The quiet life; sitting on the sofa with my cat and my fiance, tapping away at the keyboard of my old Mac book air. That really is my happy place. Free from drama or upset, my own little bubble of calm and happiness. But every so often deep within the depths of instagram scrolling, blog post reading or youtube watching, something, somewhere ignites an emotion within you which is completely out of character.
the saying goes "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time."
If you are a blogger, youtuber, Influencer, creator, instagrammer or whatever you want to call yourself, the chances are you are not only professionally but more so emotionally invested in this industry. As we fast approach the sixth anniversary of Lydiaelisemillen.com I remember a time where blogging wasn't considered "cool", sponsored content didn't exist and numbers didn't mean everything. But as I sat in the back of a taxi listening to another creator justify how "everyone bought followers and had bots these days", I realised just how distant a memory those times were. I'm not interested in online witch hunts or outing anyone for their wrong doings, the saying goes "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." and I have faith that the people who chose to cheat the system whether that was 5 years ago as they built their first 100K or today as they whack an extra 5K likes on each of their instagram pics, that soon enough honesty will prevail. But what I can do is shed some light on how to understand the numbers of genuine followers, against those which maybe aren't so much. Whilst also discussing how to grow your audience properly to avoid accusations and potential damage to the industry as a whole. The quiet life is nice but I care about the longevity of this industry, I want to see it last for many years to come, I want to see new bloggers and creators succeeding after this generation. I don't want to see it implode under the pressures placed on numbers which can so easily be fraudulent.
HOW TO do it right...
I feel I am stating the obvious here, but it's a good place to start; There is no short cut to success. That is a cold hard fact. So whilst paying for a bot, getting in on those loop giveaways or buying a few thousand likes or followers might seem like a good option, all it does is give you a number next to your Instagram handle, and it's a worthless number at that. If you are thinking about buying some followers, just to y'know fluff it up a bit, I wouldn't waste your money, the bot accounts wont engage with your images and it will just look like you have a large account with poor engagement which you will then find yourself needing to pay for likes on your images to balance it out. The problem with those likes is, essentially they are worthless also. Because real engagement comes from having a relationship with your audience, they have followed you because they want to follow you, they believe in what you stand for and they trust your opinion. People like your image because they relate to you, your content speaks to them and they listen to what you say because you have built up a trust with your audience. Remember the Tortoise & the Hare? Yeh. That.
Make it your aim to build a small audience, who are interested in your content rather than a large audience who don't even know who you are.
FRIENDS in high places...
When I first started on Youtube I found there was immense pressure to collaborate and share followings as much as possible with as many others as possible in the industry. I'm now able to sit back and appreciate that it works for so many but I am glad that I waited. You want to grow your audience off the back of who you are, not someone else and this will more often effect your own engagement in the long run. There's that tortoise & the Hare again.
UTILISE the tools on offer...
Whilst not definitive, there are a number of places you can look in-depth at Creators follower growth to establish its authenticity. Social blade is a great place to sniff out bot use and abnormal follower growth. Try not to confuse rapid organic growth with it though. I know I've had people speculate about my Youtube growth as even I'll admit that was faster than I imagined but if a Channel sits in a constant state of growth there will be peaks with this, one month I grew over 50K subscribers but now I sit around the 12-20K mark each month.
The red flag should be when you see someone sitting at a low growth or even be in a state of loss on their channel, suddenly jump 10K one day and then back down to their usual growth. When content goes further and provides growth for a channel or account you will often see this happen over a number of days as the intensity of the growth and hitting that algorithm happens and as it slowly declines and returns to normal. If someone continues to hit that algorithm or as I prefer to call it, if someone continues to give their audience exactly what they want so they engage as soon as content goes live, pushing the accounts visibility and "virality", you will likely sustained and large growth much like Patricia Bright has seen over the last few months, girl is killing it.
If when looking at an instagram account under the "detailed stats" tab on social blade their "following" graph looks like a heart monitor, sharp ups and downs, chances are they have a follow/unfollow bot. Some people were clever and had them before technology allowed us to look into accounts more in depth. However you can't hide that from Social blade, you can see right back to when they started their account with any follow/unfollow activity showing there with sharp ups and downs which move into a more smooth line as they have the bot removed. Normal activity for the Following graph would be a smooth curve up and as you grow tired of accounts, a cull of a few in one go there would be a sharp drop in who you are following.
Like bots and buying likes is slightly more complex to monitor and not so definitive. You can see people liking random photos by visiting your "following" tab in the notification area on Instagram, if they are liking random pictures, porn and other odd activity all day every day, even at 3am, thats a good indicator for malpractice.
Sussing out whether the engagement you are seeing on an account is real can only really be done within the first few minutes of an image going live. So if you are a brand or PR and aren't certain on a creator you are interested in working with, set a reminder for when their instagram images go live and watch closely. Engagement varies from account to account, but we will come to that later. What you are looking for is a large percentage of the overall likes and comments happening within the first 5 minutes for alarm bells to ring. When buying likes, you can pay an amount to have a portion of likes added to ALL your images as soon as they go live. But this happens within the first few minutes of posting so if an account gains 5000 likes in 2 minutes but only goes on to get around 10K likes in the first hour? I would be inclined to delve deeper. You can also gain a greater look into who the accounts are that are liking the images but again this will need to be done in the first few minutes. If the majority of the accounts look like "@getfreefollowers2k17" or general spam accounts, those alarm bells should start ringing again.
LOW ENGAGEMENT does not mean bought followers...
I want this information to aid Brands and PR's on their quest to working with the RIGHT influencers rather than the ones who have the right number next to their instagram handle. This information isn't to incite witch hunts or the outing of anyone. You have to be 100% sure of what you are saying before you say it, because you could find yourself in a court room when throwing around accusations with no real substance in a public space. And contrary to popular belief, low engagement does not equate to bought followers and I know this because I've been there having never paid a penny for my following. I'm also not saying that it means they haven't bought their following either but it isn't a clear definitive indicator and shouldn't be relied upon.
Rewind back to the earlier days of instagram when we didn't quite know so much. Despite people continuing to think I started off as a Fitness blogger, I actually didn't. My blog absolutely, 100 percent started out as solely fashion. But what happened was I began documenting my fitness journey on instagram, huge accounts began reposting my pictures and I regularly, almost daily, found my images hitting the popular page. My images would get 20K likes and I didn't even have 100K. Before long I realised I was being pigeon holed as a fitness blogger which wasn't what I wanted, my main passion was always fashion. It's not an instant thing but a change of direction when your audience was mainly built off a certain focus means you will undoubtedly take a hit engagement wise. It took me years to rebuild my fashion and lifestyle based audience and the engagement which went with it, after my images weren't even getting 2K likes at this point. But over the last 2 years I've managed to turn things around where I now posses a close relationship with my audience which I will never take for granted. Through meet ups, conversations over snapchat and instaDM and all the amazing comments, I feel like I really know who the women and men are that tune in to watch, log on to read and double tap my images. Which is something I have realised is worth so much more than the number next to your Instagram handle.
The aim of this post is not to incite witch hunts or online drama in anyway. We should spend less time speculating on who is and who isn't and more time talking about how WE do things the right away. what I hope for is that by spreading awareness about these issues within the industry, we can prevent people from taking that path in the first place. Instead leading by example and showing the benefit of a REAL and AUTHENTIC audience, rather than the numbers on their Instagram page.