The Follow and Unfollow Strategy: Why do people do it?

We heard your complaints! It annoys the heck out of you when people follow and unfollow.

What it is – “Follow and unfollow” refers to accounts that follow you, gets you all hyped up because your account is finally growing… and then they unfollow you within hours or days.  It is often a software or app that is doing the follow and unfollowing.  They find you through location and hashtags.  It is not personal so don’t be offended; often the account doing the follow and unfollowing do not even realize who they’re targeting.

Why people do it – It brings traffic to their account!! When someone follows you, what do you immediately do? I’ll bet that you tap on their account to see who they are. And what do you do next? If you like their content, you’ll follow them back. Or you might follow back out of gratefulness. Or you might just ignore them and move on with your life. Either way, it’s a strategy to increase traffic to your account. It is no different than doing follow loops, giveaways, posting click bait content, etc.

The good – As annoying as this strategy is, it works. Two years ago a large company started their Instagram account from scratch and followed many accounts in the home décor niche. I was naïve and thought, “WOW! XYZ company is following me! I must be going places!” Little did I know, they had unfollowed me promptly afterwards.  Today, their account has grown to 300K and they’re only following a handful of people. I’m still following them because I’m a sucker and they put out good content. Even now, I still take a peek at the random people who follow me to see if it’s a gem (or hot men).

The bad – You need to be careful when using this growth strategy.  Using third-party programs to follow/unfollow goes against Instagram’s terms and service and you could lose your account. If you are doing this manually, it will be very time consuming and you need to watch the frequency of your activity. Make sure to follow/unfollow people in batches. If you suddenly follow/unfollow hundreds of people in one sitting, Instagram may think you’re a bot and suspend your account. Don’t worry – this type of suspension is usually temporary but it is scary!

The ugly – Many people find this distasteful and will have negative feelings associated with your account. You’re making a very poor first impression and that could have consequences. Let’s admit it though, this group of people probably won’t follow you back so you might never be affected by them.

The people who do follow back, but only to return your follow, may not genuinely like your content and may not be your ideal audience.  As a result, they’re going to be stalkers and will not engage. In fact, you would hope that this group unfollows you in the future because an uninterested audience would not help build your community.

My thoughts? I don’t approve nor disapprove of follow/unfollowing. It is simply another marketing strategy.  As with all things in life, if you are aware of the pros and cons and are making an informed decision, then sure! You do you and I’ll do me.

“But it’s annoying!”

Yes, it is! But we cannot control how other people choose to grow their accounts and spend their time. We can, however, control our own reactions and how we choose to spend our time and energy.

Don’t like the follow/unfollow? Just ignore it and move on! Treat it like you are driving by a billboard.  There are more important things in life that deserves our attention. Girl, if you are letting a follow/unfollow from a random stranger bring negativity into your life, we have a few things to work on!

“But I’m not that cool yet and IT REALLY BOTHERS ME!”

Okay, fair enough. I actually complain a lot behind closed chats so I’m not judging you at all! Here are some ways you can minimize the impact follow/unfollowers have on you:

  • Don’t use broad, spammy hashtags. If you’re tagging your posts with huge hashtags such as #love #health #business, etc., you’ve basically put a sign on your face that says, “Please spam me with everything you got!” Say you are a wedding planner in Vancouver, BC.  Someone who is looking to follow/unfollow for the purpose of growing their account will not care if you are based in Vancouver, BC. They just want the numbers and are likely to target posts with #wedding #love #events.  “But Kellie, this means that people who actually want to hire me won’t be able to find me!” Girl, someone who is looking for a wedding organizer in Vancouver, BC is not going to look under #wedding. They’ll probably enter narrow hashtags such as #yvrweddings #vancouverweddings #vancouvereventorganizer, you hear me?  If anything, you’ll be making it easier for your ideal customer to find you!
  • Use an app to so you can find out who is following and unfollowing you. An example is, “Followers Pro For Instagram” in the app store. There are many similar apps but to use them for free, you have to watch a bunch of spammy ads. With these apps, you can quickly see who is not following you back and you can unfollow them directly in the app. CAVEAT: There is a margin of error with these apps. It is not uncommon for the app to indicate that someone is not following you even though they are.  Use your common sense and don’t unfollow a good buddy because it is awkward when they receive a notification that you’ve just followed them back (‘fess up, we’ve all been there).
  • Be selective with who you follow back. Use your judgment! If you like their content, then that’s great! But if some dude with 1500 followers/7000 following follows you, then think twice before following back. Something isn’t right with those numbers. And really, are they ever going to buy from you?

My #ftstip: The most sustainable way to grow an account is through organic growth (i.e. hashtags, challenges, people genuinely loving your content, etc.).  You should also have a variety of ways to grow your account (i.e. don’t put your eggs into one basket and only do giveaways).  However, if you were deciding between buying followers or following/unfollowing, the latter would be the better choice. With following/unfollowing, you will end up with real people following you and the algorithm likes it when you have real followers.

This is a controversial topic and I would like to hear your thoughts! Comment down below or on our social media posts.

Also, what other questions are on your mind?

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