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…!