Buying followers: is it worth the investment?

When it comes to running an online business these days, social media, or rather social media marketing is crucial to any and all success. Whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube – all companies need a social media presence in order to reach their intended audience. Getting started with a social network is incredibly easy and in no time at all you can set up a company Facebook page or indeed a company Instagram account as well.

An effective social media strategy requires plenty of time and energy. Posts and content should be planned weeks in advance and cooperation with influencers fostered. But professional, well-maintained channels also need fans and followers to see them. This might seem easy but actually getting started with these platforms can be more difficult than it first appears. Followers rarely just appear; instead they require patience and a hardworking approach. Some businesses are tempted by the option of simply buying followers as a short cut to social media success. Buying likes is also seen as a viable and interesting option. But just how useful is this approach?

The business of likes and followers

Where can you actually buy followers? As you will see there is no shortage online of suppliers who all claim to be specialists in the area of ‘buying followers’.  A quick Google search will produce an incredibly long list of websites, all of which offer some sort of service for purchasing followers.

These websites offer a large range of services. This means that you can not only buy followers for Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, but also for the entire spectrum of social media; Snapchat, YouTube, Google+, and even Soundcloud are also included. Furthermore, some platforms allow you to decide if you want to buy only followers or likes, or if you also wish to buy engagements. The likes of shares, comments, retweets, and even downloads are also sometimes offered. On top of this, some providers allow you to choose whether you want to use US or international user accounts for likes, shares, etc.

It is safe to assume that all providers that sell followers will offer packages. For example, the option of a thousand followers in one go, or spread over several weeks. Opting for larger packages will usually mean volume discounts. In terms of prices, for less than $10 you will be able to buy a small subscription package. However, there is no limit to the amount that you can buy. Along with a considerable number of followers or engagements, the more expensive packages offered by these websites also promise to deliver high-quality user profiles. Buying followers - just like buying likes - is not expensive. For just a few dollars, you can increase your Instagram following by a couple of thousand.

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Pretend ‘influencers’

Here’s the catch though; a profile that in the space of a few days suddenly has 10,000 more followers, does not come across as organic and authentic. This may be largely irrelevant for some companies as usually a fast-growing corporate channel rarely bothers anyone. However across social media there are individuals as well as companies who make their living from collaborations on Instagram, YouTube, etc. These include bloggers, video bloggers, models, etc. all of whom fall under the general label of ‘influencer’.

If you happen to be a blogger or influencer, companies seeking potential collaborations, can very quickly tell if you have acquired your followers organically, or if you have in fact paid for the majority of your likes and fans. There are many instagram analytics tools out there which can analyze an account within seconds. If they notice that an account has indeed bought followers, it’s highly unlikely that they will still be interested in a collaboration. Stats are also not the only indicator of whether an account has purchased followers. Usually a quick glance at a follower list will tell you everything you need to know, as bought followers often have cryptic names and are missing profile pictures. 

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100,000 followers - no interaction

To sum up, it seems to us that buying followers in general is a questionable approach that in the end rarely does much good. Companies looking to find themselves an influencer to collaborate with should allow themselves plenty of time to see whether a blogger or Instagram star has actually acquired their followers organically. At the end of the day, 100,000 followers really doesn’t mean anything if there is no corresponding interaction. An account is only as good as its interactions.

User engagement is one of the most important online marketing KPIs, in social media marketing. Generally followers who have been bought will have little or no interest in posts made by companies or influencers.  Only in the rarest of cases will a purchased follower like and comment on a post, so the engagement rate is usually quite poor. For this reason these are sites that also sell likes and comments, but the danger here then is that you may once again find yourself quickly running out of funds.

It is companies in particular that need to exercise extreme caution when it comes to purchasing followers, likes etc., as they could be embarking on a very slippery slope. If it happens that someone within the online community notices such a purchase, the popularity you had bought could suddenly have a very negative impact. At the very least you will be in a legal grey area, as there are those who argue that engaging in such activity is unfair on competition. Such methods and their results give the public the impression that there is large and widespread of your brand or one of your products - when in reality this might not be the case at all.

Overall it makes a lot more sense to invest time and energy in creating great content and campaigns, allowing you to naturally generate followers. It may be that the best way of achieving this is through collaboration with influencers, but as stated above, be careful which influencers you choose.

More on the topic of influencer marketing as well as a whole series of articles on Instagram for businesses can be found in our Digital Guide.

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