Don’t buy your Instagram followers. Here’s why.

Building an Instagram following can seem daunting, especially in the current era of Instagram influencer marketing, where those influencers have hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers. It can be tempting to skip ahead by buying some Instagram followers as either a personal or traditional brand, but that’s not a good idea for several reasons.

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Buying fake followers violates Instagram’s ToS

It is a truth universally acknowledged that no one reads a platform’s terms of service (ToS) but that there is also some important stuff in there, particularly in regard to things like buying followers and likes. The bottom line is that while it might ethically be a gray area to some, it violates the platform’s ToS which means they can terminate your account without warning and without much recourse for you.

It doesn’t seem worth a short-term, cosmetic boost in follower numbers to potentially jeopardize your entire account and have to start over again from scratch. But even if you don’t get caught and get your account deleted, there are other reasons you shouldn’t buy followers.

Fake followers are bad for engagement rates

Micro-influencers are on the rise in popularity because they pack a double punch of value: They’re less expensive to partner with than celebrity or other really big influencers and they typically have a higher engagement rate with their fans and followers. And engagement rates are a much better indicator of audience quality and that audience’s investment in a brand’s content.

It’s always a big red flag if an account has 24k followers but only 100 likes on an average post (that’s a less than 1% engagement rate); most of their followers are probably spam accounts or other paid followers (often bots). Those empty shells of accounts aren’t going to pay attention to what someone is recommending and in turn share it with their own networks if they really love it. Some Instagram follower companies claim to sell “real” followers, but if you’re looking for genuine engagement you want to do the real work of building a follower base, not buying potentially empty follower numbers.

The final nail in the coffin here is the new Instagram algorithm that decides which photos someone sees in their timeline. If your engagement starts dropping due to fake followers, it will become less and less likely that your content gets surfaced in the feeds of your real followers. Ouch.

And they’re bad for your brand reputation

Like the red flag we just mentioned, it’s not hard to take a look at an account and tell if many or even most of their followers are fake. Knowing a brand bought fake followers might indicate to a potential customer that they’re not willing to put in the hard work to keep their customers happy. After all, they couldn’t even put in the work to find their target audience and try to engage with them in meaningful ways to grow their following. Why should they care about customer service or not take the same kind of shortcuts with their products?

It would also become very obvious whenever Instagram next purged users of spam and bot accounts (as in the hard-hitting “rapture” of 2014), even if you didn’t get caught and get your account terminated for violating the ToS. Buy a lot of bots just before a purge and you could drop from 50k overnight to a much lower number.

Better off to spend that money on a smart social listening program. (And you can get started on that for free with the button below.)

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