There’s been a lot of discussion over on Twitter about people who use bots/have used bots/have allegedly bought following and engagement/have manually followed and unfollowed people to boost their own growth.
Hopefully, from that sentence you can see just how complex the whole issue of ‘Instagram fraud’ is and how many different variations of it there are. Personally, I remember follow/unfollow being a tactic that was widely recommended (by people I admired and trusted) a few years ago, and I’m not too proud to admit that it’s a tactic I used myself for a few months before realising that all it actually does is irritate other Instagram users and encourage random people to follow you who aren’t actually that in love with your content.
Instagram can be a frustrating platform to be on, especially when you see others rapidly growing while your following fluctuates without really going anywhere. So I can totally understand why people look for ways to effectively grow their accounts. But, I think the real issue here comes with intent. Is someone growing their account because they want their content to be seen and engaged with by more (genuine) people? Or, are they trying to boost their numbers in order to appeal to brands who will pay them for posts? I think the real issue comes with the latter, and the former tend to be people who have naively given a tactic a go.
Of course, whatever the intent is, the behaviour of following and unfollowing is an absolute nightmare for fellow social media users. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing the same person follow and unfollow you – I’ve definitely blocked a few people who do this. But do our frustrations with people gaming the system really justify naming and shaming? What is the true purpose of putting up a list of supposed frauds? I know some people will argue that it brings awareness, but I’m not sure that the awareness it brings is worth the targets it puts on innocent people, just because their stats *might* be dodgy.
I don’t think there’s a right answer to this question, so I would be really interested to know what other people think. But I can give my personal opinion, and that’s that it depends on what the past behaviour is and how their behaviour has changed now. Personally, I think if someone tried out a growth tactic years ago, and clearly doesn’t do it now, I’m happy to forgive them for it and keep enjoying their current content. The real issue for me comes with people who know that their growth tactics are wrong, but they keep doing it because it works and they’ve managed to build an impressive online persona from it.
Of course, I don’t expect everyone to think this way – there will be some who can never forgive past shady tactics and there will be some who say ‘but I love Xxx’s content, so who cares if they use tactics to grow?’
I honestly think how you look at this situation, and whether or not it impacts what you think of people, is up to you. And there’s no right or wrong ways to feel about it. However, that doesn’t mean you can make yourself the ‘Instagram police’ and go about throwing people under the bus because you don’t agree with the tactics they’ve used (however wrong they may be). Educate brands on what to look out for, sure, but naming specific people can put you in some serious hot water. For example, a defamation case if someone feels your article/tweet/Instagram post has a negative impact on their income or business.
We need to be really careful with how we handle these situations. I understand the desire to out those who are gaining from shady tactics, but it rarely had a positive result. The people rightfully named tend to continue to get away with it while others who get caught in the crossfire face mass unfollows from people and nasty tweets/DMs.
Personally, I think the real way to make a change is to educate brands on what to look out for when selecting who to work with. Brands need to put their focus on the demographics of someone’s audience, the engagement with the content they produce and whether or not they’re a good fit for a brand. All of this information can, and should, be found out upfront. Ask for screenshots of people’s demographics and insights from a recent post that’s similar to the content you would like them to produce for your campaign. Look through the comments on their posts, and click through to some of the profiles to get a feel for those who engage with them.
As much as we want to expose those who are gaining from inflating (or even faking) their audiences, it’s really not our place to do it within the community. When we do it makes us look catty and unprofessional.
I would love to know what your take is on this? What do you think about people who use different tactics to grow and how do you think we can make the industry a better place?
Photography by Fifi