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Why Buying Social Media Followers is a Bad Idea for Small Business

Why Buying Social Media Followers is a Bad Idea for Small Business

Why Buying Social Media Followers is a Bad Idea for Small Business

Every small business dreams of a big social media following – having a significant follower base can be a lifeline for sales and create markets you never knew you had. But as a teacher of social media workshops, I have noticed that attendees can get fixated on growing their Instagram followings with a quick fix.


One participant in particular had just launched a business and her followers were already over 1000. At the end of the workshop she told me she used a program called Socially Rich to grow her followers and I should be telling people in my workshops about it as it was the easiest and quickest way to gain followers.


When you get told something is an easy and quick fix…run. Growth hacking bots and services for Instagram are a bit of a grey area, and the organic approach is more often than not the better way to go.


This wasn’t the first time someone mentioned to me they were using an Instagram growth hacking service either. I decided to test it out for myself on my personal account – to find out what these programs did exactly, how they affect the Instagram algorithm and what the signs were to indicate someone was using these programs.


I signed up to Socially Rich, not a cheap service at around $100 a month. I was tasked with choosing the accounts I wanted to get followers from, and what hashtags I wanted to target followers with. A potentially promising start, but I added an Instagram account of a fake social media influencer into the mix just to test the process.


Social Blade graph

*An example of a business that has bought Instagram followers – as shown by Social Blade.


It took a few days to activate, but before I knew it I noticed I was now following an additional 250 people. That number grew and grew until the number of people I was following far exceeded my followers.


The premise of these bots is that they mass follow accounts, in the hopes that the accounts they have followed will return the favour. They quickly unfollow in the next 24-48 hours to try to keep the number of people you are following respectable. Having 3000 followers when you’re following 10,000 accounts is a pretty obvious sign you’re using a bot.


The bot will also go and like posts on your behalf and the service recommends that whilst you’re using the service not to follow or unfollow any accounts or engage with posts.  I did notice that in once instance they liked almost 10 posts from one account, some of the posts from 6 months prior. I then got a DM from that Instagram user asking why I liked so many of her photos when we didn’t know each other!


If this was your business account, would you be happy to be represented this way online? There are social media etiquette rules, and liking 10 photos in 10 seconds is not in the rule book.


One of the downsides of the process was that suddenly, I had all these posts appear in my feed from people I didn’t know. Posts of their pets, kids, what they did on the weekend. If you’re running a business account on Instagram, it’s important to engage with the content your followers are posting, but if you’re using a growth hacking service this becomes near impossible to do in an organic way.


My followers did start to increase, 30 one day, 50 the next, until one day 2 weeks later I was up close to 1500 followers. But the fact was, of the new accounts following me, more than 70% of them were fake. That’s when I pulled the pin and cancelled. It didn’t take long to lose the followers I had gained, they were gone in a month.



Instagram actively discourages the use of these bots, and accounts can be suspended if Instagram recognises you’re following too many accounts in a short space of time – another downside. You can’t beat the algorithm.


And if Instagram users want to know how legit your business account is, they can use a service like Social Audit Pro that analyses the makeup of followers. It gives a percentage of suspicious/fake and active and non-active followers.


As an individual using this service, frankly it was embarrassing. As a business, it’s foolish. I was constantly wondering if people knew I was using a paid service to increase followers, and this is not a good look for business. If you’re faking it with your followers, what does this say about your service or product?


You need to put in the effort if you want to increase your followers and engagement on Instagram. This is a marathon, not a race, and it comes down to genuine content and genuine engagement.


To this day I know that person from my workshop uses an Instagram growth hacking tool – every so often I see that their business follows me on Instagram and then unfollowed me a few days later.


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