Every face-to-face conversation I’ve had with bloggers recently has seemed to centre around one thing: Instagram. Yep, bloggers are excited about Snapchat too (mostly because it’s not Instagram) but the original photo sharing app still seems to be leading the way when it comes to influence metrics and controversy. Snapchat is fun, Instagram is – quite literally – serious business. It’s easy to brush off Instagram politics as something that “doesn’t really matter” but if you make your living as a full time blogger/influencer then sadly it does matter. (As much as bloggers will debate to what extent paid work depends on a strong Instagram presence).
At time of writing, I have 6377 Instagram followers. It’s not “nothing”, but it’s definitely small-fry compared to other bloggers or my own following on Twitter. I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not very good at Instagram though. I seem to have developed a great strategy of “post a pic, lose a follower”. It’s really reassuring and makes me feel great, as I’m sure you can imagine.
I don’t think my photos are THAT bad, but I do reckon I’d have a stronger following if I had a bit more of a theme or style instead of a hodgepodge mix of breakfast, football and swans all pushed through a wild array of clashing filters. My grid is more random Tumblr than perfectly curated Pinterest board.
I can’t even be consistent with using a frame FFS.
Over the last six weeks or so I’ve tried to make more of a concerted effort with my Instagram, not changing up the content so much but using more hashtags and posting at more popular times. I post less overall too. Where I once might have posted all three courses of a meal as separate pics, I’ll now post one pic and only if I think it’s relatively decent. I’ve also stopped posting the same pic to Twitter and Instagram, so people actually have “a reason” to follow me on both platforms.
These little tweaks have meant my engagement has gone up and for the first time in forever I’ve had quite a few pics breaking the 100 likes mark which is a pretty big deal for little ol’ me. (I should add that I think the new algorithm has helped with engagement too, as people who might have missed my pics before now see them in their feed later on in the day).
I’m still struggling to gain followers though and the thought of having even 10,000 followers seems nigh on impossible.
Unless I buy them.
With 500 followers being as cheap as a fiver (they’ll throw in 500 likes for that, too) it’s no surprise that people are tempted when SO MANY people are doing it. It’s not a level playing field and if brands won’t look into the authenticity of follower numbers, then of course people will buy followers to try to keep up. People are missing out on paid campaigns because their numbers aren’t good enough and if your livelihood depends on this “nonsense” then a tenner here and there to gain followers/likes can understandably be seen as a worthwhile investment.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really want to do it. Just a couple of weeks ago I decided I was going to cave and buy 250 followers that evening. Before I did though, I posted a pic of my nails which went on to get more likes than any pic of mine ever has before. I felt like the Instagram Karma Gods were looking down on me and saying that genuine engagement can be found – with the right hashtags and the right cliched shot. I didn’t buy the followers. I also haven’t had a post with even half as many likes since.
It’s not just buying followers/likes though, people are paying for bots to leave hundreds of comments and likes on their behalf with the idea being that people will reciprocate with a like or a follow. Ever wondered why you see “nice shot” under so many pics? These vague comments that have nothing to do with the pic are usually from bots. It’s also why using hashtags can be great for gaining likes, because bots like any pic that uses said hashtag. Then of course there’s the strategy of following loads of accounts, hoping a percentage will follow back and then unfollowing them all a few days later.
It’s just a mess isn’t it?
If you go to the “Following Notifications” tab on Instagram (click the heart icon on bottom right of screen then “Following” on top left) you’ll quickly see which accounts you follow are randomly liking and commenting on what are clearly spam pics. Unless some of my fave bloggers are really into cam girls, lasers and Chinese wholesalers…we have a serious bot problem.
I can’t complain that I don’t have a larger Instagram following when I know I don’t put in anywhere near as much effort as a lot of other bloggers. I haven’t bothered to learn how to take good pics, I take them all on my phone and I don’t spend much time editing them further than a quick brighten/sharpen. I don’t think about my content strategy and I totally should if I want to reap the benefits that some of the kickass ‘grammers have. I don’t have anything but respect and admiration for the women who have grown their Instagram game by being SERIOUSLY good at what they do. Because my god, some people are so damn good at it.
But I don’t want to see all the “gaming”. The fake likes. The bot comments. The temporary follows.
It feels like an arms race and if we don’t all stand up and say “I’M NOT DOING THIS ANYMORE” then people will inevitably keep faking to stay relevant. And lord knows Instagram HQ aren’t going to intervene.
What’s the solution? No idea I’m afraid. I guess we can hope brands bother to check whether followers/likes are “real” but often even if a PR knows something is shady then there’s someone higher up client-side who is demanding they just work with whoever has the highest numbers.
In the meantime I’m going to resist buying my 250 followers for a couple of quid. I could buy a slice of cake for that…and with the right filter and hashtag it might just make for a good Insta.