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November 17, 2017

Cheating the social algorithm: Is it worth it?

Written By Pammy Alexander
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If we look into the story of social media in recent years, we can see that the Instagram community has undergone a transition. From an amateur photography platform to a fully fledged social monopoly – there is heaps of value to be obtained from this visual app. But precisely for this reason, influencers are increasingly falling into the trap of fabricating followers to increase the perceived ROI for brands who collaborate with them.

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In order to understand the false methodology behind their thinking, we must delve into the journey of Instagram content.

The value of social content has shifted

Roller socialAn increase in perceived benefits for influencers means an increase in demand for quality content. It takes dedication, creativity and a tangible community to cut through the noise, and brands expect that from their influencers.

As standards for what kind of content is considered valuable have increased drastically, a photo of an immaculate flat white no longer makes the cut. Though the love for coffee can amass an incredible amount of followers, it is not enough for a high profile Instagram account.

At the same time, influencers and brands who put in the work and talent into their social feeds can reap greater rewards than ever before. Whilst content needs to be of a higher quality and quantity, the financial benefits have increased to reflect the effort needed to manage an influential feed.

A higher social engagement and a larger social following are undoubtedly correlated with a higher turnaround. However, while it’s an exciting time to be an aspiring influencer or a brand with an innovative product, it is also far too tempting to manufacture engagement out of thin air. This is why influencers are resorting to follower bots and AI driven apps to simulate an account with a higher social impact.

The social media boom

Roller SocialThe current social media boom is not too dissimilar to the 1950s advertising boom. It is no coincidence that more and more brands, TV networks and corporations are flooding social media with investment.

Meanwhile, the death of traditional media is increasingly speculated. Social media influencer and CEO of Social Chain Steven Bartlett (@stevebartlettsc) has recently declared that radio and TV are dead. Though this might shock some, the future of VR and AI is not far off and consumers are turning to curated and on-demand content by the thousands.

Exactly for this reason, social media puts the power into the hands of independent creators. Everyone we know possesses a supercomputer in their pocket and there is a zero barrier to entry in this new field.

Why followers = influence

Roller SocialWhere consumers go, brands go. Consumers have shifted their eyes and attention to social media, with Millennials racking up a minimum of 7 hours of usage a week. Even the older Gen X, have become social media dependent for their entertainment, news and creative inspiration. Surprisingly, 35-49 year olds spend an hour more on social media than Millennials.

What does this mean for influencers and brands? A larger audience, larger followings and consequently higher reach resulting in a more impressive ROI.  

Model and influencer Joanna Halpin @joannahalpin boasts an impressive 295.7k Instagram following. Making her collaborations with the likes of Calvin Klein and Mango a worthwhile investment for the world renowned brands.

With all these benefits in mind, brands need to beware influencer accounts which cheat the social algorithm.

3 signs of a fake following

Though the signs of an inauthentic following are many, the first sign is an incredibly high follower count and a low engagement rate. Take caution when these numbers do not correspond. By simply scrolling through a user’s followers, it can become plainly obvious whether they are populated with spam accounts. These are usually private and named in obscure ways, with unnatural looking profile photos.

Another pointer to remember is that once a legitimate influencer has been selected, numbers aren’t always everything. Though an influencer may have a lower follower count, what matters most is the engagement and loyalty of their community. Brands could turn to services such as Dash Hudson to reveal in depth statistics.  

The third foolproof way to distinguish an Instagram account which has been tempered with is to strategically and analytically review its content. Brands should monitor user comments which appear automated or those which are real but reveal the dishonesty of the influencer. The risk of abusing the algorithm is the potential backlash from the Instagram community. When followers sense even an ounce of inauthenticity, this results in instant backlash. Having witnessed this with Amelia Liana and Zoella, brands must think long term with their collaborations.

 Social media has transcended age, location and culture, and as  result brands are discovering power in growing their influence on platforms like Instagram. There are direct benefits such as increased brand awareness and interaction. But the brands who play the social media game best are those who invest in it long term.

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Our conclusion on false followers? Organic interaction is better than false engagement. Brands should place their finances and attention on creating meaningful and impactful social campaigns. Taking the slow and steady road to cultivating a loyal following might appear less impressive than 100K followers, however it yields a higher rate of collaboration and long term benefits