The Price of Free Instagram Followers

Digital Marketing August 26, 2018

The Price of Free Instagram Followers

Instagram followers are thought by many to signify influence. This is conceptually accurate but practically false. The Internet is, contrary to what you may wish, full of shady shit. If you’re looking for cheap Instagram followers you’re going to be disappointed—at some point.

Where their is demand there evolves a market. Instagram and other social media channels that signify the importance of profiles through numerical means open the doors to those that would game the system. That is, create fake likes, fake followers, and fake shares. In the world of social media marketing, these are referred to collectively as social signals.

If you’re ever Googled a popular topic and found yourself to one of the first results you’ve likely seen social proof being flaunted. Publishers and media have no qualms about bragging how many social signals their content receives. What they don’t flaunt is how incredulously these numbers are calculated.

Fake Followers, Likes, Shares & Views

News channels are rife with reports of fake accounts being leveraged for political gain. What they don’t report is that this is a standard practice for all industries. It’s not some Russian conspiracy to elect officials with International sympathies. It’s simply a case of political campaigns having been called out for using the same services that everyone else is. Russians just happen to be among the most cost effective service providers.

When someone publishes a piece of content they often share it to their social media channels. Before networks like Facebook started tanking organic reach of such shares, there was a pretty good chance that your followers might see these types of posts. On a good day, a fair percentage may even share that post with their friends and some of those friends might become followers.

Many self-proclaimed social media gurus will have us believe running Facebook ads are akin to opening one’s wallet up and receiving free money. Whether they be “dark ads,” or simply boosted posts—the implication is that conversions are easy to come by. The truth is that many outlets get paid—by social networks—to say that.

The truth is that small businesses without money to spend never get past their first few campaigns. Would you have the cash needed to run and optimize ads until their conversion ROI became profitable? At anywhere from $2.50 to $8.00 for a click budgets can get cannibalized pretty damn quick.

Enter Fake Followers

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube are the Big Five of social media. Others like LinkedIn are notable but far from mainstream. While they may all be a scam there’s one thing that’s certain: having higher share counts creates a stronger sense of trust among consumers.

If your pages, posts, and website have thousands of shares then your customers are going to get the sense that others approve of what you’re doing. After all, who would “like” something they didn’t like?

There are many online services that cater to this phenomena by offering businesses and websites fake followers, fake likes, and fake anything that can be measured as a social signal.

Prices have increased with crackdowns on bots and fake profiles but it’s still way easier to pay $15 USD for 1500 Facebook followers so your profile looks legit rather than spending thousands on Facebook ads for a similar effect. What’s the point in having quality followers if they don’t see your posts anyway, right?

Here’s a list of common social signal services that can be found on many SEO marketplaces and forums:

  • Fake Followers
  • Fake Shares
  • Fake Retweets
  • Fake Video Views
  • Fake App Downloads
  • Fake Screen Captures
  • Auto-Like Posts Per Month

Let’s talk about that last service for a second; Auto-Like Posts Per Month. For ~$50/mo. a business or website can pay a company to automatically generate social signals every time their profile creates a new post. That means every new post receives likes, shares, and signals all meant to increase social proof and game the ranking algorithms.

So What’s Real Then?

Truth be told, it’s hard to tell. Back in the day Hillary Clinton’s campaign got scathed by news outlets for having ~40% of all followers located in Iran. The next election cycle she gets quoted for hammering Donald Trump for having fake Twitter followers.

The most influential media outlets and personas in modern society all abuse fake social signals—whether they know it or not. It can be a simple matter of outsourcing marketing to a shady contractor, allowing an intern to make a silly mistake, or going full-board on faking the funk. The takeaway is that in an arena where anything could be faked it’s best to assume that everything actually is.