Is paying for Instagram followers worth it?

An experiment:

I decided to do an experiment to answer the following question “Is buying Instagram followers worth it?” Here’s what I learned.

But first some background..

As many of you know I began this journey of being a full-time traveler back in January 2019. You can read more about how that happened here. Part of what I want to do with this process is document just HOW I have built my audience and created my business as I am building it. Basically I want to show you how the sausage is made (If ya’ catch my drift).

I started about 3-ish weeks ago trying to build up my Instagram following. (Which to be honest is not something I love. I feel weird putting myself on display and trying to encourage people to come and like and follow my page. )

If I could I would just go to all the pretty places and only send pictures to my mom, mother in law, and grandparents. BUT in this industry, a solid Instagram following is ESSENTIAL to success. If you want brands to work with you you need an engaged audience.

Luckily I used to be a business analyst for a fortune 100 company. This means I used to analyze data and trends over time for a living. So when it came to creating my own business and developing an internet following I applied the same rules and skills of analysis and research to my social media work. One thing I’ve been learning is that the more outside links you include in our posts (Like this one about the same subject I am writing about now) the more reach you have and the higher opportunity you have to gain followers.

Some data for you..

This principle is the same on Instagram. To implement this I started tagging brands in my posts and started getting roughly 70-100 followers per week with a retention of around 40% and an average post engagement of 20%. To give some perspective the average engagement rate on Instagram is around 3% and any number above that indicates that you are an “influencer” among your peers. However, I only had around 330-350 followers after working at it for 3 weeks (which I am told is actually pretty decent, I am just not a patient person and loath drawing so much attention to myself). On Thursday I posted this picture and tagged Modcloth (which is one of my favorite clothing stores) in the photo. A fashion page (which will remain nameless) reached out to me asking if I’d like them to share my photo.

I was tickled pink! I thought I was finally getting somewhere! I told them I’d be open to it and to tell me more about their brand. At which point my heart sank a little and they disclosed their “Price list”. They told me it would be $35 to share 1 post and that I would gain a guaranteed 200-300 followers. I was about to message them to sod off when a little light bulb clicked in my head… and I thought, “hmmm, I wonder if anyone else has experimented with their own Instagram account to see if buying Instagram followers is worth it?” I decided I’d try it and see. And because I am a millennial I will now tell all you lovely people about it… that’s what we do right?

A Disclaimer…

I am writing about this in an effort to be transparent and to present actual data on a subject that I think is controversial in the social media world. Since posting this I have gone through and blocked all the “purchased” followers and reported several of the accounts for reasons you will better understand if you keep reading.

Back to the experiment..

Anyway I paid the $35 dollars, said a prayer of apology to my Jewish immigrant ancestors for my wastefulness and waited to see what happened. Remember at this point my Follower count is around 340 followers and my engagement is about 20-30% per post.

SIDENOTE: Engagement = likes, comments and follows caused by or related to a post.

The page did as promised and posted one of my pictures the following morning and my phone blew up. The first three hours I gained about 25 followers per hour and as the rest of the world began to explore Instagram that number doubled. I decided I would track these followers over the next 48 hours to see how many of them would stick. Here’s what I found.

By the end of the day Friday my followers went from 340 to 598. That’s a 75% increase in followers in 24 hours.

BUT my engagement dropped from 20-30% to 10-15%. THAT’S NEARLY A 50% DECREASE IN THE FIRST 24 HOURS!!!! Subsequently that number went down further still the following day when my post of a Duran picture at the Legion of Honor only got 27 likes by 3:30 PM PST and 8 comments. That is about another 10% decrease in engagement!

I will say it appears that I continue to loose between 15-25 followers per day from this paid posting. Likely because they are disingenuous followers. However my average REAL followers from engaging with and following other creators and brands continues to trend upwards. This means this week it will be hard to tell exactly how many of my followers are retention from the purchase and how many are new followers that I am gaining by intentionally engaging with the greater Instagram community. But if I gave it a rough estimate I will continue to see a daily increase of 10-15 followers.

I also did my best to spot check the accounts that were following me from the paid posting. Based on my findings over 70% of these followers were “Private” accounts. Which to me indicates that they are likely bots. Another 10% had no content whatsoever on their page. (Granted I only checked about 100 of the followers before getting tired and falling asleep!)

Some more background…

It should be noted that Instagram changed their algorithm this year. You can read more about that here. To summarize, Instagram used to place emphasis on followers and the more followers you had the higher up you were placed on discovery pages. As you can imagine that algorithm was fantastic for pages like the fashion page I paid for because it meant their services that traded money for exposure to/ purchase of followers were worth a lot more.

Now the algorithm places emphasis on engagement, so the more engagement a post has, the higher you are placed on discovery pages. The idea is, Instagram is leveling the playing field and placing emphasis on the quality and desirability of content because engagement is more meaningful than volume and is a better gauge of whether or not someones content is good.

The Conclusion…

This experiment confirmed my suspicions that purchasing followers is not for me. I can say wholeheartedly I’ll never do it again.

When it comes to being a content creator I stand firm in my belief that authenticity creates community and I’d take 25 engaged, real followers who care about my content than 1000 disengaged followers any day.

I hope this information has been helpful to you and would love to hear your thoughts on the subject! Drop a comment below!


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