Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Fixate on Your Instagram Follower Count

Passion Digital Passion Digital 27/05/2021 4 minutes

Very often we’re approached by brands who want to reach 10,000 followers on Instagram (or 50,000, or 100,000) and ask us if we can help them to grow their follower count quickly. That golden number, however large it is, becomes the shining goal. It draws a pass/fail mark in the sand: if you reach the target, you’ve won at Instagram. If you don’t, you must be doing something wrong.

The truth is… gaining Instagram followers is hard, and there are no shortcuts. With over 1 million active monthly users on Instagram and over 25 million companies with profiles on the platform, how can you convince users to choose your posts to appear in their feed? There are a number of tactics we can utilise to help you grow your content marketing efforts on Instagram, but first I ask clients to think about an important question:

Why do you want more Instagram followers? 

There are a number of benefits:

  1. Having more followers increases your reach, allowing your posts to be seen by more potential customers – although there are other more reliable ways of increasing your reach to a more relevant audience, such as through boosting feed posts

  2. It allows your brand to appear more legitimate, especially if your competitors have more followers than you do – although I would argue that there are more important ‘legitimacy factors’ to keep in mind alongside follower count, such as the amount of engagement on your page 

  3. Having over 10k followers allows you to add a direct link via ‘swipe up’ in IG Stories, which is a great traffic driver to your website

As a performance marketing agency, we emphasise how important it is that all your digital activity serves your wider business objectives. Before you start any activity on social media you need to determine:

  • Why you are using the channel
  • What you are hoping to achieve from it 
  • How that is going to benefit your business

It’s easy to come up with an answer for the first two points, but harder to justify any direct business benefits for gaining a specific number of Instagram followers. Having a high follower count doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you will make more sales, as your followers might not be interested in purchasing from you – they might just like your visuals appearing in their feed. In fact, they might not engage with your profile or your brand at all. It’s also not an accurate reflection of the quality of your Instagram content.

Of course we could make the argument that having more followers boosts your brand awareness, which could have knock-on benefits through other channels, such as brand search. However, brand awareness takes time to build and content creation is expensive – in order to justify budget being spent on organic social media, businesses need to prove that their efforts have measurable results. 

Following a profile is a one-time action. What you should be aiming to achieve on Instagram is an ongoing relationship with your followers – which can be measured in other (better) ways.

Should Follower Count be Your Main KPI?

If you are using Instagram as a business, with the ultimate goal of turning followers into customers, I would suggest that there are other more important metrics to consider:

Follower growth 

Rather than chasing a specific follower count goal (eg. 10k, 100k), we think it’s better to track the rate of increase. Especially if you’re a new brand, it’s a much more achievable target to achieve a monthly growth increase of 10% than it is to score 10,000 followers in your first 6 months. Tracking the number of people who follow/unfollow you can give you a good sense of whether your content continues to resonate with them.

Engagement rate 

I mentioned earlier that follower count doesn’t necessarily correlate with the popularity of your brand on Instagram. Engagement rate – which is calculated by dividing the number of total engagements (likes, comments, saves etc.) by your follower count, then multiplying that by 100 – is the best metric for gauging how much people interact with your content. 

Followers vs Engagements

If your follower count is crawling up slowly, it can be enticing to buy Instagram followers using one of the many services available just a Google search away. Don’t give in to the temptation. Buying followers is an ethically dubious practice, as you are deceiving any visitors to your profile into thinking that your page is more popular than it is, playing on their belief in social proof – which is why it breaches Instagram’s community guidelines. Instagram will periodically purge bot accounts on the platform, which could then lead to a large drop in your (fake) followers, or even lead to your account being suspended.

But, more importantly in my opinion, fake followers do not help you to achieve your marketing or business goals. You may be playing to a 50,000-capacity stadium, but the majority of the seats are empty – which doesn’t make for a very atmospheric show. Social media is all about building a community that helps to bring down the walls between brands and customers. So while follower count may be an indication of popularity, positive engagement is the essential indication of trust that needs to appear alongside it. 

Looking to Overhaul Your Instagram Strategy?

The real challenge on Instagram is sustainably building a long-term following with high value to your business, either as customers or brand evangelists. There are multiple ways to achieve this, but let me be real with you: it will cost you time, money or effort – you just have to decide which you’re willing to invest in and how long for. 

Here at Passion, we take an ethical approach to social media and have a range of tactics we use as part of an Instagram strategy, based on performance marketing principles. If you’re looking to grow your Instagram presence the right way, get in touch with our experts today.