Earn Your Followers. Don’t You Dare Buy Them.

If you’re anything like me, chances are you feel discouraged every time you check the number of followers you have on social media — whether that be Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, whatever platform you use to champion your skills — and you find yourself disheartened when the numbers never seem to go up. It hovers back and forth in the same range for days, weeks, months, never changing, all the while the popular accounts you follow seem to be growing more and more every day.

There’s a lot of explanations for that. It’s not because your art, photos, videos, blog, whatever have you, isn’t of a high enough quality, or because your content isn’t interesting, or anything like that. There are a surprising number of factors that go into gaining and maintaining a high number of followers and fans, and surprisingly, a handful of the accounts you see with millions upon millions of followers may not have actually earned them all through hard work.

What’s the Truth?

MarkGrowth.com wrote an article about exactly this, and refers to a tool called “StatusPeople” that can be used to determine how many of an account’s followers are actually “fake.”

They state, “StatusPeople, creators of a Fake Follower Check Tool, which claims it has the ability to determine how many of a user’s Twitter followers are fakes, has revealed some astonishing numbers behind popular social media accounts. For example, the tool uncovered that a whopping 71 percent of Lady Gaga’s over 35 million Twitter followers were fake or inactive, along with 70 percent of President Obama’s nearly 30 million followers.”

What constitutes as a “fake” account? Essentially, they are “empty” “shell” accounts that aren’t being run but a real person, but by a computer. Their username probably consists of nonsense, and their posted content will be stolen, repurposed, or even nonexistent. Through botting programs hundreds of thousands of these fake accounts can be created to follow people on any social media website, and people can “buy” them to make it look like they have a massive online fanbase — but the truth is, the majority of that big number aren’t actually real people.

The same can be done with buying YouTube views, Twitter likes/retweets, Facebook shares, etc. People believe that if they have the appearance of a large following, genuine accounts will see that, become interested, and follow too.

“Hit it and Quit it”

Have you ever found yourself followed by a random account on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, what have you, by an account whose aesthetic or content has absolutely nothing in common with yours? They’ll follow you on Thursday, only to unfollow again the next Monday. Sometimes, they might like a few of your most recent pictures, and post general comments like, “Nice!”, “Super cool!”, and “Great work!”.

While those accounts aren’t bots themselves, they’re using a similar program that makes their account follow huge amounts of people all at once, with the hopes those people will check out their page in return and follow back. Thus earning them a bigger following, even though they’re unfollowing that big number of accounts again only a few days later. Usually, the targets who follow back won’t notice — or, at least, they’re not supposed to.

With all of these bots and programs out there to earn you followers, it’s easy to be tempted into falling into their trap — but with universal crackdowns on fake accounts and accounts bloated with fake followers, the risks far outweigh the benefits. Not to mention, when a real follower comes along and scrolls through your already existing follower-list and sees it’s made up of 70 percent fake accounts, chances are their first impression is going to be that you’re deceitful or untrustworthy.

So, what can you do to ensure the followers you gain ARE the real deal? Here’s a few helpful suggestions to get the ball rolling:

1. Post Regularly

Probably the most important, and the most obvious, is to make sure you’re posting to your account regularly — ideally at least every day, but every other day or so should be alright too. Once you start getting that larger following, posting less often will be a lot easier, but in the beginning, keeping it predictable is the best way to go.

Should posting every day be your goal, be sure to keep your content applicable and relevant — if you can’t, post at your own pace in the beginning. Not only will your followers appreciate it, but you’re less likely to feel social-media burnout by feeling the need to post something, anything, every single day. Your feed will appear cleaner, more organized, and you won’t go crazy trying to think up daily ideas.

Not only should you be posting often, try to post around the same time of day too. While this might make less sense for a conversational platform like Twitter, where you’ll likely be posting all day long, on other platforms like Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, or a personal blog domain, they all have an ebb and flow to their daily amount of visitors. Some times of the day might be more active than others, some might appeal better to the audience you’re targeting, so try out a few different times and see which brings you the most attention and interaction.

Speaking of interaction…

2. Engage With Followers

If someone comments on a photo, a tweet, a post — send a response! Thank them for the input, ask follow up questions, answer those that may have been asked initially. Showing them that you’re a living, breathing person with a brain and a personality not only makes you more approachable as a content creator, but opens doors to forming new professional and personal relationships as well.

To better inspire engagement, include a “call to action” at the end of your posts. While that phrase may seem a little intimidating, or even forceful, it’s actually incredibly broad. Even if it’s just the Instagram caption to a photo of a sunset, adding something simple like, “Do you prefer the colors in sunsets or sunrises better?” will make people want to input their opinions, allowing you to interact without it being too forced or unnatural. Also, don’t forget to take the time to comment on and share mutual followers’ posts and statuses to open up dialogue with others!

3. Hashtags, Hashtags, Hashtags

THE most important aspect of platforms like Instagram is the hashtag. By simply implementing better (and more) hashtags in my personal posts, I jumped an extra 100 followers in about a month. If I posted every day, that number would probably be even higher, but I digress.

There’s a science behind hashtags, though. It’s not just tagging the previously mentioned sunset photo and adding “#sunset #sun,” and washing your hands of it. In order to reach the broadest of audiences, it’s important to include as many (applicable!) hashtags as possible without turning to spam. So, rather than just, “#sunset #sun,” consider, “#sunset #sun #nature #beauty #colors #landscape #greatoutdoors … ” — you get the idea.

I make it a point to avoid spammy hashtags for a reason — nothing is a bigger turn off for the avid Instagram user than finding a sunset photo tagged #pizza. To me, it seems, again, deceitful, and chances are I’ll automatically assume the owner of the post is another bot, another fake, another account desperate for likes and follows without the quality content to back it up. What do you think?*

(*Ex: Call to action!)

4. Choice of Content

Assume your small business sells t-shirts (if that actually is your small business, I wish you the best — I tried it once, it’s not easy). Your first instinct when it comes to the type of content you post will likely be perfected pictures of t-shirts, models wearing the t-shirts, pictures of the storefront where you sell your t-shirts, etc., etc., etc. And while that’s all well and good, the fact is, branching out will almost definitely bring in new interest.

While keeping t-shirts the main priority, obviously, try out new things to include. Show photos of the t-shirts being made, being shipped, new designs being drawn. Take photos of the staff, or of yourself, pricing out new garments. Take photos of the sunset, “#sunset #haveaniceday!”. Let your followers know that while you’re a business, you’re also a person, or a business made up of multiple people. With the rise of social media, long gone are the private corporations that make their product, ship it off, and never speak to the consumer. No longer are online advertisements the only form of communication.

Modern day consumers want interaction. They want personality, relatability, and humanity in the products they’re looking to buy, and in the people they’re looking to buy from. And it doesn’t matter if they want to buy t-shirts, life advice, lifestyle tips, video makeup tutorials — personality and genuine connections with creators is the biggest secret of the millennial entrepreneur.

Take advantage of trending topics and hashtags. Take photos of your t-shirt models on one of those big, gaudy pool floats that are currently everywhere online we’re collectively drooling over (I need the giant unicorn like I need air to breathe). While you don’t have to get into the nitty gritty of politics, don’t be afraid to take a stand when it comes to speaking out against corruption, inequality, racism, and so on.

Show your followers who you are, where your morals lie, and why they should be able to trust you not only as a business, but as a person. A person with feelings, with morals, with integrity! Personally, I would much rather spend my time and money at a business like that than a faceless corporation.

What other suggestions do you have to finding new followers? What’s your success story? Share it in the comments!

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