No matter what critics say, there’s no denying that Instagram is a huge phenomenon that has to be reckoned with. No wonder so many people come to the platform in the hope to become an influencer or promote their brand. But once you are there, one of the first questions you ask yourself is “How do I build an audience?” and “How can I attract followers in this competitive climate?” And rather sooner than later, you’ll probably want to know one more thing: does buying IG followers work?
And that’s ok; you are not alone in this, as evidenced by the fact that nearly 10% of all accounts on Instagram are fake. That’s over 90 million profiles. Buying fake followers is a universal smoke-and-mirrors approach used by smaller bloggers, influencers, celebs, and brands alike. But does this mean that it’s actually effective? Let’s figure it out.
Can you buy Instagram followers?
The simple answer is yes. What’s more, if you are thinking about giving a boost to your follower count, this is probably the easiest thing to do. A single Google query will lead you to thousands of services offering to buy IG followers that are definitely, undoubtedly “cheap and legit”.
And it seems like everyone does that. A few years ago, the organization called The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance ran analytics on a few A-list celeb’s profiles. The results showed that the percentage of fake followers on each account they checked neared 50%.
This means that buying Instagram followers happens more often than it might seem. After all, an impressive number of followers might give some weight to your reputation on the platform. It might attract new followers – very real this time. However, as it often happens, perception can be different from reality.
Types of fake followers
Normally, there are a few ways to boost your follower count and they have varying levels of complexity, effectiveness, and priciness. People use these types of fake followers separately or combine them for a better effect. Here are the most common ones:
Bots are probably the most widespread time of fake IG followers. Various companies and individuals create software that can track the action algorithms of real users. Bots just mimic these actions: they follow/unfollow other users, like posts, and even write comments.
Some of the more advanced bots can post content or pretend to be real people by using someone else’s photos.
But there’s one not-so-small problem with bots: no matter how advanced they are, they are still not real users. They might like your posts and comment on them but they won’t offer any authentic engagement. And they definitely won’t be interested in buying your products.
What’s more, Instagram can detect bots. As soon as it does, all your bot followers will be deleted, your account will likely be suspended, and your money sent down the drain.
Accounts for sale/hacked accounts
It might surprise you but not every fake follower is a soulless robot. Despite the fact that buying/selling profiles is explicitly forbidden by the platform’s ToS, ads and offers for accounts on sale aren’t uncommon. They might even show some engagement right after you purchase them but very likely, will turn into deadweight in the long run.
As a worse scenario, an Instagram account can be hacked and sold to you as a “genuine” follower. The idea is that the system won’t recognize this kind of followers as fake and won’t remove them or punish you for using them. In reality, the real profile owner can get it back, so you are very likely to lose the followers you’ve paid for.
Mass followers are real people who follow as many people as they can hoping to get some followers back. Alternatively, they are people you pay to follow you/like/comment on your posts.
The problem is the platform has limits for how many people you can follow/unfollow in a certain period of time. Those who exceed these limits, get theory actions on the platform restricted or get blocked.
As is the case with the previous type of fake followers, these won’t be able to offer any genuine engagement.
Why do people buy Instagram followers?
Everybody who’s been using Instagram for at least a few years and knows what it’s about is aware of how the platform algorithm changed. It’s the profiles with the highest engagement that get the special treatment now, not those with the biggest follower counts.
And yet, it doesn’t mean that people stopped considering buying followers. In many people’s minds, the follower count is still the major criteria of success and popularity on Instagram.
There are normally two main reasons for buying IG followers: personal ambitions and the desire to make your account look more presentable.
Instagram promotion is a lot of hard work. Or a lot of hard work and a solid marketing budget. Unfortunately, the times when you could create an account based on an original idea and build an authentic audience fast are long past. Today, the competition is massive, and to attract the attention of your potential target followers, you have to work a lot. On the other hand, profiles with impressive numbers still get immediate attention.
Normally, when someone sees a profile with say 100k followers they get curious and want to check them out. Few people would browse their feed thoroughly and read every post. Even fewer people pay attention to the ratio between likes, comments, and the number of followers. The majority of users will just look at a couple of photos and subscribe. Generation of this kind of interest is exactly what they are aiming at when buying fake followers.
The same works for commercial accounts. For them, follower count is the evidence people trust their brand and want to know what they have to offer.
Besides, building an audience organically might take months. Sometimes, you just can’t afford to wait that long.
Instagram is a relatively young social network and its users are also predominantly young people. Do you remember how many kids in your high school wanted to win the popularity contest? Well, not much changed since then.
For many people, an Instagram profile is a way of throwing dust into as many eyes as possible. That’s why you can see so many photos of luxury vacations, cars, and food at fancy restaurants. For some (in fact, a lot of) Instagrammers, an impressive follower count is just another way to show off their relevance.
How can you buy followers?
Buying Instagram followers isn’t just easy; it’s very easy. All you have to do is find a few online services that offer Instagram followers in bulk, like Viralyft or GetViral. Once you have a decent list, compare their prices for your desired number and quality of followers and choose the option that suits you best. Usually, this way you can buy from 100 to 25 000 followers. The prices may vary but choosing the cheapest version might not be a good idea if you care about the quality of followers you get.
Also, it might make sense to do your research and see what kind of (if any) reviews there are from people who already used the service of your choice. After all, you must make sure that the followers you purchased won’t unfollow you in a month or so. Watch out for any reviews that say that the purchased users start spamming organic followers.
In short, try to make sure that everything suits you, from what they offer in terms of quality followers and support to their reputation. Once that’s done, choose the package to your liking, provide them with a link to your profile (make sure it’s public), and make the payment. That’s it; you will soon notice new followers trickling in.
Should you buy IG followers?
At first sight, it might seem like buying followers on Instagram is a fast and cheap way to boost your audience on the platform. As was mentioned above, there might be objective reasons why you should choose this option and not build your following organically from scratch. Sometimes, investing all that hard work and waiting for it to pay off in months isn’t an option.
However, whatever follower vendors say, the quality of this audience is highly questionable. In the worst-case scenario, the majority of them will end up being bots. But even if they are real people, they’ll hardly be interested in your content and show very low engagement.
How to spot fake followers
First of all, look at the ratio between the number of followers and the number of engagements (likes and comments) for every publication. If this ratio is rather low (for example, an account with 100k followers can barely collect 200 likes on their posts), chances are their following is mostly fake.
Aso, look at the follower profiles. Accounts with no profile pictures, empty bios, hardly any content, it’s safe to say they are likely fake.
Unfortunately, fake followers are not always easy to identify just by looking at posts, likes, comments, and follower profiles. Thankfully, analytics services can help with that by performing in-depth audits of Instagram profiles.
All you have to do is run a profile check and look for the following metrics.
Engagement rate, quality audience, likes, and comments ratio
As an example, let’s look at this US-based fashion influencer’s profile analysis performed by trendHERO. Here are the first things we see and the first red flags:
- With the follower count over 700k, the engagement rate (ER) is only 0,1%. Normally, for this number of followers 1-3% is considered an average ER, 3-6% is high ER
- Only a little over 47k followers are identified as a quality audience.
- 685 likes per post is a very low number taking into account the overall number of followers.
- Only 12 likes per post (very low engagement often indicates an inauthentic audience).
Audience reachability, audience authenticity
Scroll down a little and you see more information that gives rise to reasonable doubt:
- Only 24% of followers follow less than 1500 profiles. Just to remind you, the platform identifies users who follow 1500 profiles and more as mass followers.
- Less than 10% of the audience is identified as authentic.
And here’s yet another red flag. While the majority of the influencer’s audience is located in Brazil and India, the overwhelming majority of likers live in the US. Usually, this is one of the most obvious signs that some fake followers were bought.
You can see this in more detail in the next graph that shows audience location by city:
And here’s a detailed breakdown of the profile’s followers by type. As you can see, only 4,27% of followers are identified as real. Over 17% of followers are suspicious (bots or inactive accounts) and a whopping 76% are mass followers.
Things aren’t much better when it comes to likers. trendHERO AI identified almost 48% of likers as suspicious. This indicates inauthentic activity (mass liking).
Whenever you can see sudden spikes in follower growth, you can be sure either they bought fake followers or ran a giveaway. In this case, it’s easy to see that on April, 11 the lady’s follower count suddenly doubled its size and grew from 762k to over 1 million. However, her follower count went back to 761k in a few days. This probably means that the platform cleared the purchased bots.
4 reasons NOT to buy fake followers
1. Fake followers are easily identifiable
As seen above, any inauthentic activity on an Instagram profile is easy to detect. Literally, anyone who has access to analytics services can catch you red-handed. And if you are not particularly picky about the quality of the followers you are buying, they can be spotted just by looking at a few posts on your feed.
2. They can dramatically decrease your ER
Engagement rate is one of the most important metrics for all Instagram accounts, personal and commercial alike. The higher your ER is, the higher your chance to be visible to your target audience. To put it simply, a healthy ER will make your content pop up on the Explore page or among Suggestions, or at the top of hashtag/geotag search results. But fake followers muddle up this metric significantly. And this means you lose your chance to offer your content and/or products to those who are genuinely interested in it.
3. Fake followers aren’t your target audience
The main goal of Instagram promotion, whether you are a marketer or a blogger, is engaging your target audience. You know, the one that will be genuinely interested in your content and actively interacting with it. Fake followers don’t care about what you have to offer. They won’t write meaningful comments to your posts on a daily basis. They won’t buy your products.
4. Follower count isn’t the most important metric
Not anymore, at any rate. Sure, they still don’t completely disregard it but it’s not as meaningful as it used to be. What’s really important is your audience engagement, how you interact with them, and of course the quality of your content.
Alternatives to buying Instagram followers
1. Word of mouth
Word of mouth is a method as old as time but it doesn’t mean that it ceased being effective. You can always use your connections, friends, family, partners, and co-workers to make your content viral. Just ask them to follow you, share your posts, tell their friends about you.
If you happen to have a website, place social media buttons where they can see them or use Instagram widgets/feed plugins.
2. Targeted ads
That’s right, you shouldn’t forget about this option either. Besides, it’s an officially approved method of promotion that will really help you boost your audience.
If you have profiles on other social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or others, tell your subscribers about your Instagram profile. Let them know that it’s there that they can see some original content they won’t see anywhere else.
You can always join forces with other bloggers with similar target audiences to get some new followers. Do a project together and/or give them a shoutout. Their followers might be interested in what you have to say.
5. Contests and giveaways
These traditionally work as follower magnets. Just make sure you know what to do to make them stay after the contest/giveaway is over.
Buying IG followers makes sense only when you want to put up a facade. In the long run, the accounts you purchased will become completely useless. You have to ask yourself if the temporary boost that fake followers give you is worth the problems you face in the future, including the suspension of your account. After all, buying fake followers is easy. Buying active followers might be the real issue.
Invest some time, energy, and money in building a genuine, authentic relationship with your audience instead. If you can offer them relatable content and show you really care, they’ll spread the word about you and interact with your content for free.