Why You Shouldn‘t Buy Instagram Followers (& What to Do Instead)

We get it: growing your Instagram account can feel painfully slow, especially when you‘re pouring effort into creating quality content but the follower needle barely budges. The temptation to take a shortcut and just buy a quick boost of followers is real.

But here‘s the thing: taking the fake follower route is like building a house on quicksand. It might give you a temporary ego lift, but in the end, it will sabotage your account‘s integrity, growth potential, and credibility. Let‘s unpack why buying followers is a bad idea and what you should focus on instead to achieve sustainable Instagram success.

The Harsh Truth About Buying Followers

First, some eye-opening stats. According to a 2022 analysis by HypeAuditor:

  • Over 50% of Instagram influencers were involved in some form of Instagram fraud, including buying followers or using engagement bots.
  • Out of 4.5 million accounts analyzed, over 1 million had 30% or more fake followers.
  • Mega-influencers (1M+ followers) had the highest average fake follower ratios.

The fake follower economy is booming, but Instagram is fighting back. The platform removed over 1.6 billion fake accounts in 2022 alone. Buying followers doesn‘t just violate Instagram‘s Terms of Use – it also puts your account at constant risk of purges and penalties.

But the biggest issue with fake followers is that they‘re just empty numbers. They dilute your true reach and engagement, making it harder to benchmark your actual performance and connect with your real audience.

Let‘s break it down:

Fake Followers Tank Your Engagement Rate

Your engagement rate (average engagements per post / number of followers) is a crucial health signal for your account. It shows how interested your audience is in your content. Most Instagram pros aim for at least a 3-6% engagement rate.

But when you inflate your follower count with fakes, your engagement doesn‘t rise proportionally. In fact, it can start rapidly dropping as you gain more and more ghost followers, damaging your overall account performance and authority. Not a good look to brands or potential partners checking out your account.

Fake Followers Skew Your Analytics

Instagram Insights are essential for understanding your target audience and optimizing your strategy. But fake followers muddy the waters, making it harder to get accurate data on your true audience demographics, behaviors and content preferences. You can‘t tailor your approach effectively if you‘re working off of junk data.

Fake Followers Erode Trust and Credibility

Authenticity is everything on Instagram. Savvy users can usually sniff out accounts propped up by fake followers based on poor engagement rates, spammy comments and suspicious growth spikes. Getting exposed for having a fake following can be a massive blow to your reputation and perceived trustworthiness.

Even if you‘re not caught buying outright, having lots of followers but minimal engagement is a red flag signaling that something is "off" with your account. It can deter real people from hitting that follow button and stunt your organic growth.

What to Focus on Instead

Now that we‘ve established why buying Instagram followers is a bad idea, let‘s talk about what actually works for growing an engaged, loyal audience:

1. Consistently Post Quality, Relevant Content

This is the foundation. Focus on sharing original, visually compelling content that truly resonates with your target audience and niche. Ask yourself: what unique value or perspective can you add? What content themes and formats (reels, carousels, guides, etc.) perform best with your audience? Aim to post at least once per day, but prioritize quality over quantity.

Some engaging Instagram content ideas:

  • Educational carousels showcasing your expertise
  • Behind-the-scenes looks at your brand/life
  • Funny/relatable memes or quotes
  • Polls, questions and conversation starters
  • User-generated content and customer testimonials

2. Master the Art of Hashtagging

Using relevant hashtags is one of the best organic ways to boost your discoverability to potential new followers. But to get results, you need to be strategic:

  • Research which hashtags your target audience, competitors and industry leaders frequently use. Look for a mix of popular/broad hashtags (50K-500K posts) and more niche ones (10K-50K posts).
  • Use all 30 hashtags for the best reach, but keep them focused and relevant. Irrelevant hashtag stuffing can signal desperation.
  • Avoid banned or overly generic hashtags like #likeforlike that can hurt your credibility.
  • Create a branded hashtag unique to your account to build community.

3. Engage Intentionally and Consistently

Instagram favors accounts that spark conversations and interactions. Make it a daily priority to:

  • Respond thoughtfully to comments and DMs
  • Leave genuine comments on relevant accounts‘ posts
  • Follow accounts that resonate with your niche
  • Share others‘ content to your stories
  • Join engagement pods or rounds with similar accounts

4. Leverage All of Instagram‘s Features

Instagram has expanded way beyond the basic square photo post. To maximize your organic reach and engagement, take advantage of newer features like:

  • Instagram Reels: short, snackable videos a la TikTok
  • Instagram Lives: real-time broadcasts to interact directly with viewers
  • Instagram Stories: 24-hour photo/video updates with interactive elements like polls, questions, and links
  • Shoppable posts: tag products directly in your content
  • Instagram Guides: scrollable, curated content around a topic

5. Prioritize Community Over Clout-Chasing

At the end of the day, Instagram growth isn‘t just about the numbers, but about the strength of your community. Nurture your existing followers just as much as you try to gain new ones.

Build real relationships by asking for their input, highlighting their content, responding to their comments and DMs, and offering them genuine value. An engaged community will organically amplify your reach through saves, shares, and word of mouth – the most powerful kind of growth.

The Way Forward

Here‘s the bottom line: there are no true shortcuts to lasting, meaningful Instagram growth. Buying followers is a fool‘s errand that will stunt your long-term progress and damage your account‘s health and reputation.

Instead, focus on consistently putting out quality, audience-focused content, engaging intentionally, and leveraging the full ecosystem of Instagram features. Embrace the grind of authentic relationship building. And most importantly, stay true to yourself and your unique value proposition.

It might take more time and effort than just buying a follower package, but it‘s the only path to building an Instagram presence that can truly stand the test of time (and algorithm changes). You‘ve got this!