As many of you know, my two favorite social media platforms are Instagram and Twitter. Engaging with audiences through visual content and brief, concise messages in chats with dozens of people is an absolute blast. There is one aspect that I absolutely despise about the user experience on both platforms: applications built through social media APIs to gain and track followers.
API, or application programming interface, acts as a gate between inputs and outputs through a programmer and an application. An API lets you use an interface to write, control or access a program someone else created based on the interface you’re using.
Developers use APIs to write software to perform an action, which communicates with an application to achieve certain outputs depending on what’s inputted through the API.
Applications built on social media APIs can allow you to comment, post and share content on behalf of an account through management platforms like Hootsuite or Buffer. There are also limitations such as users being unable to schedule posts to automatically upload on their behalf.
Many accounts on Instagram and Twitter use applications that interface with a platform to track followers and account performance metrics. These same applications can also be used to automatically follow and unfollow accounts, leave generic comments on posts, like content or direct message on a user’s behalf.
I’ll admit that these applications will provide an increase in follower count. From a user perspective, it’s frustrating to upload a post, receive a dozen or more follows within five minutes and then have almost every account unfollow after a few hours. Including the frustrating experience, here are a few reasons why you should avoid using follower apps to boost your follower count:
This might be obvious, but it looks bad when your account automatically follows other users and leaves generic comments that have nothing to do with the post. The thousands of followers you’ve accrued on an account might look impressive, but any reputability is tarnished if the engagement isn’t meaningful or the follower count is accrued slowly from follow-for-follow methods.
Many API interfaces for boosting followers allow users to track accounts that use specific hashtags. When that hashtag is included in a post, an account can be set to automatically follow that user or drop a comment on their post. However, there’s no telling if that user fits the audience base that you want to cultivate for your brand, producing no meaningful engagement.
This point adds on to #2, but because your audience isn’t targeted, even if they follow you back it isn’t certain that they’ll engage with your content. Users often follow an account because it entertains, educates or resonates with them. These three aspects are removed from the equation when your account randomly follows them. They might follow back (as is courtesy on social media), but they didn’t form a genuine connection to warrant following in the first place.
The accounts that I interact with regularly are ones that engaged with my content or vice versa. I’m often spammed with follows in my notifications and while I’ll follow back if an account somewhat fits my target niche, I won’t engage with their content if it isn’t specific enough to my interests. Based on social media algorithms, posts from those accounts are then buried in my newsfeed because it was algorithmically determined that I wasn’t interested in seeing their posts.
Almost all social media platforms have written policies against the use of spam or programs to auto-like, comment or follow on behalf of the user. Twitter recently cracked down on tweetdecking spam and propaganda bots in their new guidance policy. Because of follow back practices used by marketers in the past, many users are less likely to follow back and Twitter imposed limitations such as being unable to follow more than 5,000 people until they reach a following of that same number. If your account is found to violate these user agreement policies, it can be flagged for spam and permanently removed from the platform.
As a combative measure against follow back methods to boost follower count, social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter will penalize your post reach if you follow too many accounts without having a significant following. Most follower apps allow for the option to unfollow accounts hours after following, but this can send red flags for spam.
I love Instagram and Twitter. They’re great platforms that offer great content and communities to engage in. My only gripe with them is the amount of accounts that flood my notifications with fake follows in attempts to boost their follower counts. Twitter seems to have done a good job of cracking down on users who partake in doing this, but Instagram provides a particularly poor user experience in this respect.
It gets particularly difficult tracking which accounts follow me and which ones don’t; Twitter at least offers that visibility, although it’s particularly tedious to scroll through your entire following list to weed out accounts. Instagram doesn’t offer that same visibility and I’ve resorted to using mobile applications such as Unfollow Today and Followers Chief to track my unfollowers and remove them accordingly.
If there’s any takeaway from this piece, it’s that follower apps have relatively no benefit if an account is looking for anything meaningful beyond a high follower count. Having said that, they’re very beneficial in tracking followers and streamlining the process of weeding out your list of accounts that you follow in two minutes.