You might know your Instagram content is good, but imagine how much better it will seem if it looks like 10,000 people agree.

Whether you’re trying to become a social media celebrity or simply looking to spread brand awareness on Instagram, it can seem tempting to take shortcuts wherever you can in order to expand your audience, including ‘buying’ Instagram followers.

Here, we’ve gone ahead and covered all the questions you might have about buying Instagram followers to give you a better idea of how it actually works. We’ve also explored the pros and cons, so you can decide for yourself if it’s a good move for your brand.

1,000 followers seems like a good deal for the price of a small Starbucks latte. But of course, if it really was that cheap and easy, everyone would be doing it. So what’s the catch? Is buying Instagram followers legal and safe for your business? Is it a worthwhile investment?

The main reason buying Instagram followers can prove to be a wasted investment is because the accounts you follow often aren’t real. 

Buying ‘Fake’ Instagram Followers

The vast majority of purchasable followers are either bots or inactive accounts. Here’s how it works:

Instagram Bots

As of 2018, Instagram may have as much as 95 million bots, which accounts for approximately 9.5% of its total user base. There are companies out there who have automated the process of creating bots so well that they can then sell these bots as followers. In some cases, the bots may even assume the identity of a real person, using stolen images and names. 

Depending on the service, these dummy accounts may even seem organic, running on automation to share and like content. Some can even be programmed to produce content. However, because they’re not real people, they will not have an organic-looking following to follower ratio. As a result, the engagement they do produce will have little impact.

Without real followers to engage with your content, your posts are essentially hidden from everyone except your inauthentic audience. Plus, your bot followers won’t discuss your brand in real life with friends or family, because, well … they don’t exist in real life (no offense, bots).

Inactive Accounts

However, not all fake followers are bots. There are some companies who sell followers that are genuine accounts.

In this situation, the accounts are created either because they’re managed by users whose only goal is to get followed in return or for the sole reason to offer this service. And while these followers might show early engagement, they’ll ultimately become a drain on your Instagram account’s performance metrics when their accounts go dormant.

After all, if their account was created for the sole purpose of fulfilling sponsorship requests, the real person behind the account has little reason to dwell on the newsfeed, interact with content, or purchase the goods and services being advertised. 

Without that interaction, your follower numbers are inflated with none of the value that organic followers would bring.

When you buy Instagram followers, you’re paying for a number alone. Engagement is not guaranteed, or even likely.

In addition to buying followers directly, you can also pay services to strategically follow other accounts on your behalf based on your preferences (location, hashtag usage, account type, and gender). Ideally, those followed accounts will then follow you back.

With this option, your followers are more likely to be real people, but engagement is still unlikely. Since you can’t even guarantee these accounts will follow you back, it’s a risky investment. Most accounts won’t follow you back, and even if they do, they probably aren’t going to be long-term, loyal, or active followers.

You’ll get early engagement that tapers off.

Purchased Instagram followers also provide no long-term value to your profile’s content. The followers you buy might give you views, likes, and comments early into acquiring them as a follower, but the attention they throw you now won’t be there later — when you start reporting on how your Instagram account is performing.

And how helpful, really, are 10,000 followers that don’t engage with you? Engagement is key to how Instagram’s algorithm displays posts to users. Without likes or comments, your post probably won’t show up on your audience’s newsfeeds, and it also won’t show up on any Explore Pages.

You could hurt your credibility.

Having a lot of followers could convince users to follow you organically, but it’s not a guarantee.

Remember the risks: these followers will probably never like or comment on a post, and if you’re caught with a ton of fake followers, you could ruin your credibility with your real audience.

Users might notice you don’t have a ton of engagement on your posts, which could deter them from following you. If you have 10,000 followers but only four likes per post, it won’t take people long to realize something is up.

Think of it this way: would you keep following an account if you saw that most of their “loyal audience” were inactive accounts or bots? I’m guessing not. It could seem deceitful, and lead you to believe the brand couldn’t get authentic followers through good content alone.

Bought Instagram followers can distort your performance metrics.

It’s practically impossible to measure how well your target audience is connecting with your brand if a high percentage of that audience isn’t real. How will you measure posts that do well with your real audience if those bots and inactive accounts skew the ratio?

If you don’t know how well your posts are doing or what your real audience thinks, you’ll never convert your Instagram followers into real customers. And isn’t that the point?

Ultimately, if you pay for Instagram followers, you aren’t paying for quality, real-life followers. You’re paying for a blank number. And since Instagram’s algorithm is largely tied to engagement, not followers, buying followers isn’t a long-term solution. In fact, it isn’t really a solution at all.

Take the time, energy, and money that you would’ve dedicated to buying followers, and focus instead on building genuine relationships with a real audience. If your content is engaging and authentic, your loyal followers will spread the word and engage with your brand without needing any bribes.

Instagram Identifies and Purges Fake Followers

Recently, Instagram has updated its terms of use to identify and remove inauthentic accounts from its platform. Instagram is removing any likes, follows, or comments from third-party apps that are designed to artificially grow accounts’ audiences. By buying followers, you violate Instagram’s community guidelines and it may trigger a reaction from Instagram moderators. 

Instagram is looking to maintain genuine interactions on its site, protecting real accounts and experiences. Fake or bought activity infringes upon this mission and might result in consequences, so it’s better to grow your audience organically.

Alternatives to Buying Instagram Followers

Instagram’s new algorithm rewards engagement more than follower count, displaying content similar to posts users engaged with in the past. In order to drive engagement, there are many different actions one can try on the platform to get in front of your ideal audience.

By using good Instagram marketing practices — whether you are building your personal brand or a company account — you can better reach the nearly 800 million monthly Instagram users and build an authentic audience. 

1. Make your account public.

First, make your account public so that users can see your profile and content. This way, you can grow your audience organically when your content pops up on users’ explore pages, attracting and delighting your target viewership. 

2. Give users a reason to follow you by publishing quality content.

Next, publish a variety of posts to your feed: you can post images, GIFs, videos, Boomerangs, quizzes on your story, how-tos, user-generated content, and so much more. Build trust and excitement among your followers by using high-quality photos, writing catchy captions, posting consistently, and keeping up a unique style overall to differentiate yourself from other accounts. Do your research on which hashtags generate a lot of buzz and which are aligned with your brand — hashtags can be a great way to reach new audiences if done correctly.

Depending on your brand personality, it can help to be funny or witty in your content. Having an acute awareness of how your brand is perceived and the trends going around Instagram will serve you when choosing content to post and how to interact with your Instagram community. 

3. Use Instagram to its fullest capability.

Lastly, utilize the many different channels on the platform, like Instagram Live, IGTV, Instagram Stories, or Shopping on Instagram. There are so many different ways to connect with users, and by driving engagement through these features, you can drive engagement and traffic organically and authentically.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.