Buyer Beware: The Truth About Buying Instagram Followers
You might know your Instagram content is good, but imagine how much better it will seem if it looks like 10,000 people agree.
Whether you’re trying to become a social media celebrity or simply looking to spread brand awareness on Instagram, it can be tempting to take shortcuts wherever you can in order to expand your audience, including ‘buying’ Instagram followers.
Here, we’ve gone ahead and covered all the questions you might have about buying Instagram followers to give you a better idea of how it actually works. We’ve also explored the pros and cons, so you can decide for yourself if it’s a good move for your brand.
1,000 followers seems like a good deal for the price of a small Starbucks latte. But of course, if it really was that cheap and easy, everyone would be doing it. So what’s the catch? Is buying Instagram followers legal and safe for your business? Is it a worthwhile investment?
The main reason buying Instagram followers can prove to be a wasted investment is because the accounts you follow often aren’t real.
How to Buy Instagram Followers
The vast majority of purchasable followers are either bots or inactive accounts. Here’s how it works:
The Fake Follower Vendors
Buying fake followers on Instagram is much harder now than it was a few years ago. Why? Instagram has been cracking down on accounts that violate their terms of service. What used to be fairly above-board is now an enigma. In order to buy Instagram followers these days, you’ll need to know someone who can put you in contact with a vendor who will actually deliver the bots — I mean followers — they say they will (you’ll also want to choose someone that you trust with your credit card information).
But what happens once you’ve paid for your followers? Assuming the vendor is legitimate (as legitimate as can be for this type of service) you’ll wait anywhere from a few minutes to a few days for your followers to trickle in. The sellers roll out your followers over time so as not to alert Instagram that something fishy is going on. Once you have your brand new automated followers, don’t expect much. These followers won’t do much for your engagement metrics.
When you buy Instagram followers, you’re paying for a number alone. Engagement is not guaranteed, or even likely.
When you buy Instagram followers, you’re paying for a number alone. Engagement is not guaranteed, or even likely.
Instagram bots are everywhere — you’ve likely come across several of them today alone. There are companies out there who have automated the process of creating bots so well that they can then sell these bots as followers. In some cases, the bots may even assume the identity of a real person, using stolen images and names.
Depending on the service, these dummy accounts may even seem organic, running on automation to share and like content. Some can even be programmed to produce content. However, because they’re not real people, they will not have an organic-looking following-to-follower ratio. As a result, the engagement they do produce will have little impact.
Without real followers to engage with your content, your posts are essentially hidden from everyone except your inauthentic audience. Plus, your bot followers won’t discuss your brand in real life with friends or family, because, well … they don’t exist in real life (no offense, bots).
However, not all fake followers are bots. There are some companies that sell followers that are genuine accounts.
In this situation, the accounts are created either because they’re managed by users whose only goal is to get followed in return or for the sole reason to offer this service. And while these followers might show early engagement, they’ll ultimately become a drain on your Instagram account’s performance metrics when their accounts go dormant.
After all, if their account was created for the sole purpose of fulfilling sponsorship requests, the real person behind the account has little reason to dwell on the newsfeed, interact with content, or purchase the goods and services being advertised.
Without that interaction, your follower numbers are inflated with none of the value that organic followers would bring.
In addition to buying followers directly, you can also pay services to strategically follow other accounts on your behalf based on your preferences (location, hashtag usage, account type, and gender). Ideally, those followed accounts will then follow you back.
With this option, your followers are more likely to be real people, but engagement is still unlikely. Since you can’t even guarantee these accounts will follow you back, it’s a risky investment. Most accounts won’t follow you back, and even if they do, they probably aren’t going to be long-term, loyal, or active followers.
You’ll get early engagement that tapers off over time.
Purchased Instagram followers also provide no long-term value to your profile’s content. The followers you buy might give you views, likes, and comments early into acquiring them as a follower, but the attention they throw you now won’t be there later — when you start reporting on how your Instagram account is performing.
And how helpful, really, are 10,000 followers that don’t engage with you? Engagement is key to how Instagram’s algorithm displays posts to users. Without likes or comments, your post probably won’t show up on your audience’s newsfeeds, and it also won’t show up on any Explore Pages.
You could hurt your credibility.
Having a lot of followers could convince users to follow you organically, but it’s not a guarantee.
Remember the risks: these followers will probably never like or comment on a post, and if you’re caught with a ton of fake followers, you could ruin your credibility with your real audience.
Users might notice you don’t have a ton of engagement on your posts, which could deter them from following you. If you have 10,000 followers but only four likes per post, it won’t take people long to realize something is up.
Think of it this way: would you keep following an account if you saw that most of their “loyal audience” were inactive accounts or bots? I’m guessing not. It could seem deceitful, and lead you to believe the brand couldn’t get authentic followers through good content alone.
Bought Instagram followers can distort your performance metrics.
It’s practically impossible to measure how well your target audience is connecting with your brand if a high percentage of that audience isn’t real. How will you measure posts that do well with your real audience if those bots and inactive accounts skew the ratio?
If you don’t know how well your posts are doing or what your real audience thinks, you’ll never convert your Instagram followers into real customers. And isn’t that the point?
Ultimately, if you pay for Instagram followers, you aren’t paying for quality, real-life followers. You’re paying for a blank number. And since Instagram’s algorithm is largely tied to engagement, not followers, buying followers isn’t a long-term solution. In fact, it isn’t really a solution at all.
Take the time, energy, and money that you would’ve dedicated to buying followers, and focus instead on building genuine relationships with a real audience. If your content is engaging and authentic, your loyal followers will spread the word and engage with your brand without needing any bribes.
Instagram identifies and purges fake followers.
Instagram is looking to maintain genuine interactions on its site, protecting real accounts and experiences. Fake or bought activity infringes upon this mission and might result in consequences, so it’s better to grow your audience organically.
Alternatives to Buying Instagram Followers
Instagram’s new algorithm rewards engagement more than follower count, displaying content similar to posts users engaged with in the past. In order to drive engagement, there are many different actions you can try on the platform to get in front of your ideal audience.
By using good Instagram marketing practices — whether you are building your personal brand or a company account — you can better reach the nearly 800 million monthly Instagram users and build an authentic audience.
1. Make your account public.
First, make your account public so that users can see your profile and content. This way, you can grow your audience organically when your content pops up on users’ explore pages, attracting and delighting your target viewership.
2. Give users a reason to follow you by publishing quality content.
Next, publish a variety of posts to your feed: you can post images, GIFs, videos, Boomerangs, quizzes on your story, how-tos, user-generated content, and so much more. Build trust and excitement among your followers by using high-quality photos, writing catchy captions, posting consistently, and keeping up a unique style overall to differentiate yourself from other accounts. Do your research on which hashtags generate a lot of buzz and which are aligned with your brand — hashtags can be a great way to reach new audiences if done correctly.
Depending on your brand personality, it can help to be funny or witty in your content. Having an acute awareness of how your brand is perceived and the trends going around Instagram will serve you when choosing content to post and how to interact with your Instagram community.
3. Use Instagram to its fullest capability.
Lastly, utilize the many different channels on the platform, like Instagram Live, IGTV, Instagram Stories, or Shopping on Instagram. There are so many different ways to connect with users, and by driving engagement through these features, you can drive engagement and traffic organically and authentically.
4. Use Hashtags
Hashtags are like goldmines for finding new audiences. Users follow hashtags for updates about specific topics that interest them. If you use them intentionally in your captions, you have a great chance of showing up on the newsfeeds of people who’ve never seen your content before.
But don’t start adding random hashtags to all your content. You’ll need a hashtag strategy to ensure you’re targeting the right people. Moreover, the sweet spot for Instagram hashtags is 30. That might seem like a lot, but if you have a strategy for how you’ll use them, you’ll likely find more than 30 that would work for you. The key for hashtags is to be intentional with them. The reward will be well worth the effort.
5. Engage with Other Instagram Users
A good rule of thumb on Instagram is to engage with other users. Whether you like, comment, save or share their posts, every interaction counts for you and them. Instagram’s algorithm favors engagement which means the more you interact (and the more people interact with you) the more likely it will be that your content appears on more and more news feeds. That means more visibility and growth for your page.
Before you go overboard, remember that Instagram does have a limit to this “rule.” There have been cases where the social media platform blocked users from engaging with content if they liked and commented on more than a few hundred posts in an hour.
6. Use Instagram Stories
500 million daily active Instagram users used Instagram stories in 2019. Needles to say, the audience for this feature is simply waiting and watching for the next viral video or meme to slide across their screens. What makes stories arguably even better for growth than the traditional Instagram feed is the ability for users to interact with the content in a story. Polls, quizzes, and questions are engagement magnets — the more people interact with those elements, the more people Instagram will share your story with.
There’s a Better Way to Grow on Instagram
Instagram has been one of the fastest-growing social media platforms for several years and it’s showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. The pressure to keep up and with the growth can make buying followers tempting, but don’t succumb to that pressure. Between repercussions from the platform itself, lower engagement metrics, and the risk of spamming well-meaning users with bot comments, buying Instagram followers is simply not worth the trouble. The alternatives in this article can help you navigate a path toward organic follower growth that will be worth more than 10,000 fake followers could ever be.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.