A clickbait? Nah. This is a real story with hard facts and a rollercoaster of emotions. It’s one that would make for a decent little paperback (you know those SEO books that come in the strangest of sizes and are kind of square but not really? yeah, that kind) if I wanted to. But I don’t – instead I’m writing this post which will be long and full of uhh and ahhhms and sighs. This is a story of me buying followers, likes, repins, all of it. And perhaps a story of you too.
WHY HAVE I BOUGHT FOLLOWERS?
Because it’s tempting. Everyone and their damn fluffy cat is buying them and it seems to be working. Bloggers are not buying just followers – they are buying backlinks from foreign black market pharmacy websites to boost their DA (up to 45 to then boast about how they achieved it organically). They are buying likes for their Instagram posts (you know those who’s video views falter?). They are buying click throughs for their affiliate links (because Fiverr sells just about everything these days). I’ve also bought followers because I wanted to learn from it. I’m a technical, curious kind of kid. I’ve always been intrigued by how things work. And I just really wanted to know how (and why) it works. Selling followers is a business. It’s a viable business model that works – which means there is a demand. That also means that is must work quite well, right?
WHAT HAVE I BOUGHT?
I’ve bought a multitude of different followings across a multitude of different channels. This is the rundown:
Facebook Page likes
They were not huge numbers (I have better things to spend money on – like my rent ay!), usually about 100 of them per account for a fiver or so each. And then I sat down, held my breath and watched. I inspected the way they behaved, the way they looked, they way they impacted my real following, algorithms. I watched them come and I watched them go (pretty much all of them). Mind you, this experiment & observation took well over 6 months.
WHAT HAVE I LEARNT?
As sad and discouraging as it may sound – buying followers kind of works. It works in the traditional way of ‘to become famous you have to tell everyone you’re famous’ kind of sense. If your Instagram has 15,000 followers your following will grow quicker because you will appear worthy of their time. Reaching a certain number of likes will boost the algorithm for your Instagram account and you will appear in the top 9 hashtags which brings another avalanche of likes. Many automated bloggers/brands agency networks now operate on a stats policy – you can pitch for this and that campaign only if you have over 10,000 followers on this and that network. Solution? Buy them.
Blogging has turned into what professional cycling has been for years. You need performance enhancing drugs not to win – you need them to take part. You need to buy followers not to be the most read and most popular – you need them to be able to keep up with the rest of the blogging community.
It’s a vicious cycle
Now you’ve bought your followers you’re in it for the long term (what, whey you didn’t see this coming did you?). Especially if you’ve bought a shed load. The more you’ve invested at the beginning the harder you’ll crash – or the more cash you’ll need. Unlike likes and repins (which seem to last – yet they are not completely flawless! I have a separate post coming up on this in a few weeks’ time), followers just don’t last. No matter what you do, how great your content is, how witty your jokes are – those accounts that are following you are empty. They are just shells of users that never even existed. They are accounts created by workers living in developing countries who are being paid a fraction of a penny for 100,000+ clicks. Sounds very much like a Primark kind of business, doesn’t it? If you’re lucky they will just be completely automated shells with no impoverished people behind them. That’s why they never last – they often become completely inactive which usually results in removal during an Instagram cleanse, they simply unfollow you (if they’re automated) or their accounts just implode into nothingness. Result? You will have to keep on buying new followers over and over and over and over again. Across all platforms if you want to make it believable.
I’ve turned into a social scammer detective
Being part of the ‘I bought followers’ gang has taught me how to spot scammers. I’m not particularly confrontational in character so I usually resort to passive aggressive tweets of desperation about how unfair the world is. The truth is I can spot whether a blogger has bought followers, likes, repins – all of it. I can tell those shell accounts from regular accounts from a mile (even if they try to look real). I can see who bought links to boost their DA. I can tell whether those likes on that Instagram photo are legit or not. I can’t tell in every single instance – bots are becoming smarter and businesses selling followers are savvier now making everything look more realistic, more legit. But in some 90% of cases I can tell whether you’re a scammer.
Ignorance is bliss
I used to be quite happy in my bubble of loyal readers. And I still am – don’t get me wrong. The temptation is there though. Especially as a full time blogger who doesn’t have a huge follower count, bad days sometimes bring despair over how easy it would be to fix myself. To hand over £20 and get 50,000 followers on Instagram. Get all those collaborations that require that particular follower threshold. At the same time I know that karma would get me. I know that I’m not the only one who can spot a scammer – and losing trust of even just one person who reads my blog would break my heart.
Buying followers means losing integrity. It means you’re admitting defeat that you can’t gain those numbers organically. And there’s no going back once you’ve pressed that ‘buy now’ button.
The rotten blogging community
Once you become a social scammer detective you become disheartened. Bloggers who you were admiring, who’s blog posts you were reading every day become rude nasty little things. Every time I discover my favourite blogger bought followers it breaks my heart a little and then there’s this deep feeling of resentment followed by nothingness (and immediate unfollow). There’s SO MANY of those bloggers out there who succumbed to greed, who didn’t believe in themselves. Some of them are pulling it off better than others. Some of them make me feel sorry for them. Some of them I envy. Some of them I look down on. Some of them I want to shake back into the real world.
The most gullible of them all
Brands and marketing agencies have absolutely no notion of what buying followers is and how easy it has become. Their rigid dependancy on numbers and stats is holding their common sense in a tight grip. In a way I totally understand – your boss wants to see evidence of their budget being spent on an effective campaign. But what are those fake numbers worth to the company really?