- Followers on social media often come with a rapidly filling bank account that could reach six-figure annual earnings for top-tier influencers.
- But popular influencers have been accused of buying followers to grow their online presence.
- You could have 10 000 new followers for a small amount. But will Insta-fame follow?
Who wouldn't want to wake up to 40 million Instagram followers?
For emerging beauty or fashion bloggers, it would be a social media dream come true - not to mention the lucrative endorsement deals and all of that free stuff that lands on their desks.
Let's face it, we're not all Kimmy K, and with more than 400 million Instagram users, it's hard to stand out from the crowd. It's difficult competing with feeds filled with models, far-flung tropical locations, camera-wielding boyfriends and swags of amazing clothes.
But now, aspiring social media influencers are also vying against mega-bloggers, who are getting a boost via the dubious practice of buying their Instagram followers.
Passionate blog-watchers from the Get Off My Internets (GOMI) platform have accused big-name influencers - like Rachel Parcell of fashion blog Pink Peonies and interior designer Aimee Song of Song Of Style - of buying followers to grow their online presence.
As proof, they point to noticeable spikes in their follow and comment stats that don't match the blogs' total followings.
"There are a couple of big-name bloggers who buy followers right before fashion week, just so that they have a better chance of getting collaborations with designers," speculates one user in a GOMI forum.
"There's this one blogger whose number of followers was stuck at around 790 000... and just in time for fashion week you could actually watch the number increase in seconds. And she has now around 916 000. As if you could get 100K followers in just a few days!"
Well, with a couple of clicks, it isn't too hard. Google 'buy Instagram followers' and there are pages of businesses that will show up with several thousand likes in the time it takes to pull out your credit card. For $55 (about R900), you can have 10 000 new followers. But will Insta-fame follow?
Many of these sites offer 'ghost' followers (accounts that look genuine but aren't active), so beyond the numbers there's no real interaction with your profile.
If you're prepared to spend a little bit more dosh, there are businesses that will make sure your newfound followers offer more engagement through regular comments and likes. Beneficial, since - as social media expert Kirsten Jassies (justk.nl) points out - the more active followers you have, the more exposure you're going to get.
Kirsten experimented with buying likes on Insta and divulged about the experience on her blog.
"It worked a little bit for my image. I get more followers faster than before," she says of her foray into faking it. "In the past three weeks, I got 200 new followers - I got a dozen in this same time slot before."
For up-and-coming bloggers, it can be tempting to get a little help early on. But according to Lauren Roe, who runs online business, I Love Linen, and works with a lot of influencers to promote her brand, buying followers is just not sustainable.
"You'll go off with a bang - it looks like there's all this energy and buzz surrounding you," she says. "But then you can't back it up with comments and likes that organic growth will provide."
Roe believes that both big brands and small businesses are becoming savvier when deciding which 'grammars' to partner with. They do extensive research and comb through feeds to make sure the engagement is truly genuine; numbers are no longer the most reliable gauge.
"It's always about authenticity and the relationship an individual has with their community. It's better to partner with a person who has a much lower number of likes or followers, but really strong engagement rates. It shows that they are influential, that people seem to respect what they say, and that they are more likely to be listened to," says Roe.
For beauty and fashion blogger Cass Sersemis, her 82 000-plus followers are the result of more than five years of heavy-duty content commitment, first on Tumblr and now on Instagram.
"To build my following, I posted photos of myself, my outfits, advice on make-up, fashion, boys, friends, school - the lot," she explains. "Each time I was featured on the popular page (Search & Explore), I would gain 1 000-plus followers in a couple of hours."
Cass' Instagram success has been based on consistent posting and offering a genuine and inspiring voice.
"If you have a decent amount of followers and likes, and the content you post is good quality, that will gain you attention," she says.
As an online influencer, Cass is regularly asked to market products for brands, and she believes the focus on numbers is nowhere near as intense as the pressure she feels to create beautiful images.
"If it's something important, like a paid post, I want it to turn out perfect, especially for the company that I'm promoting, as they have picked me to promote their product," she says.
Cass likens her IG feed to growing a small business and, therefore, has an obligation to be transparent about her fan base and not mislead her commercial partners.
"It's wrong, because companies might be disappointed if their business doesn't get the attention they wanted from you promoting them. It's like false advertising."
Even Instagram is on the case. Millions of users saw their numbers suddenly drop when spam accounts were purged from the site in 2014.
The biggest loser was Justin Bieber - he said farewell to 3 538 228 of his followers. The massive cull exposed anyone who might have bought followers or likes at some point in their Instagram careers, which kind of backfired, right?
"You've got to start at zero and work really hard to produce awesome content and innovative ways for people to find you," emphasises Roe. "That's the best way of going about it."
How to win friends and influence people
Want to score followers the old-fashioned way?
PR girl boss Roxy Jacenko - who works closely with lifestyle bloggers through her Ministry Of Talent agency - tells us how:
1. Always be yourself. Don't try to recreate someone else's style or work, as it will show. You can be inspired by other people, but always give it your own edge.
2. Don't force your point. Aim for authenticity and honesty.
3. Be patient. Don't expect to have thousands of followers overnight.
4. Try to find a niche that hasn't been explored, or offer a different perspective.
5. Use your unique voice and just have fun. After all, that's what it should be about.
Have you considered buying followers or did you opt for the organic approach? Tell us here.
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