Do you buy your social media followers?
Shame on you.
I've questioned posting about this, because I know that even some of my blogger friends do it. I would never confront them, because I'm not evil. (For the most part.) And heck, I don't know why they felt the need to do it — it's none of my business — but it's fairly obvious that they do it. None of them had to tell me.
I decided to move forward with this piece because I know a lot of brands and firms can benefit from it. One of my colleagues collaborated with a "style expert" who claimed to have over a 30K following; engagement and views were pathetic at best. She got jipped, and with a little research, you can prevent yourself from wasting money.
"What do you mean, 'buy your followers?'"
From a blogging point of view, having a strong social following is important, because brands and companies, many bloggers, hosts, actors and the like are purchasing followers to up their counts on Instagram and Twitter. In most cases, you would buy followers to help get more people to follow you — the idea that if someone sees your high follower count, they'll think you're worth following. I get it, but as a blogger, you don't get to see how you're growing organically. It's all muddied once you start purchasing your followers.
Sometimes, people buy followers to seem impressive to companies. For instance, maybe a fashion brand is looking for a mid-level blogger with a following of 50K or higher to collaborate with. Bloggers might buy 10,000 or more followers so they can be in the running for these campaigns.
That's where I get heated — that's lying, and when money is involved, it should be illegal. Buying fake followers might help you land a gig, but it's not giving the brand or the company what they initially signed up for: engagement, a resulting purchase, or brand reach from their collaboration. It's not going to give the brand a good ROI in terms of their contract. It's essentially changing your SAT score and getting into a dream college, which could prevent other people, who didn't change their SAT score, from getting in.
Are the followers 100% fake?
Sometimes the followers are Twitterbots or spam accounts; sometimes they're followers that have signed up for some kind of Instagram promotion, which gives them gift cards or additional followers of their own by liking and following other accounts.
How can you even tell?
There are a few things. Engagement is the hero here — if you have a significant following, your Instagram likes should be proportionate to the comments. If you get 300 likes on a photo with zero comments, that's an instant red flag. Go through the user's posts and see the average number of likes they get, then see how many comments the photo elicits. Also, look at how many hashtags a person uses in comparison to the likes they get.
Instagram is interesting because there is no auditing service available (yet). However, Twitter does have a service. It's not a Twitter-funded program, but it will survey a group of your followers to indicate how many are fake, how many are real, and give you an audit score depending on those stats. I know many bloggers would argue that Twitter is irrelevant to brands these days, but that's false. Many brands conduct Twitter Q&A's and Twitter parties, which can equal big bucks for influencers. Further, Twitter helps to spread brand awareness better than Instagram does — sure, Instagram has the tagging option and the aggregated explore photos option, but getting a brand mention in your Twitter timeline is far easier than getting a photo seen on Instagram.
Everyone has fake followers, though, so don't be alarmed if you see that some aren't 100% authentic. It's hard to get a 100% authentic follower rate. It's the amount that matters — my audit shows a 90%, meaning most of my followers are authentic. (Even for my reasonably small Twitter following.) For big players like Katy Perry, Britney Spears and Justin Bieber, they have around 4%-6% of a fake following, which makes sense. These celebrities have plenty of spam accounts following them or fans that create multiple accounts that have little to no following.
Instagram is harder to detect because, so far, there isn't a service that shows you who has fake followers. InstaFollow, an iPhone app, can tell you about your personal account: who unfollowed you, who you follow that doesn't follow you back; your ghost followers, who has never commented, etc. But it connects to your own account, which does little when trying to figure out if the potential talent/blogger you'll be working with is buying their Instagram followers.
The moral of the story is to not buy your followers. You'll get found out, which could result in more drama (like losing a job and damaging your reputation) than if you just grew your audience organically.