Seriously, you have to stop buying followers!

So, you just bought a thousand followers…

… yeah, that was a mistake.

Quick, what is the most important performance indicator on your social media channels? You answered “followers!”, didn’t you? Maybe you said likes, or subscriptions, or some other buzzword that means pretty much the same: How many people went and clicked a little button on your profile.

It all means the same thing in the end, and what we call it is not relevant to the point I am making. Most self-starters and newbie marketers often falsely believe there is a direct correlation between your amount of followers, and the amount of engagement on your profiles. So, naturally the thing to do if you are new on the market, is to go out there and buy your first share of followers. After-all, who visits a page with 0 followers, right? “Better to have bought some than to have none at all,” you say. You could not be more wrong, and you are only making it all so much harder for yourself. Here is why.

Exhibit A: Engagement is NOT a zero-sum game. 
Let’s quickly kill the myth that “followers = shares/reposts/pins/retweets/etc,” because that shit is completely false. A quick way to realize that, is to look at your own Facebook profile. How many brands do you follow? How many do you interact with? Probably much less than 10% of the ones you follow, right? Another strange thing you might notice by now, is that it is very rarely the biggest pages that drive the most traffic. I would almost bet there is a local store in your hometown with more Facebook activity than some of the biggest brands you follow. If we delve into why that is, we quickly find the raison d’être for setting efficient KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and targets. Followers will engage with a brand only if it is interesting, relatable, and drives activity. Therefore, you are much better off having 100 followers who directly engage with your brand through interest, than 10,000 followers who — frankly — could not care less about your brand.

Pro tip: Focus on driving qualitative followers, more so than quantitative. A hundred active users will give you many more impressions than ten-thousand inactive ones. We are going to cover that more in-depth later.

Further reading: Forget Your Follower Numbers, It’s Time To Focus On Engagement — by Social Media Explorer

Exhibit B: Search engines will punish you for it.
So, despite all better judgment you went ahead and bought followers anyway. Who cares about the engagement, at least a big group of followers is good for your SEO, right? …right? Not even close! We have come a long way since the days of adding half an A4 sheet of keywords to the source code of your website. Search engines grow smarter and smarter every day, and the big engines keep their algorithms completely secret, to prevent us from gaming them in predictable ways. This is why black-hat SEO is not only wrong, but also bad for business (another story for another day), and it is why “link directories” might as well be renamed to “website graveyards.”

Any time your social media has what is typically referred to as a conspicuous change, search engines flag it for malicious behavior. If you went from 200 to 2,000 followers overnight, and there is no clear indicative reason as to why, you risk being punished or even blacklisted by the major search engines. Adding this on top of the follower/gatekeeper-conundrum (which we will cover in exhibit C), means that not only does it not benefit your page, it may actively take away from it.

Pro tip: Focus on accepted SEO-methods and above-the-board follower acquisition. There is literally nothing to gain in terms of SEO from buying followers.

Further reading: If You Pay For Subscribers, Followers, or Views (You Will Be Punished By Google) — by MeetTheMentor

Exhibit C: Followers play a much larger role in your reach than you think.
So you decided to say “screw engagement, screw search-rankings, I just want a lot of impressions,” and you went ahead and ignored my advice for the second time in a row, and boughteven more followers. Now you are — and I mean this in the most blunt way imaginable — royally fucked. See, here’s the last point I want to make for you today: Your followers are your gatekeepers. Whenever you post something on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+, it goes out to a small subset of your followers. How they engage with your content determines how much further it reaches.

This is the process:
Let’s say Blue Inc. puts out a post, advertising their new, updated color palette for banners and billboards. They have about 100 organic followers, and haven’t bought any followers at all.Blue Inc. releases their post. It goes out to a test sample of about ten followers. Out of the ten followers, eight are print shops, and two are past customers. All ten followers hit “like” on the content, and it goes out to another twenty. This continues, on and on, even going beyond the followers to the followers’ networks, snowballing way beyond 10,000 impressions, until at some point the reach comes to a natural stop. Blue Inc. made a successful post, and gained a few new organic followers.

Red Inc., on the other hand, took a different approach. They bought 10,000 followers before posting their content, assuming it would boost their reach exponentially. The 10,000 followers tick in, on top of the 100 organic followers they have. Once again, the content is sent out to a sample size of Red Inc.’s followers, but this time it reaches 100 followers, out of which 90 are bought likes, who have literally no actual interest in the brand. Only the remaining ten followers click “like.” This is the same amount of likes as for Blue Inc., but there is a key difference: The Blue Inc. post had a 100% success rate, whereas the Red Inc. post only has a 10% success rate. This is what the social networks care about, and so they stop Red Inc.’s post in its tracks. It slowly climbs from 100 impressions to 200, but doesn’t get much further, until Facebook/Twitter/Insert-Network-Here dismisses it for having a miniscule engagement rating.

Red Inc. has officially murdered its own Social Media channel. Their new gatekeepers could not care less about neither their brand, nor their content, and so any new posts they put out run the risk of never getting past the sample group.

Pro tip: Aim for engaging posts that inspire action in your followers, and make sure you appeal to a very specific audience to make sure your reach stays wide.

Further reading: (VIDEO) Facebook Fraud — by Veritasium

And that is why you should never, ever buy followers.
I hope this brief article has given you some insight into social media algorithms, and what goes on behind the scenes. My primary motivation for writing this, comes from seeing more and more shifty companies offering likes, retweets and followers for sale; and it is literally damaging your brands. We have to force these sellers to find another way to make a living, other than defrauding small businesses, and exposing their scams is the first step towards that. Please, share this article with anyone you know, who has bought — or is in the process of buying — followers, likes, views or shares. It does not work.

If you have further questions or would like a review of your current strategies, I do offer in-depth services for your business or website. Reach out to me via my social media profiles, or my personal e-mail, thomasakonig (at) me.com.

Good luck with your business!

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