Why You’re Losing Instagram Followers and How To Fix It
Instagram is cracking down on bots and getting tougher — here’s how to succeed in this harsh environment
Are you or someone you know suddenly losing a bunch of followers on Instagram? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one.
It’s happening to you, and it’s happening to me (in May of 2019, my ceramics-based account, @potteryforall, went from gaining 6000+ followers per month to losing 1000+ followers per month). It’s also happening to many other people we know on Instagram. In fact, according to the Instagram influencer-focused platform Fohr, as of the last quarter of 2018 over half of all “content creators” are now losing followers, not gaining them.
What’s going on?
Instagram doesn’t release in-app users stats, so there’s no way to know exactly. However, there are some clear, overarching trends in the way we use the app that can give us valuable insight into why so many of us are experiencing this downturn.
Is Instagram Doing This to You?
Before we begin, it’s worthwhile to point out that it’s very, very unlikely that Instagram changed something within the app with the aim of making accounts lose followers. In other words, Instagram (the company) isn’t doing this to you. Why is this important to talk about? Because many people who are losing followers have asked me, “Is Instagram hiding my account? Am I shadowbanned? Why is Instagram doing this?”
Consciously or not, many of us think the reason why we’re losing followers is because there’s a glitch or a “flag” that Instagram has placed on our account. We think that’s what’s causing our content or our account to be undiscoverable to some of our users. In most cases, this is simply not true (if you don’t believe me, check if you’re shadowbanned and learn more about how the algorithm works so you can see it yourself). Instagram isn’t causing you to lose followers.
The reality is, there’s no incentive for Instagram to intentionally change something in the app that causes users to lose followers. They’re an advertising platform. They make money by making sure you use Instagram more so they can sell your attention to advertisers. Gaining more followers and feeling positive about your account makes us all more likely to use Instagram, now and in the future. Changing the app so their users lose followers doesn’t make sense for their business model or the happiness of their users.
So if Instagram isn’t causing this, what is? Here are the most likely reasons.
1. Instagram Isn’t New and Exciting Anymore
Instagram has been around for almost 10 years (it launched in 2010). Its rate of growth has now plateaued in the USA — approximately 65% of people under 34 already use it. Remember how you felt when you first got Instagram a few years back? Finding and following new and interesting accounts was exciting. Discovering new content and voices felt valuable.
Do you still feel that way about your Instagram account? I know I definitely don’t, and many people who I’ve spoken to don't either. After years of using the app, seeing so much content, and getting a bit jaded after understanding how using Instagram can negatively affect our mental health, it’s much less common to come across accounts or content you genuinely feel excited to follow.
This means that many of us are following new accounts at a much slower pace than we did when we were relatively new to the app. This leads to less new followers for everyone.
2. People Are More Careful About the Content They Invite Into Their Home Feeds
Another side effect of Instagram being around for so long is that, after using the app for several years, most people’s preferences about what content they want to see have changed. Because of this, more users are now unfollowing accounts they’ve followed for a while. This results in more of us losing followers at a faster pace than ever before.
You don’t wear all the same clothes, think the same thoughts, or have the same tastes as you did a few years ago, do you? If your answer is no, then why would we expect people to follow the same accounts on Instagram over time? When we change, the content we want to consume also changes. When we no longer receive value from an account we followed three years ago, we unfollow it. It’s normal, and it’s happening now more than ever.
If more people are following new accounts at a slower rate and unfollowing accounts at a higher rate, it’s inevitable that we will see an overall decline in the act of following.
More unfollows + fewer follows = a higher percentage of us losing followers.
3. Instagram Is Now a Highly-Competitive Attention Marketplace Saturated With Content Creators
The potential for earning money as an influencer or business on Instagram has been highly publicized for many years. Many kids in America want to be a Vlogger/YouTuber (which is pretty similar to Instagram influencer) when they grow up.
What does this have to do with us losing followers? Because of its income-earning potential, there are now many more people trying to get paid as a content creator on Instagram. This means there are many more talented people vying for your audience's attention. Unless you create very unique content, you’re likely to lose followers to accounts that create content that’s similar to yours, but better.
Don’t take it personally. It’s just what happens when there are a larger number of people competing for a limited resource (attention).
Losing followers to people who are better at creating content is something that happens to all of us. It’s happening to me too. When I started five years ago, my account, @pinlord, was one of only a handful of enamel pin pages on Instagram. This lack of competition enabled me to grow by almost 7000+ new followers per month.
Now, there are thousands of enamel-pin related accounts that create similar content, and some of them do it better than me. Because of this, more of my followers are unfollowing me in exchange for other pages that better fulfill their enamel pin content needs. It’s a normal part of the ever-increasing competition for attention on Instagram, and it has resulted in my account now losing around 300 followers per month.
Unless you’re an influential voice in an unsaturated content niche, or you’re creating different and valuable content in your saturated niche, you’re likely going to continue losing more followers than you’ll gain.
4. Instagram Is Cracking Down on Interaction Automation Services (Bots)
The first three reasons stated above are large, overarching trends. They’re not likely to create a sudden and noticeable decline in followers like the one many people are experiencing. That’s why the most likely reason why many people saw a marked decline in followers recently is because Instagram is now seriously cracking down on interaction automation (bots).
How do I know this? Because I know this industry. I’ve been writing articles about how to automate Instagram interactions and the best and safest bots for years. Since May 2019, most automation services have stopped working because of the blocks Instagram has placed on automation.
Instagram is also now deleting a much larger percentage of “ghost” accounts created by companies who sell followers for a fee (this is different than interaction automation). Because of this, a much smaller number of Instagram accounts are automating the act of following, a well-known and effective growth tactic. Plus, a much larger number of “ghost” accounts are being deleted. Since there were literally millions of Instagram accounts that used automation, as well as millions of “ghost” accounts, the crackdown that began in May is the most likely reason you saw a sudden steep decline in followers.
This crackdown isn’t the main cause of your follower loss — the other three reasons are. It’s just the most likely reason you began noticing a marked decline in followers now.
What You Can Do About It
There are a million other small forces that have caused this widespread loss in followers, but none of them are likely to be as influential as the three main user trends stated above. So now that you what they are, what can you do about it?
1. Change Your Expectations About Your Growth
There’s good news and bad news when it comes to what you can do to stop your decline in followers.
The good news is that making a few changes to stop your follower loss is simple and achievable (more on that later). The bad news is that getting back to gaining new followers at the rate you did before is going to be very difficult.
All of the underlying user behavior trends behind your initial follower loss are unlikely to change at any point in the future. In fact, they are only likely to become more exaggerated every day. There’s nothing you personally can do to make Instagram new and exciting. There’s nothing you can do to stop people from changing their tastes and unfollowing you. There’s also nothing you can do to make Instagram less competitive, and you can’t bring back automation or all of those “ghosts” accounts that followed you.
Believing that Instagram is going to revert to how it used to be and that you’ll start growing again out of the blue is an exercise in futility. In honor of our collective mental sanity, it’s time that we accept these changes and realize that Instagram is no longer what it used to be. We won’t grow as fast as we used to. Let’s stop expecting to because, for the most part, there’s nothing you can do about it.
Be kind to yourself and change your expectations about how fast your Instagram will grow. In fact, it’s best if you expect your Instagram to keep losing followers! Given the circumstances, it might never grow again despite your best efforts. Unless you want to keep being frustrated and anxious about it, it’s best to just accept it. At the end of the day, it’ll be OK. You were happy before Instagram existed and you’ll continue to be after it’s gone.
2. Nail All of the Best Practices for Instagram Growth
Although there’s nothing you can do about Instagram not being exciting anymore, a crackdown in automation, and changes in user behavior, there are still things you can do to grow an audience on Instagram. First, make sure that you’re following all of the Instagram best practices. They are:
- Figure out the number of posts you should do per day to maximize your reach.
- Optimize your Instagram hashtag strategy to maximize your reach.
- Max out the number of likes, comments, and DM interactions you do per day.
- Begin or optimize a strategy to get as many photo tags as possible from the largest number of accounts possible.
- Launch cost-effective Instagram ads.
- Tweak your bio to make it clear and simple.
- Make your grid visually distinctive and different.
- Increase your engagement by improving your content.
These are all tried and true growth strategies. I can guarantee they will help halt your follower loss if you execute them properly. If you’re not doing one or a handful of these activities, then there’s still something you can do to stop your follower decline.
3. Improve Your Content so You Can Have the Best Content in Your Niche
Once you’re executing all of the best practices at a high level, it’s time to work on improving your content. You want to become the best content creator in your niche.
If you’re the best content creator in your niche, you have the highest probability of being the account chosen to be followed above all others in your niche. In other words, the better your content, the less likely someone is to unfollow you and follow someone creating similar content.
Creating world-class, valuable content is really, really hard. Becoming the “best” content creator in a niche is easy to say, but it’s super difficult to do. There’s also no one-way approach to doing it because each niche and each audience is different.
The simplest way to start walking the road towards improving your content is to systematically improve your engagement. That process is a bit too complex to explain in a short paragraph, but you can read my article about how to increase your Instagram engagement if you want to learn about the process. It’s simple and accessible enough for anyone to tackle.
4. Transition Your Content Into an Unsaturated Niche
Another strategy to combat the fact that Instagram will continue to be highly competitive is to transition your content to an unsaturated niche. In other words, create content about a topic that not many people are creating content about. Or, frame your topic in a way that is truly unique.
The goal here is avoiding competing with other content creators altogether. Is there anything you have knowledge about that other content creators don't? Do you have a particular point of view that others don’t? That’s a good place to start. The fewer people there are who can easily replicate what you do, the less likely it is that your audience will find someone else that provides what you do.
This is why I don’t recommend trying to be the next big fashion or beauty influencer. Yes, it’s possible, but it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to create more valuable content than the tens of millions of very talented and fashionable people that are already doing this on Instagram. The same applies to any other intensely popular niche. The more people you’re competing with, the less likely to you are to create different content. Even if you are different, the more likely it is that eventually, someone will create something more unique than you.
You can gauge how saturated your niche is by seeing how many posts there are in your niche’s most popular hashtag. The more posts there are within that hashtag, the more saturated it’s likely to be.
For example, I want to start a new Instagram account that will do well with the algorithm, but I’m not sure what topic I want to focus. Three topics that interest me are yoga, macrame, and cacao ceremonies (weird tastes, I know…).
I search for the main hashtag in each of these categories, and I see that #yoga has over 51,000,000 posts, #macrame over 1,300,000 posts, and #cacaoceremony only slightly more than 14,000. As you can see, I’ll have a much higher likelihood of being the most engaging account within the cacao ceremony category.
Ultimately, the smartest strategy here is to create a unique content niche specific to you by framing your content around your life and your personality, not a particular topic. People can always replace one enamel pin page for another or one fashion blogger for another, but no one can replace you. If your audience follows you because they value you and whatever you’re sharing about your individual lifestyle, there’s simply no replacement for that. That makes you much less vulnerable to other content creators competing for your audience’s attention.
How to Stop Losing Followers
That’s it! Those are the reasons why you’re losing followers, as well as the ways you can combat it. Don’t stress about it and get to work! Know that there’s nothing you can do about changing Instagram or the people who use it, but there’s definitely a lot you can do to improve your account.
Execute the essentials at a high level, and improve your content to stand out in your niche. Or, try transitioning your content to a new, less saturated niche. It’s not easy, but in the end, that’s why it’ll work. If it were easy, everyone would do it!
By the way, if you want to learn more about how Instagram works, read these articles on how the Instagram algorithm works, how to make money on Instagram, why your Instagram account isn’t growing, how to create effective Instagram story ads, how to create a visually appealing Instagram grid, how to increase your Instagram engagement, how to create effective Instagram sponsored posts, how to check if you’re shadowbanned, how to create an Instagram repost account that makes money, how to monetize your Medium article, the best Instagram bots, how to automate an Instagram bot that isn’t spammy, the state of Instagram bots in 2020, how to increase your Instagram engagement rate, how to find the best times to post, as well as how to find the most valuable Instagram influencers, how to measure what an influencer is worth, how to measure your influencer marketing ROI, and how to reach out to influencers.