What Happens when you BUY FOLLOWERS – What I Learned was Shady AF.

I promise this has been for science. I don’t have very many Instagram followers as it is. I have around 300, at the moment. It’s not my main platform and I don’t really try to promote my blog on it. I follow a lot of bloggers, but I don’t actively try to drive traffic from my insta to my blog. It’s essentially my personal account.  When I started to learn that you could actually buy followers… I was tempted. Maybe it’s a good way to get a running start? I knew it was wrong, shady, but I wanted to learn more.

At the end of last week, when the drama started kicking off with #followersgate or whatever we’re going to call it, I decided I’d do a little test to see what the experience of buying followers is like. We all know more followers = more brand interest. While that won’t always convert to working with brands, maybe 50,000 paid-for followers can grant enough of a foothold to start relationships with brands.

Of course, I wasn’t going to buy 50,000 followers, and I certainly wasn’t buying them to feign influence. I’m not insane. I’m pretty sure going from 300 to 50,000 in a few hours, especially when I rarely post, would be… shady. But then, everything about this is shady.

I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Perhaps the followers purchased could have even contained a handful of real accounts that would become engaged with my content. Surely they wouldn’t all be bots?

I learned the SHADY TRUTH about BUYING FOLLOWERS on Instagram. Read it to find out more.

Spread it. Pin it. ^

Where to buy followers?

I shopped around to find somewhere I could buy followers from. There are a lot of options out there. Most of the sites have terrible grammar and spelling mistakes. I guess grammar and spelling aren’t that important when you’re into shady dealings. The people who buy followers care more for numbers and maths than literacy, anyway, I imagine.

Grammar and spelling aren't that important when you’re into shady dealings. Click To Tweet

I found the perfect site. I found it through some spam comments on a Quora question that asked where the best place to buy followers was. It was recommended by about 5 spam comments, which I imagined made it the perfect place to buy my spam followers. Bingo. It looked more legitimate than the sites I was finding on my own. The site offered me the perfect package, 100 followers for $1! Working out around £0.82 for me. At 1¢ a follower, this was a bargain.

I had three conditions for this little experiment, that this particular site met:

  1. I had to be able to buy as few followers as possible
  2. They had to be as cheap as possible
  3. I had to be able to speak to their support beforehand, to ensure I was being promised ‘real’ followers

I had to be able to buy as few followers as possible

I didn’t want 50,000 new followers. I’d love to be that popular on Instagram, but I’m not. My content isn’t that great, I’m not a fantastic photographer, I don’t brunch often and I share pictures when I take them – sometimes multiple times a day, sometimes going a week without posting. The fact of the matter here is that I don’t deserve 50,000 followers. I haven’t earned them. I don’t want a fake following, because I want to be able to actually see and measure my own growth.

I don't want fake followers. I want to be able to see and measure my own organic growth. Click To Tweet

100 followers was the smallest package I could find, anywhere on the web (multiple sites offer packages of 100). For those interested, the site I bought from offered up to 100,000 followers in one purchase.

They had to be as cheap as possible

I like a bargain. I’m always skint. $1 was a good price for me. I didn’t want to commit a tonne of money to buy followers. I wanted to buy followers cheap. Most people who are buying followers will be trying to find the cheapest possible option (though probably so they can buy as many followers as possible).

Chat support

I did notice most of the sites have a chat support widget in the bottom corner. This was important to me. I only wanted to buy real followers, obviously. No bots. I needed clarification from the site I was buying followers from that they would be real people. Before I made a purchase, I asked the following:

Are the followers real people?
Emphasis on people.
They affirmed that the followers were real Instagram accounts.
This isn’t a lie. The accounts are real. They have bios, profile pictures, collections of photos which do go together and have the same people in.

If I purchased 100,000 followers, would I be bombarded with them in one go?
Obviously, I wasn’t buying this many. But I wanted to know if I did, would they all follow in one rush? If so, it would suggest they weren’t real people. I was told that if I purchased this many, that the followers would begin within 48 hours, and would likely follow me in bunches.

Was there any warranty on the followers; would they replace any lost followers? Would the followers unfollow straight away?
Some sites do offer replacements for lost followers within a certain time period. Now, this is where I was completely lied to. I was told that as the followers are real accounts, they can only guarantee the initial following – not that the account would enjoy my content, therefore, continue to follow me. The accounts did all end up being bots. I have no idea why their bots would unfollow me. Probably to keep their numbers in line so they didn’t seem too dodgy.

Finally, I asked if they could give me an example of a customer.
I asked this question out of curiosity, more than anything. I didn’t want to see a sample of their customers. I explained to the chat agent that I would like to see if the followers ‘looked’ like real accounts. Again, I was told all of their followers were 100% real, but that they couldn’t give out details of their customers. This.. was what I was wanting to hear. I wanted to know the service would protect my privacy on some level. They wouldn’t give me any previous customer’s details, so this was at least one good sign. 

Purchasing the Followers

I made my purchase through PayPal. It was actually the only payment platform the site offered, but for me, it was also the safest. I was actually taken offsite and to the PayPal website to complete the purchase. If anyone goes through this process, please, please do the same. Pay by credit card on the PayPal website only. Do not put your card details into one of these sites, directly. Even if they have an SSL certificate.

If you must buy followers, be careful. Don't give card details to shady sites. Click To Tweet

The ‘following’

Early in the afternoon, I texted Aidan (aka bae) – “I have made a huge mistake”. I have follower notifications turned on for my Instagram account. I like to check people out when they follow me so I can follow back if I like their content. Suddenly, I had notification after notification. To gain 100 followers, it took about 5 minutes from when it started. It was painful to watch. I instantly regretted it. My notification feed was filled with new followers, who were clearly not interested in pictures of me or my dogs. They didn’t come in bunches. They arrived in pretty much one go. If you’d bought 50,000 or more I imagine your phone may actually explode.

The quality of followers I bought

The followers were so blatantly bots. Yeah, they were 100% real Instagram accounts. The names were real, the people in the photographs were real. But they’re not real followers. They don’t engage with you. They don’t reply if you send them a funny meme. They don’t like my cute ass dogs. They are bot accounts, which like or follow based on who else has bought followers. I noticed that a few of the bot accounts even followed each other, so the accounts following me didn’t even have 0 followers, some had thousands!

There wasn’t one new follower who was a real person.

I started to worry about my account’s integrity 

I started to worry about the recent shadowbans that Instagram has been placing on accounts. I posted a picture up not long later and didn’t get as much immediate engagement as I’d been getting with previous posts. I started to freak out a little, thinking I’d been caught out. Just a note: Instagram is known to ban accounts if they find out they’ve purchased followers, as it breaks their Terms of Service.

The unfollowing – obviously

I keep track of my Instagram followers using Followers+ on my iPhone. I don’t get many followers, usually, and I try to follow people back. I check the app before bed so I can get rid of anyone who has followed then unfollowed – you know the type. Well, the same night I’d bought 100 followers, 25 of the bots unfollowed me.

By morning, it was ~55 who had unfollowed me. I headed back to the live chat to ask, why had over 50% of the followers I’d purchased, just the day before, unfollowed me? I was given the same generic answer – they only promise to give you followers, not that your feed would captivate the follower to stay. I pressed the matter.

I asked to know – how do they find people to become followers for their service? I was told that the followers are selected from Instagram for their reputations and that they had a process in place to vet their followers. When I asked how I could become a follower for them, they disconnected the chat. I haven’t been able to reconnect since.

This is more than whether buying followers is ethical. This is data theft.

I imagine, somewhere on Instagram, there are accounts with the same collections of images as my bot followers had. Some of the accounts had specific themes – food or fitness or cars. When accounts contained selfies, they were all of the same person or the same friend groups. The locations were similar. The accounts aren’t filled with random arrays of photos that don’t fit together. They flow. They flow because they’re real people’s personal photos, just not attached to the accounts they really belong to.

The followers you buy - they're fake accounts using stolen images. Click To Tweet

To what level this is identity or data theft, I don’t know, and I wouldn’t like to speculate. But after having had my Airbnb account hacked a few months back, I know from experience that finding someone else using your personal details online, your persona – is not a nice feeling. It makes you feel sick and dirty.

I felt sick and dirty knowing I’d paid for a service that was taking people’s curated Instagram collections and creating fake accounts with them. I don’t know how anyone can feel proud of a following that consists of 50,000 accounts worth of stolen data.

The blogging community’s focus so far has been on how the people buying followers are feigning their influence. They’re making themselves come off better to brands than they really are. Brands, PR and marketing teams aren’t silly, they’re savvy. They’re all about numbers, too – but the numbers that really matter. They know about engagement rates and they’ll quickly stop working with influencers who aren’t legitimately bringing enough people into their sales funnel or meeting their goals. It’s down to the ‘influencer’ if they want to lie to get freebies, whether they’re comfortable with their own lie.

But perhaps our empathy should be with the people who, most likely unknowingly, are having their faces plastered all over Instagram by bot after bot. The people who have uploaded collections of images that are taken, given a new name, and uploaded to fake accounts to fuel our obsessions with having the highest follower count.


As a final note, I’d like to add that any of the accounts that haven’t yet unfollowed me or been deleted, I have reported as spam as soon as I’ve noticed them. There’s a few still floating around (26, I believe) and I’m still going through and weeding these out. I urge you all to report any spammy accounts to instagram. You can do this by clicking the three dots at the top of the profile and choosing “report account”.
I haven’t linked to site I purchased followers from as I’d rather not be affiliated with them. If anyone would like to know, feel free to get in touch with me on social media. Thanks.

27 responses to “What Happens when you BUY FOLLOWERS – What I Learned was Shady AF.”

  1. Nikita says:

    These websites sound so shady! You shouldn’t feel bad for what you did Gemma, because I think you brought a lot issues with buying followers to light, and hopefully it will prevent someone else from doing the same. I would personally much rather have 20 followers who actually engage with me, rather than 50K spam accounts, whose names I can’t even be bothered to remember. xx Nikita

    • Gemma says:

      I definitely agree! It just didn’t hit me until after I seen all the bots flooding in that real people might be affected by it – it’s real people’s data! Made me feel awful! I hope the post helps shed some light to the people who are considering buying and that they may think twice!

      Thanks so much for reading and for your kind words!

      Gemma xx

      • I love this post. It always creeps me out when random bots follow my account but I’ve never been able to explain why as I mark them as spam. You just did for me! The bots are improving. They’re no longer as easy to flesh out because they’re using real people’s images.

        • Gemma says:

          I completely agree! I find them SO annoying! Especially the ones which randomly follow you for no reason – what’s even the point?

          They’re definitely getting harder to spot, for sure!

          Thanks for reading! xx

  2. Hannah says:

    I’ve worked so hard on my Instagram for two years now, and it breaks my heart that people are taking the easy way out and buying a following. It’s also shocking that they’re making accounts of what is basically a fake person, but with real photos! Great post, it’s so informative xx

    Hannah | luxuryblush♡

    • Gemma says:

      I know! You can tell when someone really puts effort in so it’s so sad to see people just buying their way to the top.

      Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed! xx

  3. Sheila says:

    Thanks for doing this and passing on some great information! I had no idea that this was happening!

    • Gemma says:

      I think it’s more active among people who are social media influencers than blogs and I’m in no way saying it’s common! Just that it’s been a big topic of discussion lately 🙂

      Thanks so much for reading! xx

  4. Hey Gemma, this is a great post and I’m so thankful for sharing this experience with us! Very insightful and I love that you asked the chat agents all those questions. I’m sure nobody probably does normally. Great points about not putting your card details directly into the site! WATCH OUT everyone. Your final thought on data theft really leaves me thinking… So glad you joined my Facebook group. Can’t wait to see how the group reacts to your post.
    🙂 Kris

    • Gemma says:

      Hi Kris! Thanks so much for commenting!

      It really was an interesting experience, and I think I learned a lot – it’s all quite obvious if you think about it but if your goal is to just grab new followers you might not be thinking about the consequences!

      Another point I’ve been thinking, and I’ll add it to the post this week, is that if the bots are real instagram feeds from other people and you’ve just given your username to a shady company, you’re now on your radar and at risk of the same!

      Thanks again for commenting, can’t wait to share this with the group! xx

  5. Interesting account – I often wondered how this worked, without wanting to try it myself, obviously! Thanks for sharing!

    • Gemma says:

      It’s definitely intriguing! It’s such an easy way out because obviously if you have a lot of followers people will want to follow you to see why you’re so popular. It’s easy to be tempted.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment! xx

  6. Miki says:

    This is a fantastic post. I have seen so many IG accounts jump literally 10s of thousands, which even with a loop contest is impossible. I know that there is tones of identity theft on IG. I have me a few bloggers and IGers who have found accounts with most of their content and photos on there. They try to make money using your photos by collaborating with known businesses. It’s completely wrong! I’ve always been really freaked out by things like that. I’ve worked on the agency and corporate side and not only is buying followers so unethical, but the aspect of the identity theft is horrifying, as you have mentioned. I can’t get past that at all. No amount of money should be worth your integrity.

    Xo,
    Miki
    http://mikialamode.com

    • Gemma says:

      Totally hitting the nail on the head here! When people are doing this they’re doing it to misrepresent themselves to agencies and it’s just not right. Supporting dodgy businesses in the hopes that you’ll be able to lie to get a relationship with a brand is shameful!

      Thanks for reading xx

  7. Beccah says:

    Thanks for this look into the shady world of buying followers. I knew it was possible but I didn’t really know anything about it, so this was a really interesting read. Sharing this so that anybody who is tempted to buy followers can see how much of a scam it is.

    Beccah xx
    thehonestolive.com

  8. Johnnielynn says:

    I don’t understand buying followers. When you see accounts with tons of followers but no engagement, seems kind of pointless too me. How influential can you be if no one connects? I’d much prefer to connect with 10 people than to just be followed by 10k. Great post
    Xojohnnielynn

    http://xojohnnielynn.com/liebster-award/

    • Gemma says:

      Hey Johnnielynn! Buying followers is definitely just a way for people to fake their influence so they get more or better brand collabs. Personally, I think it’s really unethical! Luckily, the big brands are starting to see through this tactic which means honest bloggers will get the chances they deserve. Thanks for commenting. xx

  9. Bethany says:

    This post is so interesting! I never knew anything about buying followers and the consequences of it and the people who follow so this is so interesting. Great informative post!

    • Gemma says:

      Honestly until I started blogging I had no idea it was a thing! Now I see it everywhere I look, haha! It’s so common!

  10. Deanna says:

    Oh Girl I think this is more common than a blogger wants to believe. I started my blog in Feb. First time dabbling in anything online. Seriously I don’t even have Facebook and just started my Twitter Account (which is where I found you;) Anyways I went to Fiverr and searched for ways to drive organic traffic. I wanted new targeted niche subscribers to see my new opt in freebie right? Wrong. I paid $5 and my google analytics shot up. Was showing close to 900 visits per day. By day two I cancelled the order and received a refund. I cancelled because not one of those 900 had signed up for my opt in or my newsletter. In fact not one had even left a blog comment. These certainly couldn’t be real people. The odds of 0900 is not realistic. My convertkit conversion rate is now exceptionally low and will take months to recover. Had I not cancelled this would have continued for 14 days. Lesson Painfully Learned.

    • Gemma says:

      I think the important take away from all this is that there just isn’t a quick way – you really get what you put in when it comes to blogging. Driving traffic and gaining a following is tough work but worth it in the end!

      That’s a shame about your convertkit rates – that’d annoy the hell out of me! So sorry you had a bad experience with it, too!

      Thanks for reading and thank you so much for sharing your experience with me! x

  11. Melina says:

    This is such great post. This experiment was so informative. I knew that some of the followers had to be bots, but I had no idea that ALL of the followers would be bots. It’s crazy to think that these accounts basically steal the identity of other people who, like you said, have followers of their own. It was good of you to report them xxx

    Melina | http://www.ivefoundwaldo.com

  12. Heather lee says:

    I actually liked reading this post because ive read so much about the whole buying followers thing and it was really interesting to read about someone who actually experienced it(!). It’s so so shady and I just felt angry and upset cos there are others out there (including me) that try and work so hard to gain REAL followers. I’m so wary of following people back and I ALWAYS check if they’re legit or not. Thanks for the great post, I think everyone should read it! Xh

  13. Lucy Freeman says:

    This is brilliant I love that you did it to see what it’s like on your instagram. I never understood the whole buying followers as they wouldn’t engage. Thank you for sharing. Hopefully these type of sites will be long gone soon. (I hate the whole follow/unfollow thing) I love engaging with people that I follow and follow me! Xxxxxxx

    lucylovesbeautyxo.com

    • Gemma says:

      Thanks for commenting, Lucy! Yes, it’s such a shame because these sites are run by people who just don’t have a conscience about what they’re doing! It really annoys me, and they’re everywhere! I’ve even seen a few as sponsored posts on Instagram. Follow/unfollow is the most annoying thing on Instagram – and I just don’t know how the people who do it can be bothered with it! So much effort for what I presume is a very slow (not to mention inorganic) growth!

  14. Jessy says:

    You’re honestly so genuine and honest. Not many influencers could have done that. I blame how blogging has become all about numbers to the extent people feel the need to do this. Some honestly try and turn to this as the only answer 😪 I don’t even have the bravery to even make such a transaction. Great post Gemma ❤️

    Simplyjessytee.blogspot.co.uk

  15. Britney says:

    Interesting experiment! I was actually going through my instagram account yesterday and today to unfollow old accounts. I came across my Aunt’s account, who had signed up two years ago. She posted two photos right after signing up and then never used instagram again, so I decided to unfollow her since she was inactive. Before doing so, I realized her account showed that she was following over 600 users. That didn’t seem right since she was never active on Instagram. I clicked to see the accounts she was following, and all the ones I clicked on had thousands and thousands of followers and were accounts she never would have followed. I realized that those people were buying followers. It’s pretty sad, really. Especially since many of their “followers” are probably accounts like my Aunt’s, in which they’re inactive and never even see your content anyway.

    By the way, I followed you on Instagram. (I’m isthatvodka there)

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