Why you should be wary of anyone who buys Instagram followers and likes – and how to spot them

Tempted to buy Instagram followers? Or spend money with someone who seems popular? Find out why you need to be wary of fake likes, and how to grow genuine engagement.

Over the past few weeks we’ve noticed an interesting pattern. Some Instagram accounts consistently have a suspiciously large amount of engagement for their following. Other businesses, meanwhile, have a disproportionate amount of followers for their size.

So we got curious. Are these people just amazingly talented at Instagram? Or is there something more sinister going on?

Why buying followers and likes doesn’t make (good) business sense

It might shock you to learn than as many as 48 million of Instagram users are fake. And companies sell follows, likes and comments from these fake accounts to anyone who’s happy to pay.

But if you’re an ethical business, it doesn’t make sense to buy social media followers, likes and comments. After all, you know they’re not from real people. People with actual money who know and love what you do and will buy from you.

Bought social media engagement is empty and pointless. It’s simply vanity metrics that will never translate into real sales.

However, it can be much more sinister. There are people and businesses out there who use fake popularity (that anyone can buy) in attempt to dupe unsuspecting customers and clients and take money from them.

Read on to learn how to spot when someone is buying Instagram followers, likes and comments, why you need to avoid these accounts (and re-evaluate the business or person’s ethics) and how to grow a genuine Instagram following.

It’s obvious when people buy Instagram likes

When someone has only 2,000 followers and consistency gets around 500 likes, something looks off. And sure enough, when you click on their likes, after a few genuine names you see hundreds account names like these:

  • Alex17865
  • 56.23
  • kiiiikiiiii345
  • Raja_________56576
  • 45cre
  • wlklwe7hjb

We don’t know about you, but these really look like genuine accounts. When you click on them, many have no photos or posts. Of those who do, the posts and profile images make little sense.

It’s really clear that these are bought likes – especially when you have over 500 likes on a photo from these accounts and not a single comment. Surely if a post was that popular, people would have something to say about it?

Sometimes, people go one step further, and also invest in comments from these accounts. And as you might expect, the standard of comment isn’t much better than their imagination in choosing account names.

Here’s a selection of comments from fake accounts we’ve seen:

  • That is so dope!
  • On fire!
  • Verry beautiful.
  • Amazing!
  • Wow!
  • I like that.
  • This is a great one.
  • I love the vibe here.

The comments are always short, and never specific about the post. They’re also often not from accounts that look like they’d be natural, organic followers.

For example, why would Zahra__027b45, an account with zero posts and an Arabic bio be so moved by a small business in Hull, UK that they felt compelled to comment “Yesss I like this” on their rather average-looking picture of a mug of coffee?

Unless, shock, horror, Zahra__027b45 isn’t a genuine fan, but a cynically bought like and comment.

Four giveaway signs an Instagram account has bought followers and likes

If you want to tell whether an Instagram is genuinely popular, or has simply bought their followers, likes and comments, there are some easy-to-spot signs. Here are four of them.

1) They have a high number of likes for their followers

Do they have a disproportionately high number of likes for their followers? For example, one account we spotted always gets likes from over 25% of their followers – something not even the most popular influencers are able to achieve.

2) They consistently get roughly the same number of likes

And do they consistently get around the same number of likes? For example, one account we looked at pretty much always get around 1,000 likes. Another skirts around the 500 mark for every post.

Again, this isn’t consistent with genuine Instagram accounts (including influencers) who see much bigger, more natural fluctuations in engagement, depending on the type of post.

3) They sometimes have a HUGE disparity between likes

Occasionally these suspect accounts will forget or not bother buying likes for an Instagram post. When this happens you get a clearer idea of their actual popularity.

Because, despite having over 20,000 (mostly bought) followers, and despite every other post getting a strangely consistent circa 1,000 likes, suddenly a post gets just 28 likes.

These rare disparities are glaringly obvious and unnatural. Again, check out any genuinely popular Instagram account, and you’ll see that they NEVER have such a large disparity in likes. Natural fluctuations, yes. But not such enormous differences.

4) Their followers and comments look fake

And finally, when you look at the people who follow, like and comment on these accounts, do they look like real people? And more importantly, do they look like people that would genuinely follow and engage with this account?

And are their comments specific to the post and actually contributing something? Or are they just “So stoked” (usually with lots of hearts or ‘on fire’ emojis) to see their content?

Businesses use fake follows to take money from you

If you see accounts with these giveaway signs, you have to ask yourself what the business is trying to achieve. Do they want to deceive people (i.e. you) into believing they’re more popular and successful than they really are? And as a result, convince you to part with money for what they’re selling?

We see this tactic a LOT in the coaching world, and to us this is disingenuous. It’s fake marketing. Using bought social followers to try to convince you that they’re more successful than they really are, or know the secrets to building a large following, is just plain lying. And could mean they’re taking money from people under false pretences.

After all, what can these people really teach their clients about building a genuine, engaged following if they’ve bought theirs?

So, before you blindly fall for someone’s impressive-looking Instagram following, and especially before you allow that to influence where you spend your money, check out whether their followers, likes and comments really are genuine.

Nine ways to grow a genuine Instagram following

If you don’t want to buy Instagram followers, likes and comments, how can you grow your account ethically? Here are nine ways you can grow a genuine Instagram following.

1) Optimise your profile

Choose a name that’s as similar to your business as possible and easy to remember (don’t use numbers), add a profile image (your logo if you’re a business), and write your bio. Don’t forget to add a link too.

2) Post consistently

Decide on a realistic posting schedule, and stick to it. This way your followers will know when to expect content and can check your profile.

So how often should you post? Posting between one to three times per day is fine, if you can maintain it and keep up quality. (Major brands post an average of 1.5 times a day, if you’re looking for comparison.)

3) Schedule your posts

The easiest way to maintain consistency is to schedule your posts in advance, preferably in bulk. This saves time and frees you up daily for engagement. There are plenty of scheduling tools that can help you manage and plan your posts.

4) Reach new followers

Try to get your content in front of as many new eyes as possible (as long as they’re right for your business). You can do this by working with influencers, brand partnerships, competitions and user generated content.

5) Promote your account elsewhere

Help new followers find your account by promoting it wherever you can. Add a social button to your website, and add your user name to all your marketing materials. And let people who follow you on your other social accounts that you’re on Instagram too.

6) Be interesting and useful

If people love and get value from your account, they’ll follow, like and engage with you, and share your content. It’s that simple! So know what your followers want from you, and make sure you find and create great content that gives it to them.

7) Use the right hashtags

Using hashtags allows people to find your content. BUT you need to choose your hashtags carefully. Pick popular ones, and your posts will get lost in a sea of content. (There are 542 million posts with the hashtag #happy, for example.)

Instead, find hashtags that relate to what you do and that your ideal followers will be searching. Ideally hashtags that don’t have so many posts you’ll get lost. You can search hashtags’ popularity here.

8) Think about your followers

It’s all too easy, when you’re using social media accounts like Instagram for business, to have your eye firmly on your goals. And as a result, plan content that will get you there. But this isn’t the way to build an engaged following.

Instead think about your customers. What are they looking for from their time on Instagram, in relation to what you do? And how can you give it to them?

By making 80% of your posts for and about your followers, and generously sharing content they need and will love, you’ll grow a loyal following who look out for your posts, and are more likely to engage with the 20% that are more self-promotional and sales-oriented.

9) Test, measure and revise

While there’s certainly some basic good Instagram practice you’d be well-advised to follow, there’s no magic posting formula that works for every business. So whatever you do on Instagram, make sure you’re analysing it, testing new strategies and revising where you need to improve your results.

There are plenty of Instagram analytics tools that will help you do this. This blog by Hootsuite lists their top six, and shows you what metrics you need to track.

Be wary of bought Instagram followers and likes

We hope this has been helpful for you. Please don’t be tempted to buy fake Instagram popularity with paid-for followers, comments and likes. People can see through it. And it just makes them question your authenticity.

If you do buy them, at best you’re kidding yourself with fake vanity metrics. At worst you’re attempting to dupe clients and customers – and that’s not ethical.

And if you see someone with a suspicious-looking Instagram following or likes? We’d recommend unfollowing them pretty quickly.

Read more Instagram tips

You’ll find more Instagram advice in these articles:

Photo by Prateek Katyal