One of the most common questions I get asked from new bloggers is, “How did you gain an audience?”, which is usually followed quickly by, “How early did you start working with brands?” and then of course, “Do you know of any good programs to buy legit followers?”
In a world where it seems anything can be bought, I always knew that social media was part and parcel of that – but I saw it mostly from the brand side, buying followers on Facebook and the like. That was until I got heavily involved in Instagram as part of my personal brand and saw it from the ‘influencer’ side – the bloggers and Instagrammers who make a living off of promoting brands due to their ‘influence’. At first, I saw it with Instagrammers buying followers. Then it was likes. Then it was joining comment pods, which are just groups of bloggers who don’t necessarily even know each other or even like each other’s content, but are forced to comment on each other’s photos to increase engagement or they’ll get kicked out of the group. I myself have been invited to join a few on Instagram and most recently to a Facebook group for bloggers, with strict rules dictating how often to comment on blog posts and what types of comments to leave.
And I struggled when I saw it happening. I saw people with generic photos and boring captions get 800 likes and 300+ comments on every single post, a ratio that doesn’t add up. I began to ask myself if I should be doing the same thing, if this was just the way the game was played now and if you don’t get on board, you’ll just be left behind. I even tried a ‘liking bot’ that would ‘like’ posts with hashtags I specified, a learning experience we all go through starting out.
But here’s the question I kept coming back to…
If your job is to work with brands to influence peoples’ opinions, interests and buying habits, what value is there in faking it? What value is there in having fellow bloggers leave vapid comments like ”Great one – I like!” or “Need this!” or “Amazing as always!” when they’re required to do so by the groups you’ve joined? You could post a photo of yourself wearing a burlap sack and there would still be the same engagement. By faking interest in your content and opinion, you’re not actually doing what your job requires of you – to INFLUENCE. And you’re not only doing a disservice to the brands you work with, but you’re doing a disservice to yourself.
Think of it this way:
When an athlete takes performance enhancing drugs, they’re cheating the game.
When a musician lip syncs, they’re cheating their fans.
When a writer plagiarises their work, they’re cheating their readers.
And when an influencer buys or fakes their influence, they are cheating the brands who are paying their bills.
At this point, you might be saying, “Alright Lauren, hold on now… just HOLD ON. Joining a comment pod is hardly the same as taking steroids.” And yes, that’s an extreme, but in theory, it’s not any different. In each of the above examples, it tells of a person manipulating their work and skills to appear greater or more popular than they actually are.
And brands are catching on – I’ve signed three contracts recently for sponsored content on This Renegade Love that have prohibited the use of engagement-enhancing programs to skew interest on sponsored posts (and if I do, the contract will become null and void and I don’t get paid). They’re totally justified in doing so, too. If a brand is paying you to promote their product because you’ve pitched yourself as being ‘influential’, faking that influence gives them zero return-on-investment. And that shit just ain’t cool.
So, listen guys, I get it – I do. I’m not here to hate on you or call anyone out. I totally understand the interest in taking the easy road to bump your followers or engagement, because it’s not easy to grow an engaged following overnight. But I want to warn you of this, especially new bloggers or Instagrammers that are starting out and feeling like they have to ‘catch up’:
Once you get involved in faking your engagement, there is no going back. Your following grows and your engagement grows, but the downside is that you can never leave those comment pods or stop using your follower bots because your numbers will drop drastically and people will notice. Brands will notice. And if you’re someone who is trying to grow a personal brand online, this will be a major detriment to your brand – and what’s the point of growing one if you don’t even respect it yourself?
Stop comparing your beginning to someone else’s middle. Put the time in. Treat this as a job like you would any other and WORK HARD. Don’t cut corners. Focus on improving your content and growing your skills. Be authentic. The results will come, guys. But don’t try and fake your way to the top, because you’ll only hurt yourself and your brand in the long run.