There's been a lot of talk this year about the Instagram algorithm changes. And then the changes made to the changes. I won't go into it all, as I'm sure everyone reading this knows everything by now and has read about fifty articles and blog posts detailing the same things.
Even more recently and more interestingly, big companies like Unilever have pledged to stop working with influencers who have fake followings.
This is BIG news and wonderful news too. It means that the cheats will be pushed to the side and influencers whose accounts are genuine will have a chance to shine. Hooray!
Which leads me onto the next thing - follower numbers and levels of engagement.
These days, thankfully, more and more brands are becoming aware that it's levels of reach and engagement that are important when working with influencers, not overall follower numbers.
The new Instagram algorithm supports this too.
The more you engage, the more people engage with you. The more people engage with your posts, the more people actually see your posts.
I used to hate this. But now I see that it is partly a way to encourage people to interact more and to create more organic growth, rather than people sharing their content with bots all of the time. It's also designed to stamp out insta-frauds, along with other changes that are gradually happening to Instagram this year.
I, for one, have never cheated. I was tempted once, when the numbers game got too much and I got overly anxious about lots of my peers who seemed to get loads of new followers every week and I didn't want to be left behind.
BUT, I couldn't bring myself to click the "buy followers" button. I think it's mainly because I'm a bit of a goodie two shoes in some ways, but also, it just felt wrong. Plain wrong. I love the connections that I have made on Instagram and didn't want to essentially be a lie to all of those who took the time to comment on my photos.
My followers did sky rocket at one point though - I was once chosen to be a Suggested User by Instagram, maybe about six years ago. There is a point to this story, so bear with me...
It came at a time, before I was a blogger and Instagrammer, when I was struggling to keep my bills afloat as an artist/illustrator (struggling artist sob sob). I had just been let down by a magazine and was feeling pretty low. Then out of the blue, a private message and an email came through. It said something along the lines of "congratulations! You have been chosen as an Instagram Suggested User! If you want to opt out, please reply to this message". Along with some extra information and T&Cs.
Of course, I didn't opt out. It felt like all of my work dreams had come true. My work would be seen by thousands! To cut a long story short, my account was left up on the Suggested User list for two weeks. In that two weeks, I gained thousands and thousands of followers. My posts during that time blew up - hundreds of likes and comments per photo. It was pretty overwhelming, as I had only 2000 followers before this point. I almost decided to make my profile private. But, being a self employed person, I'd learnt to spot opportunities and I saw this as a chance to help my business.
Once my two weeks of instafame was up, however, I was left with thousands of followers but not the kind of engagement that you'd expect to come with this number. I had to work hard over the years to build my engagement up and gain real connections.
This has led me to believe that even though being a Suggested User got me thousands of real followers, I think I also got an influx of bots and fake accounts following me too. I think also maybe people were following me because Instagram told them to and they weren't necessarily that bothered about interacting with my posts.
SO here is the point that I wanted to make - I used to moan about Instagram not having a feature like Suggested Users anymore. In fact, I was still complaining about it as recently as two weeks ago. But now I think it's actually a good thing. In retrospect, it didn't leave me much better off than before, just with a higher number of followers. As we now know, this is the least important part of Instagram. In terms of businesses and working with brands, it's not as important as reach and engagement. It's so much better to have 4000 followers and high levels of engagement, than 400 000 and little to no engagement.
To help your account grow, if that is your aim, you need to connect with real people on Instagram. Your posts have to reach real people. Actual humans. If your following mainly consists of fake accounts and bots, then you will only reach fakes and bots. That is a non starter, right there.
I would like to point out, that numbers and engagement shouldn't really be a concern at all and if you are not from the crazy world of social media, this conversation could seem a bit silly. But for me and many others, this crazy world has become a source of income, a way to keep our homes and pay the bills. We cannot help but analyse the stats sometimes and want to find ways of "figuring out the algorithm". But, maybe that is where some of us are starting to go wrong. These aren't just stats and numbers that we are seeing on our phones, the numbers are real people. In some ways, Instagram is forcing us to interact properly again and find out more about the people we are following. This can only be a good thing, right?
So what to do next?
My reach has grown really well over the past two years and a few of my posts have even reached "viral" territory, with a handful getting a reach of 500,000 plus people. I want to keep it going on an upwards gradient, as this will only help me and the brands that I work with. SO, over the past week, I have been slowly trying to spot fake accounts and blocking them, to help with my engagement levels and to guide Instagram into introducing me to more lovely people that I would LOVE to follow. I will continue to do this gradually over time. It will be painstaking, but I think it will be worth it. In the meantime, I will keep posting photos that I'm proud of and captions from the heart, as well as keeping up to date with everything that everyone else is up to.
Because, that is the real reason I'm here and why I joined this app in the first place.