You could grow your Instagram following the honest way - crafting a thoughtful strategy, setting smart goals, sharing great content, and engaging your audience. Or you could take the quick and easy path and join the dark side of Instagram marketing.
You could buy Instagram followers.
We created a dummy account to test that tactic to find out whether or not it’s worth it (spoiler alert: it totally is it if you want an audience of spambots peddling softcore porn). Jump ahead to the results of our experiment or continue reading to learn about the “why” and “how” of buying Instagram followers.
Why buy Instagram followers?
Brands, celebrities, influencers, and even politicians have been known to pad their social media stats by adding fake followers. Why do they do it? It’s about perception. The number of followers is something that many people look at when sizing up an account to follow and it’s a common metric that brands use to measure their own Instagram efforts.
If you’re thinking about buying Instagram followers, it might be because you’re looking for a quick thousand followers to get the ball rolling, hoping that will encourage real people to check out your brand. Quality over quantity is a nice sentiment, but the reality is, many people judge an Instagram account by it’s numbers.
Also, buying Instagram followers is cheap and easy to do, as you’re about to learn.
How buying Instagram followers works
First, it’s important to note the distinction we’re making here between the explicit act of buying followers and the more loosely defined practice of Instagram automation.
Instagram automation can refer to the act of allowing a bot to like and comment on your behalf. If you’d like to learn more about that ill-advised shortcut, check out our post I Tried Instagram Automation (So You Don’t Have To). Buying followers on Instagram, on the other hand, is exactly that. You link your account to a service, make payment, and watch your audience grow.
It can be quite cheap, with many services charging around $3 USD for every 100 followers. But you get what you pay for. In most cases that’s bots and zombie accounts (inactive accounts that have been taken over by bots). There are also more expensive options that charge upwards of $1,000 for 10,000 followers. Those services maintain active accounts that will interact with your own.
Some tools will follow users on your behalf in the hopes that they return the favor. You’ll be asked what kind of accounts you want to follow based on things such as location, hashtag usage, similar accounts, and gender. Then after a predetermined time the bot unfollows anyone that didn’t follow you back.
The Instagram follower tool we experimented with didn’t do any of that. In fact, our dummy account has never followed anyone—bot or real user.
What happened when we decided to buy Instagram followers
We opted for a tool that promised 1,000 “quality” followers for $9.95 USD.
To link the account we simply had to input our username, @fruitless.strategy, and made payment using a prepaid Visa (no one in the office was willing to give up their own banking details for this nefarious purpose). We hit the “Get Followers Now” button at 11:41 a.m. on a Tuesday and opened the Instagram app to track the results. Almost immediately our audience grew from zero to 12 followers, and every time we refreshed the app after that we had a few more.
Two hours into the experiment we had 412 new fans. At this point we decided to post a photo to see how engaged our followers were. The results matched our expectations—which were zero. We didn’t get one Like or comment. We surpassed 1,000 followers by noon the next day, but our post still had no kind of engagement whatsoever. Even months later, not a single follower has given us a double-tap. So who are these mysterious users who followed us so fast and furiously?
A bizarre mix of teenagers posting shirtless selfies, accounts with no posts at all, and more than a few bots peddling webcam porn. Not a great audience for your brand to associate itself with. The one thing that did surprise us is that the follower tally has more or less held around 1,000, give or take 50 depending on the week. Once a certain number of followers disappear—presumably accounts are deactivated—the tool boots up and replenishes the supply. But the quality of followers never improves.
This was counter to the results we got with Instagram automation. In that test we lost half of our new followers after only one week. So if all you care about is a robust followers-to-following ratio, then these kinds of tools will do the trick. But there are drawbacks to buying followers besides a complete lack of engagement.
Why you shouldn’t buy Instagram followers
You get what you pay for: a number. These followers won’t like any of your posts and they won’t leave any comments. What’s more, you run the risk of getting caught. Even if you have legitimate fans, anyone taking a close look at your follower list might spot a stretch of fake and inactive accounts.
When you take shortcuts you put your brand integrity at risk. If you buy Instagram followers and your real customers find out, can you expect them to trust you? Imagine the shoe was on the other foot. You hire a social media influencer to help promote one of your business’ products. After not seeing any results, you take a closer look at the influencer’s profile and discovered the majority of what you thought were dedicated fans are really bots. Would you ever want to work with that person again? Of course not.
What’s more valuable to your business: having 10,000 fake followers or 100 real followers who comment on your posts and potentially share them with their own networks? There are more important things to track than the number of followers you have. Click-throughs and engagement (Likes and comments) are two big ones.
One way to measure engagement is by calculating your engagement rate. Take the number of Likes and comments your posts receive for a specific reporting period, your last 10 posts, for example. Then divide that by the number of followers. Multiply that number by 100 and you’ll have your engagement rate. Here’s that formula again:
Number of Likes + number of comments / number of followers x 100 = engagement rate
That metric will serve as a legitimate health check on your Instagram strategy, letting you know if your target audience is connecting with your content.
How to grow your Instagram following the right way
Know your audience, engage them, and share great content. Those are the key ingredients of a winning Instagram strategy. Our guide, How to Get More Instagram Followers, details the exact steps you need to take to cultivate a following that will engage with your business.
You should also use relevant Instagram hashtags to expose your posts to large and targeted audiences. This, of course, will help you attract new followers whose interests are aligned with your products or services.
Putting budget behind your Instagram strategy is another surefire way to get in front of new and targeted audiences. Instagram has a range of ad options to choose from, each tied to a business objective (driving brand awareness, website traffic, product sales, or app downloads). Read our post, Instagram Ads: A Complete Guide for Business for everything you need to know about advertising on the platform. And so that’s it. We’re done with our experiment and can abandon the aptly named Fruitless Strategy Instagram account. What grim fate awaits it?
Perhaps it will be overrun by an Instagram bot and put to work eroding the credibility of any misguided marketer desperately seeking a shortcut to social media success. Sad.
By Michael Aynsley