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There have been so many people chatting recently about Instagram’s algorithm, loop giveaways, buying followers, etc. that I wanted to pop on here and lend my voice to the conversation, as well. I titled it purposely and use the term questionable because there is nothing unethical, illegal, or otherwise going on here – every blogger runs their business differently.
That being said, I wanted to add a quick disclaimer: these are solely my opinions. I’m writing this not to chastise anyone’s business practices, I’m writing this so that other bloggers don’t feel alone in their frustration. We’re all feeling it! I’m fortunate to have a close group of blogger friends that I can bounce ideas, thoughts, and stress off of, but many bloggers don’t have that community. Maybe they’re just starting out or live in a small town. Either way, I want you to know that the confusion and pressure you’re feeling is felt by us all.
I’m also not writing this to complain. I can’t think of a better job in the world for me and feel very connected with the people who read this blog and lucky to do what I do. Ok, now that that’s out of the way, a little background…
For those that aren’t privy to Instagram’s algorithm, the way we see content in our feeds has changed drastically over the last year. When Instagram began, our timelines were in chronological order. Which was awesome! Influencers could be found organically based on what time they posted, hashtags they used, etc.
Nowadays, Instagram organizes the photos you see based on what you have interacted with in the past and photos that are interacted with in high numbers very quickly. And if you are a business account it can be even more difficult. As was done on Facebook, Instagram is gearing up to force business accounts to pay for ad space to be discovered. So because of this discovery difficulty, bloggers are beginning to participate in questionable social media practices.
Enter Engagement Pods, Loop Giveaways, Buying Followers/Likes
Thanks to this algorithm update, influencers felt pressure to get interaction quickly so their photos appeared higher in people’s feeds. Being the ingenues they are, they came up with engagement pods. This is a group of bloggers who will like and comment on each others posts in hopes that the algorithm will work in their favor.
Engagement Pods: It’s really a clever idea! Unfortunately more so in theory than in practice. I can’t speak from personal experience, but chatting with a few bloggers I know who participate in them, I have heard that they’re more trouble than they’re worth. You spend an hour a day commenting/liking images you might not honestly like and if you miss a post, the other pod-members get onto you. No pressure or anything! I personally feel like there are MUCH more productive ways to spend an hour of your day – research SEO practices, take a photography course, etc. – you’ll be sure to get far more out of it.
In my opinion, engagement pods are harmless. But regardless, I’d consider whether they are really worth your time.
Buying Followers/Likes: You would be shocked at how many emails I receive from companies offering to sell me followers and likes. And they’re a steal – thousands of followers for only $20 or so. But the crazy part is they’ll mention a few bloggers they worked with for reference and it’s always surprising. Wow, she buys followers? I never would have known! These followers, though, aren’t like the bots of olden days. Accounts that have bought followers aren’t clear cut anymore. These “followers” won’t register as suspicious if you get verified by an agency such as Fohr Card. So ya, the pressure is high to score easy followers on the cheap.
Loop Giveaways: These need no explanation, but to be clear loop giveaways are where a group of bloggers split the cost of a “prize”, then share an image of said prize in their feed, encouraging their followers to participate. For a participant to win the prize, they must follow each influencer in a loop until returning to the first. Then they are entered.
I’m going to go ahead and say it: loop giveaways are a form of buying followers. Are you paying to participate? BUYING. Why are you doing the giveaway? FOLLOWERS. And they have totally gotten out of hand. Half of my feed these days are loop giveaways! More on this later though…
Numbers matter in blogging.
They do. They’re how we pitch our brand to potential collaborators and they’re the most in-your-face indication of our influence. But sometimes those numbers aren’t indicative of influence, which is what brands are paying for. That’s where loop giveaways get a little dicey for me. Let me explain…
This conversation got started for me when I had a number of non-blogger friends reach out recently asking why there are so many loop giveaways in their feeds lately. Bless their hearts, they thought that bloggers just wanted to give them a gift out of the kindness of their hearts. I had to explain to them that this was a way for influencers to pad their follower account without buying bots.
Depending on who you do a loop giveaway with, there is the potential to gain some quality followers. Like I said, my non-blogger friends occasionally participate in them. So if you choose to run a loop giveaway, be picky about who you’re doing it with. Partner with influencers that post similar content, that way your account is being exposed to relevant potential followers.
International giveaways, on the other hand, net you useless followers. Check out an Instagram account that has participated in a few international giveaways. You’ll notice that they have a high follower count and high likes, but low comments (i.e. 100K followers, 5K likes per photo, 10 comments) Then these bloggers turn around and sell these numbers to brands as “influence”.
The scary part is that there’s the chance these influencers may secure a campaign over a blogger with higher influencer but lower follower count. I know, I know… life’s not fair, but there has to be something we can do about this. Plus, why would you want a bunch of followers who don’t give a damn about what you’re posting? The only reason, I believe, is to pitch this manipulated number to brands. How is that ok?
If you take away one thing from this post, let it be this: Follower count and influence can be two vastly different things.
So what do we do about it?
Having said all of this, there is NO reason to judge, criticize, or bully any blogger who participates in questionable practices. There is not a single way to run a blog and what works for me may not work for another blogger. That being said…
Thankfully, there are websites nowadays that make navigating the murky waters of social media a little easier. Social Blade shows you how many followers an Instagram user is gaining or losing on any given day, plus plots these statistics on a graph. When using this site, be sure to understand that an account that buys followers or participates in loop giveaways will have high spikes in follower accounts on one or multiple days, whereas a user that doesn’t will have a smooth slope of follower increase.
Similar Web is another amazing resource. Brands and marketing/PR agencies can compare website traffic of multiple bloggers to get a real, clear idea of who has more influence.
I actually had an amazing conversation with one of my favorite brands recently on this topic. They let me know that their customers/fellow collaborators have gotten on to them lately for working with bloggers who have participated in shady practices in the past. Because of this, they are now they are being extremely diligent about the influencers they work with. They are going as far to use the websites I mentioned to do an in-depth check on potential collaborators. I was so relieved to hear this!
As this conversation snowballs in the blogosphere and social media world, undoubtedly more companies will launch resources to help brands find clarity on who their best partners are. And since I FIRMLY believe this, you won’t ever catch me participating in anything remotely shady.
Focus on your blog. It is the only thing you have complete control over. It should be where most of your time is allotted and it should be the best representation of your brand. And thankfully, there is no way to manipulate page views.
As exciting as the swipe up feature in Instagram Stories is, maybe reconsider swapping your account to a business account. You slowly but surely become less discoverable by maintaining a business profile.
Weather this storm with some dignity. Social media platforms come and go out of popularity and Instagram will be no different.
Consider adding Pinterest more heavily into your social media strategy. To be more discoverable, pin about 30 pins a day (20 from your own site, 10 from other relevant sites). Pinterest will recognize you as a legitimate user and move you higher in people’s feeds.
If you want to “advertise” then buy an Instagram ad, collaborate with a fellow blogger, or run your own giveaway. Heck, buy billboard space on the highway! That way you aren’t manipulating people into following you, they are doing it because they love what you post and want to see more.
To Wrap It Up
As simple as it would be to pay $40-100 to score up to 10,000 followers in a day, I would consider why you began blogging in the first place and also your end game. Think about how your time and money are best spent growing your business. Is it spending hours commenting/liking other bloggers photos? Or putting that hour into perfecting your photography, your editing, your SEO strategy? Is your money best spent buying followers? Or buying Photoshop or Lightroom to improve the quality of your content?
I began this blog because I had a passion for web design, fashion, and photography. I quickly learned that there were so many more AMAZING facets to blogging, the best of which are connecting with my readers and fellow bloggers. So I will continue to run this blog with all of those things at the forefront of my mind. It may not be the popular decision, but it is the best decision for me and my business 🙂