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How Can You Tell When Someone on Instagram Buys Followers?

Welcome to The Social Lab! This blog will not only help you navigate your personal social media, but also investigate marketing trends and examples of great social media work. Do you have something we should talk about? Make sure to send us an email or contact us on social media.

Have you ever stumbled upon an Instagram account that had hundreds of thousands of followers, but had little to no engagement? Instagram is littered with accounts just like these, and every other social media platform consists of these people as well. So how can you tell if a company, brand, or person bought all of their followers, or did it the organic / right way?

First of all, there are multiple ways to buy your followers. Some people use shady third party sources that will add fans to your account in bulk. Literally you will jump from a couple hundred followers, to thousands. Then there are automated services that allow you to aggressively follow / unfollow people to the point of oblivion. While these services can be useful when it comes to finding the right people to engage with, they are commonly abused to the point of liking hundreds of people a day in hope of gaining more followers. What makes this even sadder, is that many companies or individuals don't care who they follow, they just want the like back. They subsequently unfollow the individual, even if they did reciprocate. So much for social media being about creating real relationships.

With these two strategies in mind, how can you tell if someone is buying all of their followers? We believe you should focus on the following signs.

Engagement Rate

If an individual has hundreds of thousands of followers, but the fans never interact with any of their content, they were more than likely bought. Instagram makes this a bit more difficult to see due to the power of hashtags, but if an account was grown inorganically, then you can almost feel the ghost-like atmosphere on their content. So why would a company or individual do this? Many people are interested only in vanity metrics. These are performance indicators that look good (follows, likes, etc.), but ultimately doesn't mean anything unless you also have a great engagement rate. Just remember, these accounts may fool the layman, but any social media manager or company with just a tiny bit of knowledge can tell the difference between a great social media account and one that is fake.

Individual's Engagement

Many of these automated follow / unfollow services also allow for automated commenting or liking. If the brand or individual is mass commenting on other people’s photos, they are more than likely paying for services, including followers. If you really want to investigate, look at the kind of comments the company is making. Do they sound organic? Does it sound like a robot? Maybe you post an image of your dinner on Instagram and then get tons of comments. Most of them say things like, "delicious" and "looks great." A lot of these comments will be from your friends, but if you have a public profile, a lot of them will additionally be from brands or companies using automated services. Occasionally, you will further run into comments that have nothing whatsoever to do with your content. This is an even clearer sign that not only is the account paying for automated services, but also that they're selfish. How can you tell if the commenter is an actual human? A great social media manager will comment in a personal and organic way. On your food post, they will say something like, "That looks delicious, was it good?" They will then engage with you further if you respond. While it's possible that a company would pay for auto-commenting or mentioning services, without also paying for their followers, it is pretty rare and is a clear sign that the company gained their followers through money.


There are many programs that allow you to investigate the history of an Instagram’s account. Was their huge spikes in their fan count? If this is the case, then they bought a ton of followers at a specific time. How accurate are these programs? Many of them only go back a specific amount of time, but you can still see if there are dips in follower count. If there is a massive leap in followers at some point of time, then they more than likely bought their fans. Another tip is to look at the decline of followers. Are tons of people unfollowing the account? That could mean that the brand hasn't posted in a long time, or they paid for fans that weren't interested in their content to begin with.

Follow Ratio

Follow ratio is the relationship between the number of followers you have and the number of people you are following. For example, if you have a 50% ratio, then you are following 100 people, and 50 are following you. How can you use this metric to determine whether or not someone is buying followers? If an account has 20,000 followers, but is following 25,000 people, then clearly they are aggressively following / unfollowing. While this could have been done without any money whatsoever, it is more like that the company or individual is paying money for a program that allows them to follow people in bulk. There may be the rare individual that follows back every person that follows them, and that is great, but it is more likely a sign that money is involved.


The moral of the story, create an organic following. Don't be a robot. True followers and fans are worth infinitely more than fake ones that don’t actually care about your account. While some people may be enamored by the number of followers you have, the important people will care about the level of engagement you are getting. If you are curious about whether or not someone is buying their followers, then these tips will definitely help you out. Can you think of anything we are forgetting? Make sure to email us or comment below.

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