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Why trusting handles based on number of followers is a bad idea

In its initial days, social media was considered mostly to be a way to communicate with others. Friends and family could connect even from different continents without the need for expensive calls or the wait which followed sending and receiving letters. But soon publications, companies and eminent personalities, among others, began looking at the possibility of creating a following and engaging with users.

This led to a ‘race’ of getting as many followers as possible. The legacy news publications and already popular firms seemingly had no trouble in translating their following to social media; Times of India has approximate 12 million followers on Twitter and 11 million on Facebook. But brand-new and upcoming social media handles often have trouble gaining followers. This has resulted in many resorting to purchasing fake followers or using bots to increase engagement and following.

We run another website and the following are first-hand experiences of agencies attempting to contacts us.

How do these handles buy followers?

There are a plethora of websites and ‘businesses’ which sell fake followers to new handles. New firms use this tactic to raise credibility in the eyes of potential new followers with the idea that a larger number means more trust. And that’s not it, some agencies or individuals even message growing handles claiming they can support them in getting more engagement and fans.

What are bots and how are they used to increase followers?

A bot is basically a piece of software which carries out automated activities on the internet. Not all bots are bad news. Even Google uses bots to crawl the URLs of websites to choose which pages show up on its search. But these are a bit different. They attempt to act as an active handle to increase popularity.

For instance, bots used for Instagram handles begin to follow other users, like other posts and leave pre-decided comments on different posts to fool Instagram into believing they are active users. There is also a timer which automatically unfollows users who don’t follow back to make sure that the ‘following’ section remains low. Again, agencies try to entice new handles into using their bot-based services.

Email received on Gmail ID of other website

How to identify these handles?

While the number of followers might be in millions, most of these would still be fake and inactive. This is bound to negatively affect the engagement which these handles witness. Carefully checking the number of likes and comments consistently received by a page or individual on their posts can easily expose them. 

Data from our other website’s Facebook analytics

The image above clearly shows the vast difference between the number of likes (which are around the same as the number of followers) of two Facebook pages. And yet, the page with 100k fewer followers still outperforms the other in terms of engagement with less number of posts.

There are also various online audit tools which carry out a thorough check on the basis of different metrics: number of tweets and how recently they tweeted for example. You just have to enter the name of the account you want to check. 

The huge downside to this approach

As shown in the aforementioned example, this approach usually doesn’t work out in terms of engagement. That said, it can create a misguided sense of trust in pages by certain brands. Many influencers with negligible engagement are picked up by brands for promotions, but this approach is bound to fail in the long term, especially with bigger brands who do a more rigorous background check.

Apart from this, it’s also against the guidelines of social media platforms to purchase followers or use bots to gain them. Numerous accounts are banned by platforms on a daily basis because they breach these guidelines. And with technology developing with each day, it’s only a matter of time before it gets almost impossible to trick them.

How big the issue is for influencer marketing in India

While there are Instagram influencers who have earned their followers the right way, many others have taken shortcuts. E-commerce firm A Good Company and data analytics firm HyperAuditor carried out a study on fake followers in the Instagram influencer market around the world.

India came out third on the list of most fake followers of Instagram influencers with 16 million fake accounts, only behind the US (49 million) and Brazil (27 million). Companies have begun significantly investing in influencer marketing without realising they are only wasting their money on people who gained a following overnight.

What do people think?

A Social India talked to a couple of 22-year-old social media users to assess the views of people. Manhar Gulani, an aspiring lawyer, felt that while it’s good practice to check if a handle is credible, it’s not always possible.

He stated that for those like him, who don’t allocate much time to social media, it’s not really a priority to check. “I don’t pay attention to how an influencer might have obtained his/her followers because scrolling through social media is a mere pastime for me while travelling to and from work,” he stated.

However, he did oppose such methods owing to how it was unfair to others. “They should refrain from engaging into such malpractices since it affects the credibility of authentic influencers who reach milestones through their utmost hard work and dedication.”

On the other hand, Eden Saini religiously follows only those handles which are verified, except the people she knows personally. “If they have fake followers, they would never be verified by Instagram.”

She also called for stricter action against those who persist with increasing reach in this way. Though Instagram tries to locate those who have breached guidelines, Saini feels that the issue should be weeded out completely. “If people have fake followers, their account should be banned.” 

The right way forward

Gaining a lot of followers in an instant is no doubt tempting. But there’s no replacing proper effort and progression. Trust can’t be acquired with a simple number. It’s built by focusing on quality and letting work speak for itself. If you’re creating a handle from scratch, always remember that “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. And if you’re simply a user, it’s a good habit to confirm if handles are credible enough before you decide to follow them.

(Featured image source: Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash)

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