this in the first place—to share my honest thoughts! You keep being you!!
Very informative post Catherine and thank you for taking the time. There’s so much info out there about what to do and what not to do as well as pressure as becoming popular very fast. Blogging is a cut throat industry and with it being saturated, I think it becomes difficult to stand out and be noticed. I started my blogging journey a little over 3 months now and while I love it, I have to go through rituals in my head. Rituals to not get sucked in to the pressure of brands will work with me if I grow my account very fast or if I produce a ton of posts. Or if I buy the latest and greatest gadget I will get more likes. It’s hard but staying true to oneself is better in the long run. In my mind, I would rather have folks following me because they like what they see, they like what they read and they find enjoyment in my work than to have a lot of people and not one really even cares about my time and effort. Happy Sunday and I hope that your recovery is going well.
Maureen | http://www.littlemisscasual.com
Excellent post Catherine. I have witnessed 2 people I follow on IG buying followers. They weren’t even subtle about it: going from under 10k to over 40k in one night. And then starting to call themselves influencers in their bio. But their engagement still sucked and I’m hoping brands will easily see through this. I still follow them because I’m very loyal, loll! If they want to deceive themselves then so be it.
What bothers me more is the people doing the follow/unfollow game on IG. Especially if we have been following each other for quite some time, and they always left nice comments on my posts. As I said, I’m very loyal and it always feels a little like I’m loosing a friend. Especially if they repeat the process several times and end up blocking me because I don’t play along.
Excellent post again Catherine. I want genuine followers otherwise what’s the point. Another post I think we’d like to hear your views on is data protection laws that are coming in in the UK and what we bloggers need to do to comply.
it gets so frustrating when trying to grow my account organically only to see accounts that were a few months old have over 10,000 followers. and then you are like hmm. you know how they grew so fast. meanwhile you are trying to show brands that you are growing only for them to say your Instagram numbers are too low. such a great post!
I truly cringe at Bloggers being called ‘influencers”. It makes the Blogger sound like nothing but a Shill.
The term is used as a collective term for bloggers, Instagrammers and YouTubers, Lynn – so all bloggers are influencers but not all influencers are bloggers. Some are Instagrammers and don’t have a blog, so as this post was about Instagram (and Twitter) I couldn’t refer to everyone as a blogger, which they’re not. The term doesn’t bother me, but it’s become the industry standard…!
I think your research is impeccable, as always Catherine but more than that you’re doing a great service to our industry. Don’t ever stop Babe xx
I don’t blog etc. but read them and follow Instagrams. I look at them all but don’t” like” on any other than my family. Didn’t know It had any impact on anything! I do look at where outfits etc come from, so I must be one of the hidden followers. I bet that is the same for a large percentage of people.
So brands don’t know everything or the people they are missing out on.
Perhaps if they read your post and all the responses it will open their eyes. Or perhaps not.
Interesting post. X
Wow another great post.. thank you so much…also loved your post on the media kit..meant to leave a comment…all this takes so much time… researching your own posts..writing them…taking pics….reading others posts and liking or commenting….Jeez I am flipping exhausted.
I am tired of seeing all the fake that is going on on Instagram!
But I am equally tired and annoyed hearing “you are just jealous!” No! It is simply fraud buying followers and pretending something which isn’t true – towards brands as well as our followers and readers.
“There is no harm” – OMG! Don’t know what to say…
Thank you, Catherine for this post!
Until I see evidence that people have been injured or worse as a result of some Instagram users buying followers then I maintain there is no harm. Live and let live, I say.
Jenny there are different levels of “harm” – not everything has to end in injury for it to be harmful (it can also mean damage, and not only physically). I am sure many people, when talking about the industry in which they work, have said that something is harmful and not meant resulting in injury.
In the context of the post (did you read it? sounds like you really enjoyed it…), I spoke about deceiving brands by making them think you have more real followers (fans, for want of a better word) than you actually have when you’ve bought them. Therefore they sometimes spend their marketing budget on the accounts with the fake followers based simply on their higher numbers – but the fake followers of course won’t engage and don’t have any interest in the account. If brands choose to work with these influencers then they are wasting their money and their ROI will be extremely low.
Ergo – buying followers is harmful to the blogging community as a whole, and it is also harmful to a brand’s business to work with influencers that will bring them a low ROI.
P.S. I always ensure that no brands are EVER harmed in the making of this blog.
Dear Catherine, thank you for this interesting information and for sharing it. I started blogging last year and yes, I now know from experience how challenging growth as a blogger is. I love what I am doing though and am referring to other bloggers regularly because I often get inspired by them and want others to profit from that inspiration as well. It’s thinking win-win and that is one of Covey’s 7 habits, so I can only advice everyone to do so too, like you are advising your readers as well. Happy weekend. Love, Lieske
Great post! In my opinion, getting followers the organic way sometimes feels like a Sisyphean task! People and companies follow you and then unfollow you on a regular basis and your numbers just seem to stay the same for long periods of time. Seeing others on Instagram skyrocket in terms of followers seemingly overnight always made me feel like I must be doing something wrong, but then you have to step back and realize that it’s most likely through buying followers. It’s tempting to follow suit, but in the long run I think doing things the honest way is best.
Interesting post, Catherine. I get more irritated by Instagrammers with thousand and thousands of followers who follow me then unfollow me shortly afterwards! I used to follow back (not realising what was going on) but I’m onto them now lol! I only follow genuine accounts who have followed me because they actually want to. Drives me up the wall though!!
Same here Suzy! Bloody cheeky if you ask me x
This is so interesting! I have been desperately trying to grow my Instagram and it’s slow going, but going slowly! I knew you could buy followers, but I didn’t know you could buy likes! Thanks for a great post, as always!
There’s no harm being done in buying followers. Each to their own I guess.
I want to add another thing Catherine, because I’ve seen myself that their are bloggers who make a group and they pay a amount to buy, for instance, an I phone, and then you have to follow them to win the I phone. They all publish the same post in IG and you have to follow that hole group one by one. I’ve seen that someone in just two hours got over 2000 followers. I thought it was brilliant.
A touch of the green eyed monster here, I feel. Attacking fellow bloggers who are more successful by basically saying “well they must be buying followers”., and cherry-picking a couple of examples to suit your agenda. You preach support for females and bloggers, yet this post does not serve that purpose.
Hayley I think you are sorely in the minority here. If I was going to out them THEN it might “suit my agenda” (not really sure what that agenda is TBH), but I am not the first person to write about bloggers who buy followers (far from it). Never ONCE have I even thought – let alone accused them in writing – that it was the case of the green-eyed monster about them. This was about arming other bloggers with knowledge and ways to promote themselves and prove their authenticity, not serving my own agenda (still don’t know what that is). So yes, support for females and bloggers!!
The point of the post was clear at the end, maybe you missed this bit:
“Bigging yourself up, rather than putting others down, is the way forward in this industry. Also big up and support others – those that truly deserve it. Let someone else worry about what they’re doing if it seems like something shady is going on.”
AHHHH I see what’s going on here, Hayley. You’re the same person that left me similar accusatory comments in last Friday’s post. Now it all makes sense.
It may be your thing to read blogs that seem to annoy you but may I suggest you stop reading my blog from now on as it obviously winds you up. Thank you.
NOW I GET IT!! Your email is hayleytr01@… – Hayley TROLL! Sorry, took me a while but I get it now 😉
Good for you Catherine!
Wow that’s clever Catherine, I’d never have figured that out! Well done lady xx
Another great topic for discussion, Catherine! And clearly from the comments already here, you have definitely stirred up some emotions. I don’t quite understand this practice either. 2 1/2 years in and I am just now approaching 2,000 followers on IG…all very slowly and organically gained. According to Fohr Card, my following is organic and engaged. Engaged being the key word. And honestly, I have more brand work than I can sometimes handle. Not huge well known brands, but enough to keep me busy, motivated, and happy. And lots of other writing opportunities are coming at me from all directions…with my tiny little organic following. So like you said, I am just sitting over here, worrying about me and what I’m doing and not all too concerned with the fakies! I go to sleep at night knowing what I do is real, genuine, authentic, and honest. And there you have it! Thanks for sharing this post!
Another BRILLIANT, well-thought and considered post Catherine. I can’t bear cheating in any capacity and in my mind, buying followers is just that. It’s so much better to be honest and authentic and to have an engaged following of any size is infinitely preferable. In fact, as I said just 10 minutes ago on our WhatsApp chat, I went through my own followers yesterday and deleted scores of them, who that clearly have no interest in me or my content. (You know the type) It reduced my follower number by almost 100 but I’d much rather do that than have more followers who don’t engage. And you’re right. Supporting ourselves and creating the best possible content, being authentic and transparent is surely best practice. And of course, supporting others who work just as hard. Thank you lovely for this xxxxx
Your Instagram account has 17.2k followers Catherine, but your most popular uploads only get around 700 likes. I don’t mean “only” in a derogatory way, I mean it in a comparative way as it means over 16k of your followers don’t interact. This will be for a multitude of reasons that applies to all accounts with a large following, not just yours obviously (even Instagram’s own account only gets a tiny fraction of likes compared to it’s multi-million following). Don’t you think that your 17k number of followers is a false reflection of your own popularity on Instagram, and that a truer reflection would be a % of likes to followers? I would say that to anyone with a large following. As for people spending money on buying likes and followers, it might work short-term but I suspect long-term it’s money wasted.
It’s only recently I’ve been made aware of the positive effect of liking an upload, or commenting on a blog post (thanks for the heads up Catherine). I do it more often now on the accounts/ blogs I follow on a regular basis. I want to support my favorite bloggers.
I do wonder if there is an element of people who follow not liking or commenting because they don’t want the blogger to benefit from it. There is certainly an element of some people advising others not to use affiliate links because the person who did all the research and brought a product to their attention might actually earn something from it! If you buy a magasine, you pay or the content and thereby support the magasines employees financially. Using affiliate links is similar, in that the blogger may financially benefit, but I the reader actually get the content for free.
Excellent point! It’s a strange thought process that someone would deliberately prevent a blogger/influencer from earning a living. I don’t get it at all. I started blogging & all my social media as a business right from the get go. That doesn’t mean I don’t love it or I’m not honest & transparent in my opinions. It simply means I need to make an income.
And here I am with just 3000 folowers! And I am proud of that!
Thank you for hosting and this great story!
Thank you, I’ve often wondered about this and always assumed it’s wide spread, I’m glad you sorted out the facts for us. Plain and simple buying fake followers is cheating! I’ll take my small but engaged audience over fakes anytime.
Thank you for this! I have a feeling most bloggers buy followers because they’re under pressure to up their numbers so that brands will want to work with them. I’ve been tempted to do it a few times, but I currently have A-level engagement from my slow but loyal audience. I’m just going to be true to myself and grow organically—slow and steady wins the race!
Cheryl Shops | http://www.cherylshops.net
Oh Gurl. Hold on Catherine. I need a moment here. I’m stopping to say a decade of Hail Marys. Ok. I’m done. Thanks you. I’m on my way to church to light a candle of thanks because you are now St. Catherine Lamb, Patron Saint of the Bloggers who remain honest. There. I’ve said it. I can’t begin to tell you how frustrated and “WTF is this” when it comes to “purchasing followers”. I”ve been rejected by Like to know it–and the straw that broke the camel’s back–Chico’s. Freaking Chico’s the mediocre apparel for women of “a certain age” wanted nothing to do with me because my ‘numbers” were too low.
I’ve said it a million times. The companies that I collab with are well-aware that I’ll only post honest reviews–and they are fine with that. I do NOT purchase followers. It is an incredibly unethical practice. I liken it to the “lies” that our US president is constantly yapping. But corporations are just as bad–because they are looking at numbers rather than quality and honesty. OMG. Don’t get me started on this one, my dear. I have actually LOST a follower on IG that I thought was a good “friend”. Apparently she felt that my feed was not conducive to her account. i.e. She has more followers than I do. So I don’t “count’. But, I have to look past that and realize that my blog is a passion. I’m happy where it is. I love the women who are part of my blog and IG’s community so it’s cool.
But seriously…I’m so glad you broached this subject. It makes me appreciate and respect you more and more with each post!!! XOXOXOXO
I’m very slow on the Instagram front! But it is organic and I just poodle along on there. Nearly all of my work has come about from other sources than Instagram and like you say building relationships (that’s what you taught me!) is far more important. Adding the info you mentioned is a very good idea too. Have a great weekend Catherine.
Unfortunately when an industry becomes competitive there will always be those who want to “Cut to the front of the line” and do whatever it takes to get ahead of everyone else, even if it includes unethical practices. They believe the ends justify the means. Buying followers clearly undermines legitimate bloggers who are working hard to grow their audience. PR companies and brands need to become more aware so as to make this practice unrewarding.
Otherwise I do worry it will become acceptable as a “well they’re doing it, so I have to as well to compete.”
Preach, Theresa!! XOXOXOX
I recently read that even celebrities & bloody actors are buying! Ffs what happened to having actual talent? P.S Cathe I love that you said Preach 😉
Michelle. It’s so true! I guess the celebrity brandwagon is too lucrative. It’s so annoying. I like doing things the honest way!!! XOXOXOXO!!!
I find Instagram rather infuriating at times, or rather the way it’s misused – in fact I wrote a very similar post to this a few weeks ago. If was working in PR I’d be checking to make sure my budget was being well spent!
That’s what I always think, Emma – that brands are probably totally unaware that PRs are effectively wasting their money if the agency isn’t checking authenticity. Hence I hope all bloggers will use this tool and *tell* PRs that they have an organically-earned following… we have to drum it into them!! I’ll check out your post tomorrow hon, thank you 😀 x
I agree with you and Emma. If I was a PR or a brand, I wouldn’t dream of working with someone who had high numbers and low engagement. What is the point? They don’t even fit the definition of a good ‘micro blogger’ who is small but wields considerable influence due to their good content.
I have been wondering about the whole buying followers thing recently myself! I just ignore the click to buy followers comments… I could only think “Who would do that?” Thanks for exploring this!
The best thing to do is to actually report the account Liz, not just ignore it – it helps get them deleted from Instagram! The more we report spammers the more we can eradicate them and stop them bothering others…! x
Point taken! Another item on the blogger to-do list!
Thanks for another great post, Cahterine. Doing the legwork and helping the rest of us as we muddle through this blogging thing. Okay… I’m muddling…I can’t speak for others:)
My pleasure, Sue – don’t worry we’re ALL muddling a lot of the time as everything changes so often (just take Instagram, for example – every week there’s something we had to do differently!) x