Ghost and bot accounts only make it look like you have a large following. Fake followers like these are not increasing your sales, your reach or your self-worth. Let’s take a look at how to remove them and make your Instagram more authentic.
It happens all of the time. I meet musicians who are looking for help with growing their social media presence, and have received help from other marketers in the past. These ‘professionals’ decided to use a growth strategy on the account that has been proven not to work; using Instagram bots to increase followers. The classic follow/unfollow strategy is still in use today, but Instagram is clever, and it’s now becoming less and less effective. Fake followers just don’t work anymore.
Over the past few years, social media has changed drastically. Once dominated by spam and fake interactions, we can now see that genuine engagement is what rises to the top. Social media is becoming a place to spark real conversation, rather than spamming posts with worthless emojis.
That’s really the goal of any social media platform – to get users to upload creative content that triggers more authentic engagement. This improves the user experience on the platform, and causes them to come back day after day.
In recent years, social media platforms have been adjusting & improving their algorithms to focus on engagement. And this is where your problem lies. When you have fake followers, including ghosts, bots and inactive accounts – they are completely killing the visibility of your content.
The Instagram algorithm
OK, let me break it down for you. When you post on your Instagram feed, Instagram will firstly show your content to a small percentage of your followers. This is to see how it performs before they decide how far and wide they want to share it.
Do people stop to take a look? Did they watch your video the whole way through? Are they double tapping to show their appreciation?
Instagram will take all of this data (interaction, view time, what type of followers view or interact etc) and they compare this to the total number of followers you have.
Quick maths – if you have 20k followers and get 50 likes and 3 comments on your brand new post, Instagram will work out the percentage of interactions and come to the conclusion that your content has performed poorly. Out of 20,000 followers – that’s all the interaction you got?
These low percentages mean that Instagram won’t bother showing your amazing new content to a wider audience. It won’t get shown on the explore feed or featured in reels. It’ll simply be stuck, treading water, and forgotten about within 24 hours.
Your problem, however, may be that perhaps several thousand of those 20,000 followers are fake. Inactive accounts and bots that aren’t there to interact with your content, page or music – they’re only there to bump up your numbers.
That amazing video you want to go viral? It’s not going to happen with an account full of bots.
You can create the best content in the world, but if only a small percentage of your following is authentic, then it will always perform poorly, because Instagram is always evaluating and comparing your results based on your total number of followers. 20k followers might look good ‘on paper’, but you’ll struggle to grow your account any further, as instagram is optimising the algorithm more and more to favour the content that performs well.
Have you thought about what this looks like when you’re in talks with a record label? It’s highly likely that your social media accounts will be checked to see how engaged your followers are, and whether that engagement is authentic or not. If you’re showing a high follower count but hardly any likes or meaningful comments – they’ll either think that your followers are fake, or that your content isn’t any good. And that’s not what you want…
What does a fake follower look like?
Ghost followers, also referred to as ghosts / ghost accounts or lurkers, are users on social media platforms who remain inactive or do not engage in any activity. Generally, these accounts have been created by an application referred as a ‘bot’ – a piece of software that automatically goes through the Instagram sign-up process in order to send spam messages and comments to other users.
If you scroll through your list of followers, you’ll find that a lot of them are easy to spot. Their usernames are usually a mix of letters and numbers, and more often that not, no profile picture. On top of that, you’ll usually see that they are following hundreds or even thousands of other accounts, whilst barely anyone is following them. Like these for example:
However, some bots are sneaky. They’re harder to spot because, at a glance, they look like normal accounts. But, if you go in and take a look around, you will see that they aren’t active and haven’t been posting, perhaps for years! Like this one:
How to remove fake followers.
So, how do you get rid of the ghost accounts and fake followers that are preventing you from reaching your target audience?
1. Instagram cleaning apps.
Though these particular apps are designed to remove ghost followers or inactive accounts, they use the same programming and technology to create bots (those same ones that got you the fake followers in the first place). Therefore, Instagram doesn’t favour the use of third party applications, and precautions need to be taken.
When you initially set up the bots to clean up your follower list, you need to control the amount of accounts they remove at one time. This could be at a rate per second or even per hour. I recommend choosing a number that is very low, so you are able to fly under Instagram’s radar. If Instagram detects a lot of repetitive behaviour on your account, you could be blocked from certain activities such as uploading content, getting discovered via hashtags, interacting with other accounts, or your account could even be deactivated completely.
Automation comes with issues. You may come across some problems when using these apps with a large follower base. If you have several thousand followers, there’s a chance that the bots will start working, but then stop after a while and not complete the job. On the other hand, they might not be effective at all at removing ghost accounts, and simply increase your chances at being banned or your account being deactivated.
2. Manually remove inactive accounts yourself.
This is my number one recommendation. Though a little more time-consuming, believe me when I say that the investment will be worth it in the long run. Thankfully, Instagram has recently updated their platform so you can easily remove accounts from your main follower overview (see below):
Top tip: When you start going through your follower list to determine which accounts to unfollow, I suggest batching together a group of 20 to check within 1 hour. Whilst you’re working through these 20 accounts, removing the inactive and fake followers, make sure to interact with the accounts that you are keeping.
Not only does this show Instagram that a real person is making these changes to your follower list (rather than a bot) but when you start engaging with your true followers & fans, the chances are that they will reciprocate. They might go through to your profile, double-tap on some of your new content or even leave a comment. This authentic interaction will activate what may have been an old ‘inactive’ follower, and the Instagram algorithm will now ensure that your new posts will show up on their feed.
There is no downside to manually working through your follower list. Remove followers who are fake and inactive, whilst increasing the engagement and visibility of your profile across the platform. Your content will perform better, you’ll receive more authentic engagement, and you’ll have the algorithm on your side.
Remember – you need to distribute this activity over time. If you’re doing the same repetitive behaviour that a bot would do, you’ll get the same results. Your aim is not to have your account deactivated.
Just 20 accounts a few times a day – and distribute the whole activity over a number of weeks. Yes, it’s a tedious process, but in the long run, the benefits will hugely outweigh the work put in. You’ll now have active, engaged followers that will help grow your fanbase and elevate your content.
3. Outsource your Instagram clean up to someone else.
We know what it’s like. You’ve got a million other things to do as a musician, and you don’t want to prioritise a seemingly boring task. You’ve got new music, new content and new ideas flowing through your brain. You don’t have the patience to spend several hours each day removing fake followers, never mind also activating those that are real, but have gone dormant.
So, your 3rd option is to take advantage of platforms such as fiverr. A quick search there will reveal a multitude of freelance consultants who are willing to clean up your Instagram. They put in the work, so you don’t have to. Like this one, for example:
It’s important that you outsource this job to someone that has received good reviews. Without reviews praising their work, how will you know that they are able to help you in the way you need?
If you decide to outsource, ask for an additional quote to include engagement with each account that is kept as a follower on your profile. They’ll be going through each account anyway, so why not optimize this and start authentically engaging with your fanbase?
What happens when you remove fake followers?
Once the inactive accounts, bots and fake followers are removed from your Instagram, you will be left with followers who either are your fans, or are potential fans. These are the people who will interact with your content, page and music and help you grow your fanbase even further.
When you post new content on Instagram, you will get better results as your percentage of interactions based on your total number of followers will be higher, and not only that, the engagement you recieve on your content will be authentic.
Once you’re able to tell Instagram that a good percentage of your followers are enjoying the content that you’re putting out there, they’ll want to push it out to more users on the platform, to improve their experience and bring them back day after day.
Bots, inactive accounts and fake followers are a problem on all social media platforms – even on music based platforms such as Spotify. Luckily, we are now seeing that Spotify are cleaning up their platform and removing fake streams and bots, affecting those that have purchased them, but making space for the true artists and musicians that are uploading unique, engaging content.
The same goes for Instagram. Though the platform has started to remove ghost followers and fake accounts, you need to do your part to ensure that your profiles are optimised for peak engagement.
It may be tempting to buy those streams and followers to look good on paper. But doing so will hurt you in the long run. Look at it like getting a bad tattoo on a drunken night. Removing it isn’t an easy process. Let’s use 2021 to focus on actually building an engaged loyal fanbase with people who will listen to (and love) your music.