Attention IG “Influencers”: The Follow/Unfollow Method is Costing You Fans

We all know about cheap tricks influencers use to superficially inflate their social metrics. We know about the bots and the fake followers.

Being in the digital marketing business, I’ve seen it all. It’s a topic that’s been kicking around in my head for years, but a recent run-in with noteworthy IG user inspired me to talk about the somewhat dubious tactics people use to get ahead on Instagram and how those strategies affect their reputation, not just online but IRL.

Instagram notifications

But before I get into all that, let me tell you what happened:

I make it a habit to check on my social channels every day and respond to everyone who takes the time to engage with my content. On this particular day, I saw a comment from a new follower:

Nothing unusual. I reached out to Aaron, thanked him for his comment, then headed over to his profile to see exactly who it was that I was talking to.

I’ll admit, I was pretty excited when I saw that the person who messaged me actually worked in tv and film as an actor. I even texted my wife, and she responded that she was interested in watching a movie that he had recently starred in. We even made plans to check it out on our next movie night.

Obviously, I was eager to see if Aaron would message back. I waited about a day, but I didn’t get a reply. That’s fair. I didn’t necessarily expect one, but out of curiosity, I checked his profile, and low and behold…

He’d unfollowed me…less than a day after writing that comment.

A little annoyed at the apparent snub, I told my wife, and we decided to find something else to watch on movie night.


What’s Follow/Unfollow?

Following and subsequently unfollowing a bunch of accounts is a well-known (and well-hated) tactic that people use to boost their follower counts quickly.

They hit the follower button knowing that the user they’re following will likely follow them back as a sort of polite courtesy. Then, a week or so (or less than 48 hours in this case) later they’ll manually or use an automated app to unfollow those users. It’s all about preserving that all-important high follower-to-following ratio.

Top Image: Right after Aaron unfollowed me. Bottom Image: A few months later (Notice the change in following.)

But here’s the thing: It doesn’t work.

Although FB and Insta don’t let users know when people unfollow them, if you’re at all famous or well-known, they’re going to notice when they suddenly stop seeing you on their follower list.

Now, you’re known as the jerk who unfollowed.

Follower numbers mean nothing if you ruin your reputation in the process.

Not only that, but you’ll also see your engagement rate tank when you resort to these types of tactics. That’s because your new followers likely aren’t going to be as engaged as those who find and follow you organically. Those are the people who are going to be genuinely interested in engaging with your content, not just following you based on a feeling of obligation.

But let’s step back for a bit. I’m not interested in putting this one guy on blast because this story isn’t all that unusual. It happens to me all the time. The only difference is that this time it was a tv star instead of some unknown wannabe influencer.

Usually, when I see people use this strategy on me, I just shake my head and go about my day, but this particular case struck a nerve. I saw all the wasted potential in the way this celebrity was handling his online reputation. This wasn’t just some guy working at the 7-11 trying to make a side hustle as an IG influencer. This was someone who’s already well-known outside of social media, someone who could suffer real-world consequences based on their shady social media practices.


Focus on Metrics that Matter to Real-World Success

Here’s something that wannabe social media influencers often get wrong: They often think of follower counts and likes as the end-all-be-all for gauging success.

That’s b.s.

I’m going back to the Aaron Spears example one more time. (Sorry, Aaron.) I wasn’t kidding when I said that my wife and I lost interest in watching Aaron’s movie after seeing that he unfollowed me. We purposely chose to watch a completely different film based on his online behavior, and I’ll explain why.

It wasn’t about me losing a follower. No, it was about the intentions and attitudes that behavior signaled to us. It showed a lack of respect toward his fans. Simple as that.

And here’s the thing: You don’t have to be a tv star to see the negative ramifications of using sketchy social practices like the follow/unfollow method.

You don’t need to sacrifice your integrity to be successful on social media. You just need to focus on making real connections.

Say you’re using Instagram to promote a clothing line, and you’re trying to get more people to see your products. You see other influencers and bloggers talking about how they doubled their follower count using this awesome follow/unfollow method, so you give it a try. You follow a bunch of random accounts, and it works!

…But no one’s going to your website, and your engagement is down. Soon, your follower count drops off as people realize you aren’t providing them with value through your content. (You’re too busy trying to artificially inflate your numbers.) Then, you end up worse off then when you started because your reputation has since taken a hit as potential customers recognize your brand name as the one that unfollowed them.

Now, I don’t want to paint Aaron, or anyone else who engages in these practices as a bad person. Hell, I’m not even sure if Aaron handles his own social media. However, I do want to show the consequences of putting numbers before real, meaningful connections.


Follow/Unfollow the Right Way

It’s a common misconception that social media is about gaming the system. You’ll see countless so-called “social gurus” giving out fool-proof tricks to grow your account in one week (all for the low, low price of $99.99). Most of the time, these growth hacks revolve around dubious methods like the follow/unfollow strategy, and while they may get you what you want in the short-term, they’re disastrous for building long-term success.

If you’re coming at it from the perspective of wanting to get more likes, more followers, more fake internet points—you’re going to lose.

Let’s be clear: There’s a way to strategically follow and unfollow other accounts to grow your audience that doesn’t make you look like a total jerk. In fact, I’ll let you in on the real secret to growing your follower count (and it doesn’t even require you to send 100 bucks to my Paypal).

Here’s How:

Step 1: Engage with other people in your niche by searching relevant hashtags or locations. You’ll also find that using relevant hashtags in your own posts can help draw in new people who may be interested in your content.

Step 2: Check out the profiles of other accounts in your niche, and follow the users who you’re genuinely interested in connecting with.

Step 3: Engage with your followers and the people who follow you. This step is all about providing value. If you want other people to like/comment/share/whatever, you’re going to need to lead by example.  

Step 4: Now’s the time to unfollow the accounts that don’t engage with your content. It’s like any relationship. If they aren’t taking steps to interact and connect with you, they aren’t adding value to your life (or your social engagement rates, in this case). This is when you can unfollow without feeling guilty.

And that’s it. You don’t need to sacrifice your integrity to be successful on social media. You just need to focus on making real connections.

Does it take more time? Yup. Is it worth it? Absolutely.


How to Be a Social Media A-Lister

If you’ve been keeping up with any of my other blog posts, you might be sick of hearing me say this. But it’s important, so I’m going to say it again: Social media is all about providing value.

If you’re coming at it from the perspective of wanting to get more likes, more followers, more fake internet points—you’re going to lose. That mindset makes you vulnerable. It convinces you to take shortcuts that just end up costing you in the long run.

Just like people spend years trying to break into the acting biz, social media success doesn’t happen overnight. Becoming a social A-lister requires effort, and it requires skill. So, instead of wasting your time trying to cheat the system, focus on giving people a reason to follow you.

And, Aaron? Hit me up if you’re interested in learning how to play the social media game the right way.

Mike Speer Administrator
Director of Digital Experience, Michaels WIlder

Head of Digital Experience at Michaels Wilder and an entrepreneur since before the average person knew what that even meant, Mike has helped countless businesses build effective sales and marketing strategies. His philosophy is, “If you’re not thinking 10 years ahead, you’re already behind.” Mike’s content has appeared in Forbes Magazine, Inc. and Apple News. He has also been featured numerous times as a “Top 10 Writer” worldwide on the Q&A content site, Quora.

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Mike Speer Administrator
Director of Digital Experience, Michaels WIlder

Head of Digital Experience at Michaels Wilder and an entrepreneur since before the average person knew what that even meant, Mike has helped countless businesses build effective sales and marketing strategies. His philosophy is, “If you’re not thinking 10 years ahead, you’re already behind.” Mike’s content has appeared in Forbes Magazine, Inc. and Apple News. He has also been featured numerous times as a “Top 10 Writer” worldwide on the Q&A content site, Quora.

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