Friends, the other shoe has finally dropped. This morning, we woke to news that Instagram’s fake follower cull had swept the Toronto blogging scene (and beyond). The curtain, so to speak, has been lifted on whose follower counts had been greatly inflated by bots, purchased followers and other types of fakes.
This doesn’t really come as a shock – as Instagram has grown over the past year – it was lauded as the fastest-growing social site globally in January 2014 – so has the amount of users looking to game the system. Where we’ve seen this most is within the blogging community. With no real way to track the ups & downs in followers and with the opportunity to pick up purchased followers for pennies, the temptation to appear bigger & better got the best of many “top” bloggers.
Over the last week, Instagram has been making good on their promise to remove inactive or fake accounts in follower/following lists. While this was done to improve the user experience of Instagram, it’s also improving the landscape for those who participate in paid sponsorship programs with Instagram’s most influential users. Imagine paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars to reach a potential audience of 16k followers or even 75k followers only to find out the number of real people is actually closer to 1,900 or 26k. If that’s not the anti ROI, I’m not sure what is.
So, let’s work this out and use this as a learning experience so we can all be better. As is tradition, here are some key learnings from the Instagram cull…illustrated with Ryan Gosling memes.[line]
5 Lessons Learned from the Great Instagram Cull of 2014[line]
1. Do your due diligence. Always.
As PR, advertising and marketing professionals, it’s our job to locate influencers that are a good fit for our clients’ programs. Part of this process is going beyond the numbers and digging deeper. I’m sure a lot of PR people are feeling pretty embarrassed right now for selling through programs with “influencers” who turned out to be a whole lot of smoke & mirrors.
*UPDATED* real screen-grabs of before & afters. I’m not saying they purchased followers, but it’s been proven that they had a lot of fake accounts following. Both “rebounded” from Instagram’s fake follower sweep the next day. Their followers looked like this:
Before your next influencer program, dig a little deeper. Look into the followers: are they real accounts? Are there many fake accounts in a row? Probably a red flag. Keep regular tabs on these people – are they experiencing growth that seems unbelievable in such a short amount of time? It’s probably too good to be true. While we all love a good success story, there’s something to be said for moderate growth over a longer period of time. No one comes out of nowhere.
2. Educate your clients
We’ve all been there. Clients who pay for social media programs often spend as much time on the platforms as we do. They see the big, splashy names and blogs that appear to be doing so well. 120k followers, to them, looks like a massive opportunity for exposure. Make sure that your clients are getting what they pay for by explaining things like purchased followings, qualified engagements and fit with your target. Don’t let them fall prey to fake influence.
3. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
There will always be a top tier and a platform you most want to appear on. As has been illustrated during the Instagram cull, it’s dangerous to put all of your eggs (and sponsored dollars) into a single basket. Spread your programs across platforms and look into up & coming bloggers with smaller, more engaged audiences. Diversify – you might just find yourself with better final metrics overall!
4. Don’t give into temptation
If the past week has taught bloggers anything, it’s that purchasing followers and engagement to pretend to be more successful than you are is, well, a waste of money. The other shoe will always drop. While purchasing followers may be a great short-term fix and a fantastic way to launch yourself into the social space, the benefit of getting noticed early on is negated by the burned bridges you’re sure to encounter when your ruse falls apart. As tempting as it may be and as much money as you may make in the short term, don’t do it.
5. Test & Learn
Yes, this is the “it gets better” portion of this post. Growing a following on social media is really hard. There’s a reason why only a few people break out from the pack and become internet famous. Right now, the space is incredibly saturated and it can be tough to stand out. Take this as a challenge: test different types of content and strategies on Instagram (or any of your platforms, really) and see what works for your audience. Then, do more of that. But please, let’s quit it with the incessant photos of pretty flowers on a white backdrop.
The blogging scene has been in need of a good shake up and I think this just might be it. Yes, it took a bunch of “high profile” bloggers getting coal in their stockings to make it happen, but I think it’s been a lesson well learned for all of us. It’s time to go back to our roots and create content because we love to do it. Yes, I’m lamenting the good old days when blogging was a hobby that sometimes turned into a money-making venture and people actually cared about more than taking the perfect photo and getting a million likes.
Let’s make 2015 a good one!