When the going gets tough, the tough flirts with the idea of monetising their Instagram account so they can quit their jobs. No? Just me then?
Given the rise of social media stars, it’s not uncommon to hear “aiyah, quit my job and go become influencer, lah” being thrown around as a joke whenever work gets too stressful. After all, influencers do paint a pretty enticing picture of their lives with their sponsored travels and outfits, and VIP access to the most crowded clubs around town (looking at you, Marquee).
Couple that with stories of “influencer fraud” and how people have managed to fake it till they made it online (see: #SponCon, fake socialite Anna Delvey, that dude who faked his way to Paris Fashion Week, etc), it got me wondering: just how easy is it to climb to social media ladder? And what’s the fastest way to get there?
So for the sake of science (and this story), I consulted @katepurk, a YouTuber and influencer with more than 50k followers on Instagram, on ways that I could grow my following.
Behold: here are the three ways that I tried to gain followers on Instagram—including buying fake followers and likes.
Strategy #1 – Cleaning up my feed
As an influencer, branding is everything. According to @katepurk, my feed was inconsistent. Her exact words were “What is this? Got baby photos, got screenshots, got selfies with other people—it just seems like a random mish mash of things.” Ouch.
But she’s right—people follow specific Instagram accounts for specific things. So the first step was to determine what my “brand” is, and to deliver more of the content people were following me for.
So I started being a bit more selective about the stuff I was posting, limiting it to three things: work events, my writings, and behind-the-scenes snaps of my life as an associate editor of a magazine.
Did it work?
Well, yes. Sort of. I gained 10 followers at the end of the week with four new posts. I had 1,000 followers at the beginning of this project, so that’s a one-percent growth.
Considering that my account’s organic growth over three months (Sept 2018 – Dec 2018)* was around eight percent, I think a one-percent increase within a week is a big improvement.
*I checked Social Blade, hor.
Strategy #2 – Be selectively thirst trappy
Another common refrain we hear when it comes to being #InstaFamous is: “aiyah, just show boobs can already, lah!”
“But is it really as simple as that?” I asked @katepurk, who isn’t one to shy away from having a sexier image online.
Well, it’s a fine line. While baring some skin might get you more likes, Kate cautions that it might limit your opportunities, since some brands might not want to be aligned with that. And, of course, there’s the question of whether an audience base built on thirst trap photos will bring in actual conversions your clients are after.
Did it work?
Predictably, the photos where I bared more skin got about 20 to 50 more likes. I also gained seven new followers.
But the biggest gain from this exercise? The insight that I could work my butt off to craft “meaningful content” for IG and it wouldn’t be seen as much as, say, a mirror selfie where I’m squeezed into a tight sports bra*.
*I checked the analytics—my thirst trap photos got about two times the reach. SMLJ.
Strategy #3 – Buying fake followers and likes
This third strategy takes “fake it till you make it” to a very literal level. I’m giving this a try because allegedly, this is a method that some people* use to either get or maintain their social media career.
This is generally frowned upon and it’s so easy to spot, so if you’re legit trying to monetise your Instagram account, it’s definitely not recommended.
It’s actually really easy to buy followers and likes—it’s the same number of steps as buying a dress off ASOS. You go to your vendor of choice (I used Buzzoid), key in your account and credit card details and voila—inflated numbers delivered within the hour.
(Say first ah: I bought 100 likes for this photo)
I went with the cheapest option, which is about SGD$4 each for 100 likes and 100 followers. I was really afraid of being called out online because the sudden inflation seemed really obvious… but nobody did.
A colleague offered an explanation: “You’re not a big influencer who’s earning money off your Instagram… so nobody gives a s*** if you bought followers and likes.”
Fair enough. If you’re charging brands for these inflated numbers, that’s where it gets iffy.
*Watch this exposé video Xiaxue and Dee Kosh did.
Did it work?
I suspect that because Instagram sensed I had a sudden increase in activity, the algorithm made me more discoverable. I gained eight new followers organically this week, which is more than what I got when I was posting thirst traps.
I’m also not discounting the fact that having a substantial amount of likes and followers might have swayed their decision to click the follow button. After all, people tend not to follow the accounts of people they don’t know—especially not when there’s less than hundreds of likes per photo, and the account has less than a thousand followers.
Bonus strategy – Buying targeted followers
So while I was on Buzzoid buying fake followers, I saw another option of buying “targeted followers”. I clicked on the link and it led me to Social Upgrade—a service that likes and follows Instagram accounts on your behalf.
I signed up for that service and was made to enter a list of relevant hashtags as well as the handles of other accounts that are similar to mine. So I keyed in the accounts of every major 20-something female influencer in Singapore.
The theory is that by increasing interaction with other accounts that use these hashtags and follow these influencers, these strangers might check out my profile and follow me as well. This process mimics actual organic growth of an Instagram account but, like, on steroids.
Did it work?
I gained more than 100 followers in less than a week, and the average number of likes I got per photo has increased since then.
But because this account follows and likes on my behalf, it messed up my algorithm, big time. I fired up Instagram to browse through memes and see what the members of BLACKPINK were wearing… only to be flooded with random images. My feed stopped making sense. My inbox was spammed with pointless messages from strangers. Everything stopped sparking joy.
After the end of this four-week experiment, I unsubscribed from Social Upgrade’s services before the month I paid for was up (note: it’s no longer accepting new customers) and started unfollowing people on Instagram. I also took a break from the platform for a bit just because I felt unexpectedly drained from trying to keep up and create content.
Me, back on my bullsh*t again after my failed attempt at trying to curate an account that people would pay money for.
The minute I stopped curating my feed, posting regularly, and buying fake love, my account’s follower growth and number of likes I got dipped faster than you can say “influencer”. So, in conclusion, I’ve decided to stop joking about quitting my day job and becoming an influencer because it’s not an easy out. On the contrary, the road to becoming Insta-famous just seems like a Sisyphean task at this point.
With all of that said, if you’re reading this, please follow me at @soapshong. I’m still holding on to the slim chance that I might be able to earn some money from my pointless mirror selfies one day.