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Is there anything wrong with using the follow/unfollow method for Instagram? It’s a controversial–but effective–method to grow your social media accounts.
Like I wrote a few weeks ago, I use the follow/unfollow method to grow Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. With about 16,100 Instagram followers, over 3,000 Twitter followers, and over 2,000 Pinterest followers, I would say it’s working as a social media strategy.
But plenty of people hate the follow/unfollow method. These are all criticisms I have come across, and my response to them.
Follow/Unfollow is Inauthentic
Let’s assume that it’s inauthentic. So is photo-editing. And only showing the highlights of your life, not the messy parts. And talking about a product or service because that brand sent you something for free or paid you.
The vast majority of my friends IRL use Instagram just for fun. They use a handful of hashtags. They post photos with bad lighting. My friends don’t think about the best time of day to post. The vast majority of them have less than 500 followers. But their accounts are authentic!
To be clear, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to use Instagram for funsies. I did for years. I would post multiple times a day for awhile and then go months without posting. But about 18 months ago, I started taking Instagram seriously, as a way to grow my blog audience.
Being serious about Instagram means thinking about my audience before I post anything. I still strive to be authentic, absolutely. But my pink and happy photos are calculated.
For example, I LOVE pink flowers. Pink flowers have been a theme in my Instagram feed for months. But back in May, I decided that every fourth photo should be flowers, with an emphasis on pink flowers. By having every fourth photo be similar, I create a diagonal pattern in my feed.
As the popularity of my floral photos grew, I decided to post even more. Now, every other photo I post is of flowers, mostly pink flowers. This is absolutely a true reflection of my personality and my interests. But it’s also a calculated reflection. Otherwise I would post more photos of books or my laptop or wine or food. But those interests usually don’t match my aesthetic, nor would they help me attract likes and comments.
View this post on Instagram
I need to brag about my #InstagramHusband for a minute. Dan is SO supportive of my blog and social media. Every time we travel, he takes photos for my blog, or he drives me around so I can snap shots of flowers for Instagram. I feel so blessed to have such a loving husband! How do your loved ones support your dreams? #LaBelleBlog
While most people focus on criticizing follow/unfollow on Instagram, the same principles apply to Twitter and to Pinterest. Are you strategically retweeting or repinning? That’s inauthentic. Are you sharing the same blog links multiple times? Inauthentic. I’ve had Twitter since 2009. I’ve absolutely changed how I use it since starting my blog. I’m not sure when I first signed up for Pinterest, but I’ve completely changed my boards and my pins over the last two years.
Feel free to call the follow/unfollow method “inauthentic.” But then don’t pretend that using social media for your blog is 100% “authentic.”
Follow/Unfollow is Spam
Some people are really bad at using the follow/unfollow method. They follow and unfollow the same users multiple times. I admit this is spammy.
But how is following someone once, and later unfollowing them, spam?
I googled the word “spam” so we could discuss it.
Noun: irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the Internet to a large number of recipients
Verb: send the same message indiscriminately to (large numbers of recipients) on the Internet
Following someone on social media does exactly one thing: notify that person of a new follower.
That’s not an irrelevant or inappropriate message.
Furthermore, properly using the follow/unfollow method (as described in Guide 05 of Instagram Decoded!) does not include “indiscriminately” following people. It involves market research to follow only targeted accounts, people who would be most interested in whatever content you offer.
If you want to criticize people using follow/unfollow poorly, feel free. But if their actions condemn the entire methodology, by the same logic, their actions should condemn anyone using social media marketing. The only moral marketing is my marketing, amirite?
Follow/Unfollow is Selfish/Greedy/Insensitive/Mean
- I can only control my actions. I cannot control your actions.
- When I follow an account, that person receives a notification. Nothing else–that’s it. That person can follow me back from the Notifications page. That person can look at my profile and decide to follow me back or not. Or that person can ignore the notification completely. Hell, that person can even block me.
- If you choose to follow me, that is your prerogative. If you choose to unfollow me, that is your prerogative too.
- I am too busy to worry about your actions. Your decision to follow or unfollow me does not affect me personally. It (usually) does not hurt my feelings.
- So why are you freaking out so much about what I do? Do you not have better things to do? No one is obliged to follow anyone else. No one is obliged to keep following anyone else.
If I go to your blog, read one blog post, leave a thoughtful comment in hopes that you’ll check out my blog, and then never read your blog again, that is “follow/unfollow.” I know bloggers do this based on how many one-off comments I receive!
If I go into your store, browse your merchandise, and then leave without buying, that is “follow/unfollow.”
Business relationships are not 100% reciprocal. I might not be making lots of money now, but my writing is my job. As a solopreneur, marketing is my job too. If you genuinely enjoy my content, whether that be my blog posts, my Instagram posts, or something else, I’m providing you something of value for free. I don’t need to also follow you on Instagram to be “sensitive” or “nice.”
You Don’t Get Real Followers from Follow/Unfollow
According to whom? According to what metric?
Marketing experts for years have advocated a form of follow/unfollow for Twitter. Just this week I received an email from SumoMe promoting an epic guide of how to build your Instagram account. They also tout follow/unfollow as a growth strategy.
Based on my own engagement, a targeted follow/unfollow strategy results in real followers. My posts reach 2-3% engagement within 24 hours. They usually reach 4%, sometimes even 5%, within a week.
How do I know those numbers are good?
One case study of top brands on Instagram shows engagement rates between 1.4% and 5.4%. Another survey of Instagram influencers show that as followers increase, engagement rates decrease. Users with 10,000 to 100,000 followers have an average 2.4% like rate (just likes, not likes + comments, which calculates the engagement rate).
And all of those stats were calculated by looking at a longer window of time than just a week, although neither article states their exact research methods. Hitting similar engagement in a shorter span is even better.
Again, if you’re doing follow/unfollow poorly, you won’t have good results. But if you do it well, as outlined in Guide 5 of the Instagram Decoded bundle, you do gain real followers.
Follow/unfollow isn’t for everyone. That’s okay. I don’t post multiple times per day. I found out the hard way that I have moral objections to how most Instagrammers choose the winner on loop giveaways. I’m pretty sure I will never buy or sell a shoutout on my account. Not everyone wants to use the same strategies to grow their Instagram. In fact, depending on your goals for Instagram growth, not every strategy will work for you!
But I kinda think some people need to get off their moral high horse. You can whine about follow/unfollow all you want, but it’s a tried-and-true strategy that works. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
All right, your turn to share! How do you feel about the follow/unfollow strategy? Do you use it or other methods to grow your social media?
P.S. I am working on a case-study regarding Insagram growth without follow/unfollow! It will take me
several more months to complete, so stay tuned. Edit 05/10/2018: I actually turned my case study into a two-year experiment. Details coming soon.