The other day, I was casually scrolling through Instagram when I came across a picture posted by another blogger. She’s Nigerian so I gotta support a sista, and I liked her outfit, so I quickly double tapped the pic. I continued my scrolling, but I did find it strange that her photo had been posted 15 minutes prior and only had 50 likes. I mean, this woman has over 100,000 followers, and 50 likes in 15 minutes is what my pictures do on a mediocre day.
I’m super nosy so later that day I returned to her account to see how her picture fared. 3,000 likes, wow! Still, that 50 likes in 15 minutes was really tripping me out because I know how Instagram reach works so I clicked on the likes to get a better sense of who engaged with her image.
What I found SHOCKED me. So much. I’m still shook. She was buying Instagram likes.
I’d read and heard about people buying Instagram likes and followers, but I actually hadn’t witnessed it until a few days ago. Since then, I discovered NUMEROUS – I had to make a darn list to keep track – people that I followed on the gram had bought likes. Some had 10,000 followers, some had 150,000 followers, some were black, some weren’t, but each of them decided to attempt to buy their way to IG success.
To be honest, much of my anger is steeped in wasted and unnecessary jealousy. I have spent an embarrassing number of nights crying about how I can’t seem to get ahead when I produce great, high quality content that provides value. I have dissected the composition of so many flatlays of denim and jewelry and flowers and coffee cups just to try and understand how other bloggers manage to get such high engagement on images without their faces. I’ve even gone to the embed feature on the desktop app to see exactly what time people posted their photos to receive such high engagement.
Here I am, essentially blogging full time while ALSO getting a PhD, comparing myself to people who have apparently built a large and engaged following. People who are subsequently getting more and higher paying collaboration opportunities based on their FAKE engagement. No siree ma’am. Not only do I refuse to participate in that kind of behavior. I reject it. It’s toxic, and I’ve removed anyone who I believe does it from my feed. Because I have worked SO damn hard building my brand authentically for the past 7 years, I couldn’t in good faith continue to support people who decided to use shortcuts.
Now I get that IG is a pain and it’s algorithm is set up in a way that almost forces you to boost your content in order to have more visibility. But there are genuine ways to grow on social media that don’t involve lies. Which is exactly what buying likes is. A LIE. Some honest Instagram growth strategies include: commenting on pictures within relevant hashtags, engaging more with your existing followers, connecting with people in person, collaborating with other IGers to co-create or engage with one another’s content, and even participating in tacky loop giveaways. I was in a comment pod for a while and found it helpful but I had to remove myself in part because some people in the pod bought likes and I couldn’t go against my moral grain and support their content.
You’re probably wondering, how do you know if someone bought likes if you can’t see their credit card statement? Here are some telltale signs (to me at least) of buying likes, and the checks I do before hitting that unfollow:
- photos have large number of likes from foreign accounts – especially Russian or Asian (not sure which country, but the alphabets of the users aren’t Roman)
- photos have large number of likes from people who have very few followers but follow thousands of other accounts
- people who liked the photo don’t follow the person who posted it. Yes, some stuff ends up on the explore page, but if more likes come from non-followers vs. followers, that’s a dead giveaway
- photos have huge spike in the number of likes after 30 minutes
- photos have large number of likes compared to following (ie. 15k followers and consistently receiving 2K likes)
I’m not sharing this to be shady – trust me, if I was, I’d share my list of names! I just think it’s important for Instagram users, especially fellow bloggers that take growth seriously, to know how rampant this practice is. Comparison is the thief of joy. But comparison to people who are lying about their engagement is setting yourself up for madness.