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.
Apps that are registered with Instagram through API integrations meet developer guidelines and are compliant with Instagram policies. These apps can be deemed safe, with Instagram scrutinizing API access registrations, and are strict with apps that aren't compliant with these guidelines.
Follower apps don't have native access to Instagram's data. By granting them access with your profile, they hack their way by storing your username and password, which allows them to carry out actions using your account that aren't authorized, such as leaving comments on posts, or even selling your information online. These kinds of companies often don't have quality server protection, opening themselves up to hackers that can steal your credentials with a server breach. This can open up to access to your other social media profiles, or even your online banking, if you use the same passwords across accounts.
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.
If you provide permissions to the wrong type of Instagram app that aren't verified by Instagram, you're giving apps your username and password, allowing them to use your account as a proxy to either leave comments and likes without your consent, or even sell your information to interested third parties.
Simply put, Instagram follower apps are bot driven. Almost all followers and engagement you receive aren't real accounts, and if you're spending money on these apps, you'll receive no return on investment. Otherwise, you'll receive "fake" follows from real accounts that are compromised by the software taking control. You may even receive no engagement at all depending on the app.
Most users report the app provides errors every time they login, there are plenty of ads that pop up, and it doesn't track followers accurately.
Using Followers Chief, you can see users who have stopped following you. It also allows users to boost their profiles and generate mass follows for a fee. Most users currently report that the tool no longer works as intended, and that with enough time allocated in the week, could be replaced through manual effort.
FastLykke isn't actually an app, but allows users to purchase followers.
This app offers turbo likes for Instagram using a coin exchange; users like photos, receive coins, and can spend those coins to get users. While it purports to offer "real likes" it's a follower seller, which isn't ideal because these kinds of networks fail once their user base drops off.
IG Flash is a free mobile application that automatically likes and comments on your pictures, and will also automatically follower users to reach as many people as possible. In reality, it bombards you with advertising for fraudulent apps and services.
This web app requires that you provide your information to them despite not being an official oAuth authenticator. Without any legitimacy, you're just giving this app your password and username.
This app is no longer supported by the Play or App Store. At one time you were able to use this application to find Unfollowers and Ghost Followers for Instagram. It also alludes to getting more likes through trending, unique or secret hashtags.
The Likes & Who Viewed For Instagram app claims to allow for convenient tracking of follows and followers for Instagram, as well as analyzing profile pages.
This app will track your unfollowers, automatically unfollow depending on the users you want to add to a list, and offers bulk automation. Unfortunately it also tracks your passwords and usernames of your Instagram accounts and get your profile permanently suspended.
This app claims to track your Instagram followers, unfollowers and ghost followers. However, most reviewers note that the app takes too long to load and you have to pay for certain services that the app offers, like viewing ghost followers, and even being blocked from using the service. Similar to other apps, FollowMeter For Instagram tracks Instagram followers, unfollowers and ghost followers. Again, users that pay for the service report receiving error codes and that that the follower tracking works infrequently.
Beyond the various Instagram Follower apps that I listed above, they fall into different categories.
For these kinds of apps you pay some form of money and in exchange you receive followers. Most of the time, these platforms don't provide real followers, and are actually bot accounts. While your follower number may go up, the engagement of your profile stays same, and are often removed when Instagram purges bot accounts.
These are often trading networks and are the most common form of follower app. Buy earning or purchasing credits, your profile and content are put in a queue alongside other app users that are prompted to engage with your feed. The problem with these kinds of apps is they're reliant on their user network; once the network dwindles, the engagement falls, and these apps will start replacing the lost numbers with fake accounts.
By providing your account information, this kind of account is used as a bot account for selling follows and engagement. It will be used to follow others and post comments without your implicit knowledge.
These are fake apps that simply steal your information. It may appear that you're logging in via Instagram or a trustworthy authentication system, but you're giving your information to someone that will use it to either hack other accounts or take over your Instagram account.
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.
Instead of using a follower app, I would recommend the following action items to keep your Instagram clean and growing at a healthy rate:
First, you'll want to clean up your Instagram account. Go through and unfollow any profiles that you deem to be unnecessary, so that your follower count is higher than the following count. Be careful though; if you start mass unfollowing users, this may lead Instagram to believe that there's suspicious activity with your account, and may ban your profile.
Because Instagram is very strict with its policies, don't allow third party applications access your account. Unfollower tracking apps are unnecessary in 2020, because Instagram has updated its algorithm to effectively remove bots from the platform.
All of these apps also exhibit the same types of activity, and Instagram has caught onto these trends, so if your profile is exhibiting similar behavior then you will either be banned, or demoted in Instagram's ranking algorithm.
Before Instagram was released, its user newsfeed used to be chronological. Now it's based on timeliness and user engagement. Be sure to post every day at peak user hours to drive the most engagement for your posts. To help with this, you can autopost using Planoly on Instagram or set up IFTTT recipes on your social media accounts.
Hashtags are still the best way to drive visibility for your posts. Make sure you're targeting medium-to-long tail hashtags for the best chance of your posts being seen, as well as relevant hashtags to your industry. The more visibility you can get on your post, the more engagement you will likely receive, which will lead to boosts in Instagram's algorithm. Check out my post on the best Instagram hashtags for follower engagement.
Because of Instagram's new policy, you aren't allowed to use third party unfollower tracking apps, as they aren't supported via Instagram's dev guidelines.
To help reduce spam, Instagram doesn't allow anyone to follow more than 7500 people at a time. In that same vein, newer accounts can only follow/unfollow 20 users per hour, or a maximum of 100-200 users per day.
While the follow unfollow method used to be a popular strategy for generating followers on Instagram, it can get your account banned if used frequently, or if it replicates behavior similar to follower apps.
The short answer is no. You can purchase thousands of followers for as little as $10, but you're often purchasing bots or inactive accounts that will never engage with your content.