Jason Malouin was just like you.
He'd been on Instagram (@jason.communicator) for a couple of years and wanted to grow his brand. "I was really struggling to get attention and build up a following."
"My work speaks for itself, but I just didn't know how to get any traction. I figured one of the things that could persuade people to follow is social proof... seeing lots of followers."
"So I decided to give it a try. In order to build momentum."
He now has almost 10k likes but ironically regrets the decision. Here's why.
Can you get Instagram traffic for free?
Livelong Digital is a social media company based in Melbourne whose aim is to help you grow your business via social streams. Prosper Taruvinga is one of their Digital Marketing Strategists, and his advice about buying followers is Don't Do It.
"Paying for followers can do more harm than good," says Taruvinga. "A quick win is good but it rarely provides actual engagement that results in business transactions or the self esteem of which people need this 'fame' for."
Taruvinga's advice is to look at your Instagram following like you would your bedroom. "Would you invite strangers to come and hang out with you?"
What are the risks?
The problem with buying followers, which many people do, is that it does nothing more than create a vanity metric, and Instagram might even take down your account.
"Well known accounts like Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and retail brands like American Apparel have all fallen victim to this," explains Taruvinga.
And if they don't close you down completely they might limit the amount of times your posts appear. When that happens, it's called being Shadow Banned.
"Getting banned from Instagram over fake followers can compromise your future because you no longer have access to two major marketing channels," says Taruvinga. "Imagine not being able to start a business account in the future just because you wanted to be Instafamous in the past?"
So how do you buy followers and what will it cost?
You can buy thousands of followers for less than the price of a bottle of wine. Malouin was drawn in by one of the ads he saw on Instagram that promised a huge following in return for a few dollars. "It was only $15 or $20. No big expense and easy to justify," he says.
Companies like Buzzoid, Idigic and Instaboostgram promise hundreds of followers for as little as $2.97, but it's unlikely they'll be engaged clients. Even if you buy Likes and Comments, at some point you're likely to come unstuck.
Malouin experienced the high you get from suddenly having a boost to his Inbox. "The number of followers coming in was staggered," he says. "It came in a few hundred a day."
But once the target numbers were reached Maolin's daily increase in followers tapered off. "I had signed up for a certain number and once the target was reached, they stopped. I bought 8k followers but the problem was zero increase in engagement."
However, he was so happy with the initial boost in numbers he did it again. "To the uninitiated, it still looks very impressive," he says. "I'll tell people my account name and they will look and say 'Wow! Almost 10k followers!' It's just an ego boost and nothing more."
Can you buy 'real' followers on Instagram?
Short answer, no.
For some, a steep rise in followers might lead you to feel more confident and motivated to create more engaging content, and from there, who knows, maybe those numbers will convert new people who genuinely engage with your work. But it's unlikely, because like most things, fakery only lasts so long.
"If an influencer or potential partner sees a huge number of followers and a drastically unbalanced number of likes and comments it's painfully obvious that you bought your followers," says Malouin.
"The worst part about it is that these days my account is getting seen by much more influential people and they ask me why my account is so unbalanced."
Can you get Instagram traffic for free?
Yes, growing your following organically is free. It takes time and effort but it's the way to go if you want to build an engaged following.
For Malouin, the authentic route is what's really worked for him:
- Honest, consistent engagement on other people's posts
- Getting much smarter with hashtags
- Copying what other people (whose work you admire and who have a strong following) are doing
- Tagging people in your post
So if you really want to build and grow your following on Instagram, you need to treat it like you would any business. Consider what you can offer your customers. How can you be unique? Why are you doing it? If it's just for fame or to get freebies then you have a long and arduous road ahead of you.
But if you have a passion for something and you want to share it, consistency and authenticity are your best tools.
Oh, and sorry to shatter any illusions, but you'll also need to put in a lot of hard work.