Insta Fraud: Why I’m getting so frustrated with content creators buying Instagram likes and fake followers to cheat the system. The question is, what are we going to do about it?
How many of you out there are getting ridiculously frustrated with fellow content creators cheating the system every day? I think this is something that affects so many of us, and yet it’s something we do absolutely nothing about.
Last night I watched an Instagrammer gain bulk likes jumping 200-400 likes in a matter of seconds. Refresh the photo, another 400 likes. Refresh again, another 200. That’s on top of getting dozens of comments all within 10 minutes from Telegram (a massive comment pod where people post the URL to their photo and everyone has to comment on all within 10 minutes of posting). Authentic engagement? Far far from it.
This is the photo I bought 2,500 likes on for just $12.99 (but more on that later!)
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On SocialBlade (a website where you can monitor people’s account and activity), another travel blogger I follow went up 14,440 in five days (7,653 overnight) buying mass followers. That particular account now has 177,000 followers, most of which have been bought over the last two years.
A quick look at their profile shows that 13 out of their last 15 posts have been ads or collabs, so not only are they directly profiting by cheating the system by gaining clients, they’re directly stealing work from honest content creators who are trying to build a profile and grow a business organically and legitimately.
Buying Instagram likes and followers
How is it possible for people to buy followers and likes?
Despite Instagram’s insistence that it is going to shut down 3rd party software where you can buy mass followers and likes, people are still out there willing and able to cheat the system very easily. Programs such as Jarvee and other social media services still allow you to buy on bulk or set up a subscription service for such small amounts of money.
A quick Google search shows I could buy 100,000 Instagram followers for as little as $285. I’d be able to find jobs and clients so easily with 100,000 followers, and all it would cost in a paltry $285, less than what you’d be paid on your first campaign. It’s shocking.
I, like a lot of other content creators, are crying out for Instagram to shut down these services and these fake accounts to make it a level playing field for all of us. It’s all we want! However, I wouldn’t expect anything soon.
Obviously Instagram love the fact they can report to share-holders that they have 1 billion active users with a high-engagement rate – that justifies their position and their jobs, right? The fact that people can buy followers and likes only perpetuates this. What sounds better to Instagram, having 1 billion active users or 800 million active users?
How and why I bought 2,500 likes for $12.99
Just to prove how easy it is to still cheat the system, I just bought 2,500 likes on the above photo (and no doubt tanking my own profile and reach in the process!) for $12.99. That’s all it cost.
I clicked on one of the first results in Google, hey presto, literally less than 10 minutes later 2,500 likes. Honestly, it took me less than 5 minutes to do it and another 5 minutes for the likes to be on my account. Zero interaction, just a nice juicy 2,500 likes to show a potential client. “Hey, look how much influence I have…”
I know people are frustrated with a system where not only is it incredibly easy to buy followers and likes, but a system that’s doing nothing to stop this. And remember this has been going on for years – this could’ve been and should’ve been stopped a very long time ago.
What can we do to stop the problem?
As a content creator, I have lost jobs because my Instagram following isn’t big enough. I have then seen people then get those jobs over me when I know they’ve bought followers and I’ve done nothing about it. Could brands and companies be doing more to see who has true authenticity or influence? Or are they just looking for ‘vanity likes’ to say “this campaign has reached X number of people”?
I decided to speak to Michael Ball, the co-founder of Traverse Events, a company not only working with bloggers directly but a company that promotes bloggers to tourist boards and PR companies. Michael has always been an advocate of working with the right blogger – that means no one who’s cheated their way to the top.
He said: “We look closely at a whole bunch of things to see if it’s likely someone has been gaming the system. We run all accounts through SocialBlade and other programs checking out which accounts are likely to be bots, bought etc.
“We also look at more obvious signs, such as engagement rate, how many comments are generic ‘nice feed’ ‘love this’ etc. Basically, we look at a lot and if it’s suspicious then it’s easy enough for us to find someone else. If things don’t add up then we won’t work with them and we will tell them why.”
Worryingly, Michael thinks people are starting to lose their trust in influencers. “Instagram is easy to manipulate and it’s easy to look good on. The platform itself never seems to care about this, the majority of people on the platform don’t either. It’s a shame, but it’s the way it is.”
Is there hope for the future?
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. As Michael said:
“There is a positive though, and a big one. This is that brands stop prioritising Instagram and focus on good quality blogs and YouTube videos. If the focus is strongly on those, with Instagram as an additional compliment (as I believe it should be), then people’s focus will also switch when it comes to their content.
“This is not to say people won’t be able to succeed on Instagram as a standalone platform, but you’ll have to be very special to do so. However, that, for me, is how content should be done, and the sooner more people think that way the better.”
Why I’m so frustrated with Instagram
I’ve said it before, but all I want is a level playing field. I don’t care if someone has 100K followers when I only have 10K, but I do care when they’ve manipulated the system and are now benefiting from it, all to my detriment.
It’s nearly 2019. Not only are people still buying followers and likes, they’re doing it more than ever across multiple platforms. It’s no longer a case of “these people might steal our jobs if we’re not careful…”, they are stealing our jobs.
The question is, as content creators, what are we doing about it? What *can* we do about it?
I would love to know your opinions on this one so please comment below and let me know what you think!
Monday 30th of December 2019
Really an amazing and interesting and informative article. Thanks for sharing!
Thursday 18th of April 2019
Thanks for the post, I had no idea it was that easy & I kinda wish i didn't! As a new brand on Insta I can see the allure. We have 200 followers, woohoo! So a loooooong way to go. Even as a brand we have opportunities that are only available to us if we have a decent following i.e a booth in Venture Out at the OR show. Unfortunately as we built our business, (selling wholesale to the National Parks) we did not bother with Instagram. Our products were flying out the door and we couldn't keep up, let alone tend the social media fire. So here we are 6 years later ready to focus on online sales and kicking ourselves for not stoking the fire along the way. So yeah that sounds pretty appealing right now. But thinking of all the fake-ness makes me feel like I need a shower. Besides not being good for business in the long run, it just feels slimy. This was perfect timing. We are heading to the #WIT19 women in travel blogger conference to learn about the influencer world and find some help. Thanks to your article we will be looking for some "authentic" bloggers like you : )
Thursday 16th of May 2019
I'm glad you liked the post Colleen and thanks for commenting! It's definitely a juggle between building a business both online and offline. I can definitely see the benefit of Instagram at advertising your products to customers, but I don't think it's the main platform people should concentrate on. It's so sad that people can cheat and buy their way to the top, but a fake following doesn't mean success - I genuinely believe that people who are faking it will get found out eventually!
Friday 30th of November 2018
Nice post, Macca. I should write a post like that too to add on to the voice of hardworking and talented content creators. It's sad that we, honest people, don't enjoy a level playing field just because we uphold a higher integrity. We work harder than the cheaters but find it tougher to get the social proof that we need to seal the deal.
To me, instagram is a very fake platform. Fake followers, fake likes, fake comments. Even photos can be drastically edited such that they no longer look like the real thing. I'm secretly just waiting for the trend to pass (he he).
Monday 17th of December 2018
I completely agree with you Nicole! I just wish clients didn't hold Instagram in such high esteem as it can all be faked, all of it. You can tell the hard working bloggers from their stats and they can't be faked or bought (or at least not as easily and cheaply as on Instagram). I hope the trend passes eventually too!
Tuesday 27th of November 2018
A well-written and interesting post. I have recently heard a lot of people expressing frustration about people buying followers and likes on Instagram. I refuse to follow that route for my @goeatdo account and I'm having a tough time getting engagement. Even seeing people follow and unfollow to boost their account following is frustrating.
Tuesday 27th of November 2018
Thanks Stuart, I appreciate that! I think most of us on the straight and narrow are super frustrated at the fact that our engagement and reach is incredibly low when people buy their way to the top. Hopefully Instagram cleans out the platform and we can all get involved in it again, but until that happens it's not going to be a major focus for me!
Tuesday 27th of November 2018
Great post Macca! I've become increasingly frustrated by instagram over the last few years, and for ages I've been trying not to care about it. This year I think I've just about nailed that. I look at Instagram as a compliment to my other channels and, most importantly, to my blog. My blog is the real way I can offer a client value so that should always be the main focus. Maybe I lose out on a few jobs because my Instagram doesn't look good enough, but I think there are still plenty of clients out there who care more about good quality blog content than about a few shiny instagram posts with impressive numbers!
I'm not sure if there's anything we can do about the issue, other than calling people out on their fakery - which I worry makes us look bitter. But maybe through a long process we can educate more brands about how to look for "real" accounts and why blogs/videos are more useful long term!
Other than that, try not to let it get you down! Instagram may well just tank soon, especially as all the fakery gets out of hand. I think that's why the founders abandoned ship recently. What we need is a new, honest platform that somehow makes it impossible to buy likes or followers!
Tuesday 27th of November 2018
Thanks for commenting Emily! I completely agree with you - I don't think it's a major focus for either of us, and it's good to keep on reminding ourselves of that fact every now and then. However, my biggest bugbear is the fact that clients put so much weight behind IG. I'd say it's the one channel they want most and that's just wrong. I do agree though that there are plenty of clients out there who want good quality blog content (thankfully!) I have had a couple of clients contact me about all of this so I think that two-way talking is more important now then it ever has been before - it's all about educating people so they understand what's going on!