In the age of social media, our popularity and worth has become more public and the subject of scrutiny by peers across these social media platforms. On Instagram and twitter, your ratio of followers to following as well as you absolute number of followers is a key indicator of how popular or successful you are. Nowhere has this become so obvious than on Instagram. People have been buying followers for years on services such as twitter, but with the size and importance of Instagram the trend of buying followers has become a real business.
Businesses sell followers principally in two ways. The first is the promise of social media optimization. Much like search engine optimization which promises high results for a webpage by making use of links and content, these services promise to boost your social media following organically. The methods include targeting audiences via hastags and demographic specific content. The softwares optimize your account to post at the best times to garner new followers and likes.
The second method of buying followers is a subject of greater controversy. Businesses such as Followers Guru and YTView.com will sell ‘fake’ followers to your account. After a purchase of only a few dollars, your account will instantaneously receive hundreds or even thousands of followers. These accounts are largely inactive, generic, and have suspect names. Without purchasing additional packages, these followers lay dormant and do not like or comment on any of the user’s content. To receive activity and maintain the illusion that your followers are real, a user is forced to purchase likes and activity for each photo. Often times, the goal is to end up on the ‘popular page’ and attract organic likes and comments that way.
Often times, suspect patterns of large followings and low follower activity invite suspicion surrounding the authenticity of the account’s followers. Perhaps the only thing worse on social media than being unpopular is being discovered trying to buy popularity. Some bloggers and businesses have been called out for these suspect patterns, including large and sudden jumps in following. Being discovered can ruin the credibility of a blogger’s site or social media account.
Having and buying followers is not merely about being perceived as popular, it’s a means to acquiring more followers. The service Followers Guru claims on its home page, “Social Media Psychology determines that a profile or account that has already gained a lot of publicity will continue to grow in popularity at an exponential rate.” Put simply, followers beget followers.
Social Envy appeals to users’ vanity by claiming, “Everyone knows the benefits of having a large number of followers, with Social Envy you will quickly rise the ranks into Instagram Popularity. Get famous now.”
Another website, instabuyagram.com appeals to users’ insecurities saying, “You are judged by the number of likes and followers you have on any social media platform, and Instagram is no different. A less-than-impressive number can shift the focus from you to others. Remain in the limelight online with our Instagram Followers service.”
So who actually buys these followers? Is it young teens who want to feel popular and show up their classmates? Could it be the young adult hoping to become ‘insta-famous’? Yes, these are some of the clients for social media services. Young and competitive social groups place pressure on social media users to appear popular; however, this is only one demographic using social media services. According to YTView.com, one of the leading social media service providers, their business has over 50,000 customers across a number of social media platforms.
There are young entrepreneurs trying to make a business out of their social media accounts. These accounts try to break into the highly competitive worlds of fashion, fitness, and other specialty niches in which social media can become a real business. Alice Wright, the founder of blog forum GOMI, was quoted saying, “Instagram is such a huge part of how popular a fashion blogger is perceived to be.” If you want to be taken seriously in these arenas, you need to have a large following. Furthermore, the income each celebrity receives is directly related to how many followers they have, putting on pressure to garner a large follower base. In 2014 when Instagram made a push to eliminate fake accounts, Justin Bieber lost over 3.5 million followers representing 15% of his account. Ariana Grande and Kim Kardashian both lost over one million followers amidst the same purge by Instagram.
The YTView.com founder went on to say that even large businesses and famous celebrities use these services. Some businesses spend even as much as $10,000 a year on acquiring followers and likes. Some businesses which are already established, but want to continue spreading their influence use these services. Other businesses who are newer to social media and afraid of appearing unpopular at the onset of their campaign use these services to get a head start. Followers Guru advertises, “A visitor is far more likely to socialize and interact with your business when they automatically see that a major crowd already loves you.”
While the business of buying social media followers is at first glance emblematic of youthful competition and jealousy in the online world, closer inspection reveals a far broader customer base who uses these services as a means of boosting their business’s awareness and profitability. Today, social media has become as important an aspect of brand management as any other forum.