Instagram: the day we went from 900 followers to 424

February 25, 2021

I think the title of our article sums it up well: while we had finally passed 900 subscribers on Instagram, we went back to 420 and some. What happened? No, we were not the victims of a bug, a hack, or a punishment ... We simply made a decision: to remove the ghost subscribers. So this action comes from me (Niko) and I will explain why and how. First, there's something you need to know.

The most important on Instagram, or any other social media, by the way, is not the number of followers, or likes, or comments. It's the engagement rate.

Today's world revolves around metrics. But not the quality. I do not care. If I have to keep swimming against the tide for another 20 years, I will. Just last week, a label refused to work with us because they prefer to target "bigger numbers on social networks". Too bad for them, they lose our quality content, and above all, they look like idiots.

It's unfortunate that artists pay PR agencies for shitty work like that. It is a shame that a PR agency doesn't even know that the number of followers is not the most important. What matters is the engagement rate. You can have 10K followers, but if only 10 react, what's the point?

This is why I regularly "clean" my social networks. I'd rather have 400 engaged followers than 900 who don't give a damn about my artists.

What is the engagement rate?

It means people who interact with your content. The average engagement rate on Instagram is around 2%. You will probably say that it's really low. But 2% is already great. It means that, if you have a thousand followers, 20 of them will interact with your content by commenting, or giving likes.

If the engagement rate is great, or over 2%, the algorithm of Instagram will consider your account as a "driver" account, an account that we can trust.

If your engagement rate is lower than 2%, the algorithm will think that your content is... well, let's say it clearly: shit. So the algorithm will think that your content is not worthy and will not work to show it to potential followers.

So, having 10 thousand followers looks great. But if only 20 interact daily with your content, your engagement rate is 0.2%. So now, the question is: why having so many followers? It doesn't make sense.

You can easily calculate your Instagram engagement rate thanks to a wonderful tool offered by Inbeat. It's totally free. Just type your Instagram account and you'll get all the info. You can also try to check out other profiles if you'd like. Here's the link.

Well, I really needed to start with the engagement rate, because you will now realize how much it is important. Great. Now, let's start.

What is a ghost follower?

This is someone (or even sometimes a robot) who is subscribed to your Instagram account but who doesn't take any action: no comments, no likes. Well: no reaction at all. He is there, but without really being there. There are several kinds of ghost subscribers:

1. those who have an account but obviously don't use it

2. those who subscribe so that we then subscribe (it's called follow for follow or f4f) (by the way, if you are used to using this technique, stop doing it, it will kill your engagement rate).

3. the robots (you can see them on my account, @indiemusiccenter, every time I post something, they leave a comment, saying "promote it on @coldplayrecords" or something. These are robots. So don't waste your time by blocking them, or deleting the comments, it's useless. Why? Because you will realize that the comments will disappear by themselves in a few hours or a few days. If you're interested in knowing how to get rid of them, it's quite easy: they are just targeting some hashtags, like #indiemusic #newmusicfriday. So, just change the hashtag you use and don't use the same hashtags in all the posts. Make them different.

4. those who no longer use their account (weariness, switching to another ...)

5. some brands or shops, who are only there to advertise without any budget.

So if you have a look closer, you will be able to see those kinds of subscribers on YOUR account. Trust me, you'll find a lot of them! :)

How did we find the ghost followers on our account?

A few years ago, they could be easily found on a website, but it is no longer available.

Then, you had to go through an app that will "scan" your account, but honestly? Don't do that! Because the truth is... most of those apps, that you will find on the Apple Store of Play Store, are only here to hack your account. Don't use any apps to find and remove ghost followers, because there are no safe ones. I will advise you to be careful if you decide to use one (early 2021, someone told me that they had their account closed for 5 days after using an app to do so).

So there are 2 risks: being hacked, and being banned by Instagram.

Well, so, how do we do it? The only way to do it, I know you'll start to scream, but is to do it manually. So you now realize how important it is, to do this regularly, because when you have 10K followers, it becomes a huge task. So, out of my thousand subscribers, I discovered that I had almost 500 ghost subscribers. Removing them took me 2 hours. 

The question is: Do I prefer to have a real (but smaller) community that really follows me or, do I prefer a larger number of subscribers who never interact with my account and who will kill my engagement rate? The answer is quite... obvious!

How did we get rid of the ghost followers?

It's really easy, in the end. If you're lazy and want to use an app, I already told you before, you'll be hacked. So, you will have to work manually. How? You just have to block them. Just don't remove them from the followers' list, because they will be able to come back later. And this is not what you want. 

Who did we delete?

1. Accounts inactive since 2018, 2019, or even 2017.

2. Clearly inactive accounts: name changed to "old account", or there's a mention in the description, or you see 0 photos or 0 posts for 500 subscribers ... That's really suspicious.

3. The accounts of "follow for follow", no doubt when it is written f4f in the description.

4. Lots of shops, restaurants ... wtf? why should they interact with an indie music platform? It doesn't make sense.

5. Accounts with a bigger "following" number than the "followers" number. And also, people who follow more than 1 000 accounts. If you're a normal human being, how is it possible to follow a thousand people? Will you interact with them every day? Of course, no! I don't understand how we can be subscribed to so many accounts, I personally have 120 and I already find it huge to follow all those people and interact with them every day! I already need 4 hours a day or something. So imagine with a thousand... it's really a lot (and honestly, too much). It means that, if they're following a thousand accounts, you have no luck appearing in their feed. As simple as that. So your posts, about your music, your passion, and sometimes, your business, will never show up. You can be the best musician ever, and your music can be amazing. But if someone who follows you also follows like 3400 other people, your music will never be heard.

Who did we keep?

1. The real people I know, I mean, in real-life, like family members or friends, who have an Instagram account but don't really use it

2. Recent followers, because I can't tell after two days if they're ghosts or not. I'll have a closer look in one month.

3. People I've never met in real life, but with whom I've had Zoom calls, or Skype calls, or artists I have met in the Songwriting Circle, I know they don't pretend, they're not faking, and they are more or less in my frame of mind

4. People with whom I interact regularly, or exchange messages

In the end...

What happened next? It still happens today that I am asked about my management of ghost followers. Since my big clean-up, I have had very few new subscribers, I am currently around 420, I regularly have new subscribers who disappear after a few days because I do not subscribe in return (yet this the famous "follow for follow"). I also unfollowed like 40 accounts, because I stopped following some artists that never shared my work. It's a win-win.

Edit March 18th, 2021: Today we're back to 483 followers (remember that we had 424 followers after the clean up). But when I look at these new followers, loads of them will be removed soon, because they don't interact with us and they have thousands of following.

What about you?

On your side, what do you think of all this?

Would you opt to keep or remove ghost followers?