Paying for Followers vs Paid promotions: The wrongs & rights

Kartik Kala TopSocial India

Kartik Kala, Business Head, TopSocial India, sheds light on the relevance of authenticity in Influencer marketing & the need to understand the difference between paying for followers & paid promotions for social media campaigns.

Did you know that there exist 16 million fake profiles on Instagram in India? These are as large as the readership of some of the world’s topmost newspapers. Imagine their influence on clusters and communities of consumers. As an important player in the game of marketing, will you call it a fair play?

The world of social media is in continuous evolution. The Big Bang of influencer marketing is still quite fast-paced. New platforms, like Snapchat, are gaining popularity, new technology is expanding user engagement and real-time content, and the existing networks, with Instagram, activating buttons for ‘buy’, are extending their platform and product. 

We know that social media is now a proven platform for acquiring consumer, marketing, and promotion. It is no longer just about interaction and content anymore. But with high-end influencers buying followers and views for their social presence, the credibility of the Social Media hangs in question. 

While this all started with Bhoomi Trivedi of the song Tareefa fame, filing a complaint against imposters. Turns out it wasn’t really a ‘Tareefan time’ for celebrities as a lot of hidden truths were exposed. The investigation that followed revealed that there are around 54 companies in India providing approximately 5 lakh fake profiles for at least 176 accounts. 

Paid Followers

How much of the internet, do you think, is fake? 

Research by Swedish e-commerce start-up firm, HypeAuditor, assessed 1.84 million Instagram accounts across 82 countries in the last year. It found that India had made it to the top three markets with the largest numbers of fake accounts, that is, following the United States with 49 million and Brazil with 27 million, India had 16 million fake accounts. 

Also read: Opinion: Fake it & you won’t make it!

We know that gaining organic followers and likes for upcoming influencers and digital creators is tough. A simpler way seems to be by buying followers in the initial stage. However, it is not the right solution and can backfire in many cases and as with Badshah’s case, it undermined the entire sanctity of the influencer market.

Just like most of the social media inventions, the origin of paid followers can also be traced back to the United States of America. A long list of famous people was taken by the ‘Institute of Contemporary Music Performance’ in August 2019, through an Instagram audit. The result had shocked everyone. It turned out that everyone from Ellen to Taylor to Ariana had an insane number of fake Instagram followers. Et Tu Ellen? 

Paid Promotions v/s Paid Followers: Battle of legal vs illicit

Today, it becomes important for upcoming influencers and people in the influencer marketing industry to understand that paid promotions are not the same thing as paying to buy fake followers and engagement for their promotion. Paid Promotions boosts the number of your followers to increase your reach on social media platforms. The visibility of the post and your page increases and it reaches the ‘real’ accounts. Basically, you pay for visibility in the real-social world, contrary to the ‘bots’ or ‘paid followers. 

Paid promotions are the honest and legal way of enabling your content to reach a mass audience. On the other hand, paid followers or fake followers are illegal and are a short term solution to monetary benefits. 

Organic reach, just like in the diet, is considered as one of the healthiest solutions when it comes to influencers. Influencer Marketing works on the premise of genuine engagement, and genuine influence. It survives on the trust between the influencers and their followers. 

However, social media’s organic reach has been steadily declining, as the channels become saturated with content. Currently, Facebook has an average organic reach of around 6.4% or less of the page’s total likes. Instagram has approximately 2.2%

Here’s a simple difference,

A simple wish post without paid promotions receives 42 likes and another post with paid promotions receives 414 likes.

Both these methods for post reach are correct. Sometimes, the content is too good but attracts little audience because of social media algorithms. This can be, however, promoted so as to reach the right audience.

Agencies, social media platforms, and publishers like Facebook have to align together to keep the playing field level fair for all. The onus lies on digital creators/ Influencers to be loyal and accountable. 

Brands have become proactive in deciding and figuring out the repercussions of this news on their influencer marketing campaigns and thus become very selective of the influencers. But agencies like ours attempt to ensure not to evaluate influencers as per their followers’ count alone but other metrics such as engagement, authenticity, and reliability. Follower count becomes just a number without these real metrics.

This article piece is authored by Kartik Kala, Business Head at TopSocial India