Followers are the underlying factor of every social platform. Without followers, what is the point in creating content in the first place? The basic need of any influencer is to get followers who consume this content and engage with the channel. It might seem very basic and needless to define the follower concept, but it is important to have a very clear definition and exact knowledge on the concept of followers and its relevance for both influencers and companies engaging in influencer marketing. Followers are far more than just a number – although it might seem advantageous to have a tremendous amount of followers, we have to take a closer look at the composition of this metric. Instagram will serve as an example for this article to explain the mechanics of followers, although the concept itself can be transferred to any social platform.
What are followers?
Followers are Instagram users who subscribed to a channel. The followers receive updates of the followed channel in their Instagram feed. If a profile is private, only confirmed users will get access to a channel, whereas the posts of a public profile are theoretically accessible and visible for every Instagram user.
This concept only works on paper, however: If a user does not follow a channel, the channel’s posts do not appear in the user’s feed. Unsubscribed users will only come across a channel’s posts if that channel is tagged in a post on a channel the user subscribed to or by accident, for example via the explore function or if a channel uses certain hashtags and the user types these exact hashtags into the search bars. Even though 35% of Instagram users return to Instagram several times a day according to a Pew Research Center study from 2015, the chance for a certain post to be seen by appearing in the explore-feed is very low – thus, making a subscription and consequently the appearance of posts in the feed even more important.
THANK YOU FOR 1 MILLION FOLLOWERS🍾🌛🌟 What an incredible journey it’s been, taken me across the world & back, and best of all meeting my soulmate💫 Wouldn’t be here without each of you for following along, I’m incredibly grateful for all you 🙌🏼 Hope I can continue to give you all something back, inspiration or whatever it may be.. ⚡️☼✧
Follower Number vs. Actual Reach
Yet another important distinction has to be drawn between the follower number and the actual reach: Although it is theoretically possible for every single follower to see a certain post, this scenario, in fact, hardly ever occurs. One reason for this is Instagram’s algorithm: It sorts posts according to their relevance for each individual user and no longer chronologically. Furthermore, the more people a user follows, the less likely it is for this user to see a certain post in between the mass of content appearing in the user’s feed. According to Instagram, users miss up to 70% of their feed. Thus, the follower number only signifies the potential reach of a content piece – a posted content piece is not guaranteed to be seen by every target user, although the user subscribed to the channel.
Good vs. Bad Followers
The follower number remains, beyond doubt, a significant metric in order to analyze influencers. Nevertheless, this metric has to be evaluated on a qualitative level as well. Not every single follower is highly beneficial to a channel. The perfect scenario of a channel having only extremely engaged followers hardly exists.
The “good kind” of follower is
- active: The user logs into his account regularly.
- engaged: The follower frequently interacts with a channel by commenting, liking and sharing the channel’s content.
- follows a limited amount of channels: The likelihood for a person to actually see a post decreases with an increasing amount of channels the person follows. Therefore, the most valuable followers are the ones following 101 to 250 channels. This amount ensures that a follower’s feed is containing enough content for the follower to get inspired by new pieces of content on one hand, but that the follower is not overwhelmed by too much content and certain posts do not perish in the mass of content on the other hand.
Consequently, the “bad kind” of follower is- inactive/ dead accounts: A follower that does no longer log into his or her account.
- inactive/ dead accounts: A follower that does no longer log into his or her account.
- unengaged followers: Inactive followers who do not post themselves, follow channels, like, share or engage with other channels in any form.
- follows too many channels: As mentioned above, the feed of such follower will be swamped with content, making it impossible for the user to see every post. Imagine how a user’s feed looks like if that user follows 3.000 active channels. Even though the user returns to Instagram several times a day, seeing every content piece is impracticable.
- uses follow-for-follow strategies: The amount of users on Instagram that only follows channels in order for them to follow back is enormous. These accounts can be detected by the use of hashtags like #follow4follow, #followforfollow, #followme and the like.
- has lots of fake followers: Purchased followers lack organic connection to a channel, and thus are prone to unfollow again. These followers are in some cases not even human, but bot accounts created automatically by a script without any potential at all to engage with content.
Quality over Quantity
Both companies concerned with the investment in influencer marketing and influencers themselves have to keep in mind that there are two sides of the follower number: On the quantitative side, having an extensive reach ensures that content can be showcased to a broad audience. Regarding quality, however, marketers should bear in mind that not 100 percent of an influencer’s audience will be valuable for the purpose of an influencer cooperation – a deeper analysis of the composition of an influencer’s audience is needed to learn exactly how beneficial a collaboration will turn out.