I joined Instagram to promote my freelance photography business in 2015. Initially, my use was quite sporadic, but from the 1st of January, 2017 I started posting to Instagram every single day. I was committed to growing my following organically, with a focus on engagement rather than follower count. But, the constant barrage of marketing spam thrown at me promoting follower gains and increased profits started to wear me down. The ‘noise‘ was incredible. Would a large follower count really increase my profit potential and lead to increased job bookings? Was there a legitimate and easy way to gain more followers quickly?
I had researched Instagram growth-hacking techniques and came to the conclusion that for my purposes, having large numbers of followers would not increase my job bookings, given that most methods of quickly gaining followers would attract fake and/or non-genuine accounts. However, I did occasionally succumb to the psychological high when one of my images attracted a large number of likes and/or some nice, genuine comments. I was finding it really hard to resist the bright lights of celebrity-like fame on Instagram, which was quickly starting to feel like a popularity contest. I could easily argue away these desires using my logic and intelligence, but they would return intermittently… Eventually, curiosity got the better of me! I decided to run my own little experiment based on a theory (or group of similar theories) that claim an Instagram user can gain 100 followers in 24 hours. I figured that I had nothing to lose, and it was worth investigating, for entertainment and information purposes. After all, why miss out on an effective marketing strategy, if it is that easy to implement? And, if in fact, it does actually work!
The experiment details
I never intended to write a blog post when I first decided to test this theory, so the numbers quoted below are all approximate and designed to give an impression of what happened without getting bogged down in the technical details. Prior to carrying out this experiment, my Instagram follower count was at about 260, and I was following around 600 accounts. I had always carefully chosen the accounts that I followed based on the fact that I liked their content rather than just blindly ‘following-back’, but on this day I threw caution to the wind, so to speak. On the evening of February the 16th, I started seeking out some accounts with large followings that had a similar target market to mine (my competitors) and started following their followers like crazy! I followed approximately 600 extra accounts throughout that evening and the next day. I took the total number of accounts that I was following to approximately 1200. Within an hour of my sudden increased activity and large number of new follows, there was a marked increase in the number of accounts liking my photos. If you scroll down my Instagram page (@macro_grace) to the dates February 16th, 17th and 18th you will see that images I posted on those days got 154 likes, 167 likes and 193 likes respectively. Both before and after conducting this experiment, the average likes my images receive is about 52, ranging from 30 to 90 likes each. Along with this increased ‘liking’ activity, my follower count also increased over the next 24-48 hours until it reached 377 (at its’ highest count). This means that my follower count did increase by 90 and maintain that increase after an initial peak of 117 extra followers.
So, the experiment worked, right? It is possible to gain 100 followers in a very short space of time.
The short answer is yes. The more complicated answer is, no.
The clincher is that although my follower count did increase dramatically, it then dropped to about 350 and has remained stagnant at that count for about 6 weeks (with small daily fluctuations, but the base number remains roughly the same). Prior to the experiment, my organic follower increase was sitting at about 2-3 per day: a slow and steady rate. Since the experiment, I have continued to gain between 2 and 5 followers per day, but I have also been losing followers at approximately the same rate. A quick calculation, using average figures, means that if I had continued posting and engaging without carrying out this experiment, my follower count should be anywhere between 352 (if gaining 2/day) and 386 (if gaining 3/day) now. As I write this, my actual follower count is 357.
In short, if I had not carried out this experiment, my current follower count would be almost exactly the same as it is today (46 days later). The true gain for my Instagram account was nil. I am hoping that sometime in the very near future, my follower count will start to gradually and organically increase again. I will then be able to put this experiment well and truly behind me.
Some companies have developed apps to carry out this type of activity on an automated basis. My increased activity would have attracted some of these ‘bots’ and explains the spike in liking activity. It also partially explains that the new ‘followers’ I gained over that period of time were mostly non-genuine; either automated, fake or spam accounts. Many of these ‘followers’ un-followed my account again shortly after.
Where to from here?
There are many variables that have not been taken into account here, and this was not a scientific experiment by any stretch of the imagination, but in my humble opinion, the best way to gain quality followers is to continue posting quality content on a regular basis. You also need to integrate your Instagram activity with a comprehensive online and offline marketing strategy and keep the focus on producing quality work and making customers happy!
Author’s Update (September 2019):
I have now deleted this Instagram account. I don’t think it ever recovered from the experiment, and the pressure of posting ‘perfect’ images everyday became counter-productive to my work and overall business goals. I really enjoyed the ‘Insta-break’ and it certainly helped to put things in perspective for me; being active on social media can present so many valuable opportunities for marketing, collaboration and social connection but if it becomes a negative influence or overwhelming, there is no harm in taking a break!