To buy or not to buy, the pitfalls of buying social network followers:

Use any major social network, with the possible exception of LinkedIn, and you will get offers to buy followers. From accounts on the platforms themselves, from ads and even in threads on platforms like Quora, it is not difficult to find places to buy followers. Searching ‘buy followers’ in the UK produces 2.6 billion results. Yes, 2.6bn.

Why do so many people buy followers?

Unfortunately, there is still a widespread belief that quantity matters more than quality. If, for example, you see two social media consultants on Twitter and one has 20,000 followers while the other has 75,000, the automatic assumption is that the account with 75k must belong to the better social media consultant.

Fact is, that account owner could have bought those followers for less than £1500 and know nothing whatsoever about how to help a business succeed in social!

Doing the things that build a genuine network of followers takes time, thought and consistent effort but for some people the lure of a quick fix is just too much. Today you could have 1000 Instagram followers and by this time next week, for as little as £2 per hundred, you could have 10,000.

Some suppliers will charge significantly more, up to £65 per 1000 followers and claim these are active accounts that will interact with yours. Unfortunately, there is no real way of knowing until you have parted with your cash. Here is a Hootsuite blog about their experience buying Instagram followers.

The fact you can always see follower or ‘like’ numbers on every social account drive this practice but they only show bare numbers, not what’s actually happening on the account. By themselves, these metrics mean very little and are often referred to as ‘vanity metrics’. Read my post here about what really matters in social ROI.

So, what are the downsides?

There is a mistaken assumption that once you have a larger follower network, greater engagement will automatically follow. It will not:

  • Purchased followers will most likely not even be real accounts, they will probably be bots or deactivated accounts.
  • They can be from anywhere in the world. The most common bought followers are in India, Egypt, Russia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines or Malaysia. Great if you’re based in one of these countries, not helpful otherwise.
  • These accounts have no interest in your account and will not interact with it. There will be no engagement.
  • False followers can generate bot traffic to your site. If you don’t realise this is happening, you could make strategic decisions about your site or your business based on false assumptions.

If, for example, you suddenly start getting a ton of Facebook mobile traffic after you bought followers, it is not because a big number of new potential customers decided to use this channel to visit you. Its because the traffic is generated automatically by bots. Check out this pretty scary footage of a ‘click farm’ in action.

I have worked with two companies who had previously bought followers for their social accounts, in both cases in excess of 10,000. Not only were these followers useless from a business perspective, every time we needed to look at performance data, we had to begin by ruling out any effect these rogue followers were having.

So what should you do instead of buying followers?

If you have a budget to buy followers but actually want to do something that helps reach your business objectives, I would use it doing one of two things:

  1. advertise on the platform itself, especially Facebook. Platforms heavily favour advertisers over ‘organic’ users and give you a whole range of targeting options to make sure your message reaches just the right people. You’ll also get data about your account only available to advertisers. There’s a good possibility you’ll gain some new followers and ‘likes’ too.
  2. Work with an influencer in your sector. You’ll need to choose carefully and create an agreement clearly outlining expectations on both sides but this can be a highly effective way of getting your message in front of your priority audiences. The benefit of an influencer, of course, is that your message receives third-party endorsement from your chosen influencer.

My clear recommendation is that you do not buy followers. If you do, you will receive a cosmetic improvement in your vanity metrics but you will not receive any worthwhile benefit to your business. Bought followers will not engage with your content or visit your site and could even end up skewing your performance metrics. Don’t do it.