Why Buying Likes Will Hurt Your Brand: Caveat Emptor

sketch of social media feed, spiderman

“So you’re thinking about buying Instagram followers…”

That was the subject line of an email that I received from a reputable social media aggregator tech company. My first thought was, “Wow, you clearly don’t know who I am. Your algorithm is all wonky.” -- but that’s a blog for another day. My second thought was, “Let’s see where this goes.”

Let me start by saying I am 100 per cent opposed to buying followers. I’m a big believer of not counting your clicks (or followers), but making those clicks count. I’d rather have 10 legitimate followers who are likely going to take an action on my site, as opposed to 10,000 “followers” who have no interest in my content.

Numbers can be seductive, though. I once worked for a company where my manager bought into a pitch from a snake oil salesman promising a bunch of new followers for a local activity campaign we were running. I argued vehemently against it, but the views of a “consultant” outweighed what I knew (and that too is another blog post for another day: how we can support internal resources and empower them so that their management appreciates their knowledge) and management bought the pitch.

The snake oil was drunk. We got a bunch of south-Asian followers on our Canadian marketing campaign. We got no benefit from it. We paid a lot of money for nothing.

So when should you buy social followers? How about ...never. 

There are still those who will make the argument that fake followers are a good idea. I know of companies that still encourage that strategy to their clients. And it’s just wrong.

The Value Proposition

The biggest argument that those who encourage people to buy social followers will make, is the idea that followers create momentum. But that’s just patently false.

The idea is that you can build momentum by giving it an artificial push. Having a critical mass of people (say, 1,000 bought-and-paid-for followers) will make it more encouraging for others to follow your account. 

But on social, momentum is created through content, value, and referrals. Those fake accounts aren’t interacting with your desired potential network; they’re not sharing your content and talking you up to people. And they’re most certainly not ever going to actually make a purchase or engage your services. They’re numbers -- that’s it, that’s all.

The Negatives

We talk a lot about authenticity and that’s the biggest thing you’re putting at risk by engaging in the act of buying followers. Users can smell inauthenticity and you don’t want that stench attached to your brand. 

And often it’s pretty obvious -- a bunch of empty profiles or followers that follow hundreds of accounts, but have no followers themselves? It’s pretty easy to see.

The other challenge is that some social platforms will actively take measures against your account -- suspensions and banning, in some cases.

And, ultimately, what are you buying? A number. An artificially inflated number that brings nothing to the table. So it’s a bit of a waste of your money.

The Solution

The problem with people’s expectations of social media is that it’s a quick fix. Just get noticed and the followers and likes will roll in. But trust that it takes time to develop that following. You have to create quality content and do it on a regular basis. You have to interact with people, provide a human element, and work. 

If you have purchased followers in the past, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Some businesses do it to explore the process; others do it to experiment to see if it has an impact. Ultimately, they find out that it’s not worth the cost or effort. I’m just trying to save you a few steps.

Those snake oil salespeople can be awfully convincing. They come in, roaring about the incredible value you’re going to get. But ask them -- and yourself -- a few questions first. They will say it is a numbers game. But, what is the actual value? What are you getting for your payment? These aren’t the Glengarry leads, we’re talking about here -- we’re talking about bots or off-shore accounts that will never contribute a dime back into your business. 

If you want to boost your follower count for vanity reasons, then go ahead. But if you’re looking for value and growth, investing in time and effort’s always going to be the better choice. You can’t buy your way to a shortcut.


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Questions Answered

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