What is the Instagram Follow / Unfollow method?

Image credit: Emma Matthews / Unsplash

Image credit: Emma Matthews / Unsplash

The Instagram Follow / Unfollow method refers to an account following a ton of other social media accounts with the sole objective of getting a ‘follow back’ in return.

If they don’t get it, they’ll unfollow after a certain amount of time; a day, a week, four weeks.

And often, they’ll still unfollow you even if you do follow back.

Who uses the Follow / Unfollow method?
There are two types of people who use the Follow / Unfollow method:

  • One: People wanting to grow their account at all costs and who really don’t care how they do it. The majority of accounts are from overseas (which means they will never do business with you), with a few that are local too.  

  • Two: Bots – accounts that post random comments on your images that are spammy or irrelevant. People pay for bots to go through and auto-comment and/or follow on their behalf with the sole objective of getting as many followers as they can and fast.

There’s a big difference between the above types of people and genuine users that connect with like-minded accounts on Instagram with the intent to form a meaningful relationship.

Spending time proactively engaging with your target audience and those who may one day do business with you is recommended, especially when just starting out. This enables you to find those people who genuinely connect with like-minded accounts and grow your following of potential clients, fans, readers and listeners.

Below are some recommendations on how to combat this, what to avoid and how you can retain long-term, genuine followers.

What NOT to do (and what to do instead)
Do not:
Blindly follow a heap of random accounts with the sole purpose of increasing the number of followers on your account.

Do: Strategically follow a number of accounts based on whether they resonate, whether they are someone you like to see in your feed and/or whether they are someone who you would like to engage with because they may one day do business with you. Follow accounts because you are genuinely wanting to connect with the intent to add value (in other words – genuinely connecting with the intent to add value).

Do not: Unfollow en masse anyone who didn’t follow you back, or even worse, unfollowing everyone en masse.

Do: Connect and engage with your new followers over a number of weeks; and ad hoc unfollow anyone who hasn’t engaged back or otherwise interacted with you at all. Why? These people aren’t genuinely interested in your content and it unlikely you will develop a relationship.

Do not: Spend all of your time worrying about the fluctuation of your account with follow/unfollow types. You need to be strategic about how to get the people who might be genuinely interested in your account on board.

Do: Spend the time creating quality content that make people want to follow you. And remember it’s not about you. Make your content interesting to your target audience so they are enticed to see more of it.

Do not: Follow every damn person back that follows you in a desperate attempt to increase your follower count.

Do: Be strategic about who you follow back. The whole point of social media is to start conversations with people that may one day do business with you.

When someone random adds you and you’re thinking about whether to add them back or not, this is the test:

  • Are they my target market’? If yes, follow back and engage!

  • If no, leave.

A good example of an account not to follow back is:

  • Based overseas;

  • Is not your target audience;

  • Looks spammy;

  • Has more ‘following’ than followers.

It’s likely they will also unfollow in a day or two.

Do not: Post hashtags under your posts and wait for the follows to roll in.

Do: You need to do the work and go find your people. Get out there and start showing people you exist. That’s how you grow your following. Genuine engagement, not follow and unfollow tactics is the best way to grow your Instagram account.

Do not: Use too many big, broad hashtags with hundreds of thousands (or millions) of posts under them. When you use these broad hashtags like #Summer or #Singer (for example), you’re opening yourself to a much greater degree of fluctuation in your follower count. Bots love trawling through these sorts of hashtags on Instagram for follow / unfollows and you’ll find that you get a heap of new followers, and then a heap of unfollows.

Do: I recommend using no more than five of these types of hashtags at the absolute max. They can be helpful for increasing your post engagement (and pleasing the Instagram algorithm), but they are not really going to be your target audience in most cases.

People genuinely searching through hashtags, search for location specific, community or brand hashtags because they are more relevant to what they are looking for. For example, someone looking for a cafe or restaurant to visit in Brisbane is much more likely to be searching under #BrisbaneEats than they are under #Food or #Cafe. Young female entrepreneurs looking for business inspiration are much more likely to be searching under #CollectiveHub than #Entrepreneur.

Summing up
Everyone ultimately wants more followers on Instagram. The Instagram Follow Unfollow method - even though it’s shady, annoying and flat out against good business sense – is one of the main ways people attempt to achieve just that and for that reason it’s not a tactic that’s going away anytime soon.

As a result, your follower numbers are going to continue to fluctuate. The tips listed above are what you can do to help reduce the amount of fluctuation (i.e. using different hashtags) and to keep an eye on who is doing it. At the end of the day, ignore the ups and downs.

Spend your time and energy on doing the things (like producing great content and engaging proactively) that are going to bring you the right type of followers – ones that enjoy your content, find it valuable and that may just one day pick up the phone or send you an email to do business with you.

Social media platforms will be introducing a strict policy about follow/unfollow activity on user accounts and by doing something like this you’re risking having your account permanently banned.

For those playing the follow/unfollow game, they’re essentially stunting their growth as a blogger or social media influencer. Sure, they may have ‘grown’ number-wise, but they aren’t actually genuinely growing as a blogger, entrepreneur, influencer or person. When focusing energy on building up a following in an inauthentic way, it jeopardises your influence (credibility, community, engagement).