[I’m going to start with the story of why I deleted my followers, but if you’d just like to read about the different websites and apps I used to do this and further monitor my account engagement then scroll down past this first chunky part]
Why I Removed 90,000 Instagram Followers
I’ve been self employed for seven years and currently work in three different creative industries with almost no guaranteed income – just one of the many joys of freelance life! Because of this, it’s understandable that many people cannot comprehend why I would be so stupid as to delete nearly 90% of my following and so many potential clients or leads. Having a good following has been really important to me over the years and connecting with that audience has been imperative to securing me numerous jobs and, as time went on, even just having a following was important and there’s probably some jobs I wouldn’t have got if I hadn’t have had such a high number on my followers tab.
This worked really well for me in a business sense but there was SO much going on behind the scenes that bothered me and that feeling got stronger when I started DJing. Before, I was working solely as a photographer so a lot of my friends were well known models or creatives and, without being braggy, we all had a lot of followers. That was just normal and could happen pretty rapidly with little effort back in the good ol’ days! Having a lot of followers seemed synonymous with being a good photographer/model/make-up artist to a lot of people but I would often shoot a new model with no followers who would then gain hundreds (even thousands) of new ones when tagged as I had a hundred thousand at the time. Some photographers even charge more for the exposure to post models they shoot on their Instagram. Sometimes, these new models would very quickly overtake me and many experienced models to be well on their way to half a million and suddenly my 100k wasn’t actually that much, or it didn’t seem to be anyway. Meeting new people in ‘real life’ though was strange, as when adding each other on Instagram they’d be absolutely flabbergasted that I had so many and think this must make you world famous…It really doesn’t.
When I started DJing, promoters probably looked at accounts like mine and though ‘wow, 100k followers. She must be a big deal! Book her‘ when, in actual fact, much more talented DJs with loyal followings could have only a few hundred followers and draw a much bigger crowd. I really started to notice this imbalance when working with guest artists. Some of the bands and DJs I was working with were childhood heroes of mine and bands I’ve loved for over a decade…to then notice that they had nowhere near the amount of followers I had seemed completely insane to me. These are actually famous bands and artists that tour and pull crowds all over the world at venues of varying sizes…How could I have more followers than them? In all honesty I started to feel really embarrassed about my 100k following and kind of resented it. I hated people bringing it up and with ‘imposter syndrome’ well and truly kicking in, I was always excusing them; ‘followers don’t mean anything‘, ‘they don’t follow me for me, they just follow from when I used to post photos of beautiful models‘, ‘half of them are probably bots‘.
Enter a brand new function: Instagram insights…I was right. Most of my following were completely ‘useless’ in a business sense and I’ll quickly explain why; I live in the UK and work in the UK, women book me directly to photograph them and venues book me directly to DJ for them. However, something like 88%+ of my followers were men (considering photography was my main job at this time and I almost ONLY ever work with women) and the majority of my following in general were living in Mexico City….Excuse me? Mexico City?! I have no idea…but from a business point of view, in what way are these men from Mexico city ever going to attend one of my gigs? or book me for a shoot when I don’t even shoot men? By this point I had completely fallen out of love with Instagram. I’d stopped posting my photography because of the gross comments I used to get about the women I was posting and had blocked the worst offenders but they soon moved onto photos of me. Even if it wasn’t offensive, it was the same creepy heart-eyed emojis and comments about my looks no matter what I was talking about so I knew nobody was reading my captions and nobody gave a damn about anything I had to say. Realising this honestly made me feel so, SO small and I felt out of control of my content and that no matter what I posted, I would still get the same sexualised responses that I didn’t want. I turned my story replies off years ago but followers could still message directly via my profile, thankfully often filtered by the ‘others’ (read: random creeps) folder where I could decline their messages without even giving them the satisfaction of knowing that I’d read it, which was a massive bonus and saved me from many an ‘inappropriate image’ over the years.
These comments, messages and reactions really put me off the photography industry in general, which is a massive shame as it’s something I had progressed so well in and had many experiences I was really proud of – spoiler alert, I’m still working in the industry, don’t worry and have no plans to quit, ever, until my body gives up and I can’t operate a camera haha but this is just how I felt at the time. I was DJing more and more work but most of my regular work was in small bars and local pubs – which is nothing to be sneered at by the way, they have always paid me better than any big gig! I was promoting my nights on my social accounts, but knowing that the vast majority of my followers weren’t even in the UK was super demotivating and, thanks to the infamous Instagram algorithm, my engagement and reach were soon pissed away down the drain. I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but Instagram shows your post to only a certain percentage of your followers so say my image with my upcoming DJ date was seen by 2000 people, 1800 of these might not even live in the UK. Out of the 200 left, most of those might just not pay attention, not even use instagram at all or maybe they don’t like the music I play…Then, out of who’s left, they’d also need to be from Southampton and free on that night to attend (and they’d have to actually want to…). If you used these same stats for a following that were entirely UK based, or even better, entirely Southampton based, you’d likely have a much better result. This is when I decided I was done with my Instagram and I was going to start ‘cleaning out’ my followers. Savage!
So, I deleted 90,000 followers.
I tried a few different apps, most of them let you have ’50’ actions for free but you are going to have to pay to have full function and be able to do any more than that if you have a larger account. I’m a proper cheapskate sometimes, to a fault, so I didn’t want to pay and deleted about 20,000 accounts completely manually…This took me F O R E V E R! I would 100% recommend that you use an app for this and I wish I’d done that straight away – it turned out that the one I used was only £1.99 haha, seems so stupid now that I didn’t just start with that. It’s called IG Cleaner and I’m still using it now, and I likely always will just to check up even if it’s only once a month as even though I’ve reduced my following dramatically, I still regularly get weird, empty accounts following me – you know the ones; no followers, no posts, weird bio and follows 8,000 accounts. No thank you, Sir.
Via the app settings, you can firstly get it to go through your followers and filter out anyone that you follow back (as these are probably people you like and want to keep following you) and then you go through blocks of whatever size you like, selecting accounts based off different properties. I deleted all the accounts that had no profile photo, these are usually bot accounts or just creepy guys that use a second account to look at womens profiles and leave gross comments without having that leak into their normal, personal life – you know, just general internet troll shit. I then deleted all the inactive accounts and you get to decide what inactive means to you, so this could be people that haven’t used instagram for weeks, months or years. These are usually bot/fake accounts, or just people that signed up once upon but don’t use the app…whilst this may keep your follower number up, they bring your engagement down as if someone is not even signing into the app they are definitely not going to be liking or commenting any of your photos! I was quickly reducing my followers by tens of thousands and obsessively used this app daily…I loved it, it was weirdly liberating blocking all these fake/bot-like accounts but the best setting to use is the block/unblock function which I didn’t discover until later on. It essentially renders the accounts selected as unfollowing but because they aren’t blocked, they can follow you again…great for when you accidentally delete your pals which I did plenty of times. You can only do small batches at a time and Instagram doesn’t like you using third party apps like this to automate actions, so my Instagram was freezing up and fucking up a lot so it’s best to do this slowly and not get too carried away, I pushed my luck a few times. Fortunately, I discovered the app has a ‘night mode’ so you can set it to do your evil bidding over night in a slower ‘human-like’ way rather than in big, suspicious batches. The app will then complete a small amount of actions every few minutes (you decide how many and how often) and, aside from you cancelling it, it will only stop if blocked by Instagram. If this happens, it’s best just to alter it to complete less actions less often and hope that solves that issue! The app recommends taking some time off using it if you’ve been flagged with errors, so it is pretty helpful in that way.
Aside from bot accounts, fake accounts and fully inactive dead accounts there’s another kind of follower you don’t want and these are referred to via the app as ‘ghost followers’. These are people that follow your account, use Instagram regularly but never actually like or engage with your content. This isn’t necessarily their fault, lots of these accounts probably don’t even see your posts in the first place so whilst you might be deleting a few people that do support you but don’t realise they’re missing your posts, if they care that much they can simply follow you again anyway so I wouldn’t dwell on that. I had this happen with a few of my followers, they noticed and simple re-followed. The app allows you to filter, select and remove any followers that haven’t liked or commented on your last 50 posts…I think a lot of large accounts would be absolutely horrified about how many ghost followers they have! It also provides you with a ‘whitelist’ which you can use as a ‘people I don’t want to delete’ list to stop them coming up in future searches.
I basically went back to this process repeatedly for a year, initially settling on 50k, then 25k and have now come all the way down to 15k. The thought of going from 100k down to 15k can be terrifying and I wasn’t actually sure I would take it this far but I’m so SO happy I did. No longer are my comments filled with creeps, bots and spam and I’ve been able to turn my story replies back on with very few weirdo DMs. It’s something I’d really recommend that everybody do, as I think letting go of the false validation that comes with a higher follower count is really healthy any way. I know if I posted images of scantily clad women I’d still be getting more likes, mostly from random men, as that’s the very nature of Instagram. But that does absolutely nothing for my career and sits out of place with most of my other content. It’s not easy losing all your ‘likes’ though and as much as I hate seeing people getting upset about something as superficial as likes on the internet, it does creep up on me sometimes and I have to remind myself that it doesn’t matter. The validation and instant gratification of ‘likes’ is something a lot of us have grown up with chasing and when you go from thousands to struggling to make a hundred, it can feel a little deflating but I’m talking about things I want to and honestly enjoying using the app so much more now – it’s a social app after all! On a positive note, Instagram has actually started suing the companies that made millions in building fake accounts and selling fake likes which should hopefully prevent inauthentic behaviour on Instagram and other platforms for the future. So, all in all, I do think this is a problem of the past but we need to clean up the mess it’s left behind before we can move forward.
Tracking My Engagement
Oddly, good engagement on Instagram these days is about 2% of your following…insane right? But mine initially was much lower than that. I used this website to ‘analyse’ my followers as I started getting rejected for a lot of blogging work and I just *knew* something like this must be the reason. Brands and agencies over the last year or so have become so much more knowledgeable on engagement and audience quality, so high follower numbers are becoming less and less impressive and engaged followers interacting with your content is more important than ever before. I checked my account, along with a few other big accounts (including some celebrity accounts) and realised I was not alone in my plight! Instagram didn’t hate me, my followers just didn’t care and weren’t paying attention any more, the years of build up with fake accounts following me (I never paid for likes or bots by the way) has really ruined my audience. Throughout this process, I’ve tried to track my improvement using this website and one top-tip that might seem really obvious is to just stick with the same tracker. I don’t know how up to date or correct it is but much like a set of slightly-off scales, as long as you use the same ones each time you’ll still notice the ups and downs. I try not to look at this too obsessively and it definitely still dips at times but overall my stats are ten times better than they ever were before, even with only 15% the followers I started with. They’re also now equally spread between the UK and USA and male/female which is much more balanced and makes so much more sense with the content I’m creating now.
Posting at The Right Time
Instagram now tells you in your insights when the best time to post is, but it’s also been said that the first hour is the most important time for your new post to get engagement so ‘ghost posting’ (dropping a post and then putting your phone down) is a definite no-no. If you want your followers to be engaged with your content, you owe it to them to be engaged in return. Hopefully, people are dropping comments and questions on your post and it really pays to reply to these as quick as poss, particularly with those comments that are coming in during this important first hour – I’m terrible at this, I quite often post on the way out to yoga or dinner and then reply to everything later when I get home, and I’ve read lots of articles to say that this is really bad so I will definitely try to stop that! If your content does well and engages an active audience in the first hour of posting, Instagram will leak it out onto more and more feeds as it will be deemed important and interesting content. This means that content that does well will easily do better but content that has little response will be hard to promote. I’ve also been trying to make more effort to interact with accounts I like myself as well as likes and comments are free, take no time at all and really helps to get those accounts seen by other people.
Avoiding Banned Hashtags
Back when I used to post more, I have been a ‘shadow banned’ account (very sinister sounding…I was even completely removed from the app for absolutely no reason other than probably some weirdo repeatedly reporting me) and finally discovered that aside from being reported (you should be safe with this as long as you’re not pushing the guidelines) this can be due to hashtags, which isn’t always as simple as you might think! The hashtags don’t even have to be rude or dangerous, sometimes they are obvious but sometimes they are normal words that have been hijacked by specific groups to be used in other ways. Alternatively, they can just be overused like #like. As a general rule, as soon as a hashtag goes to 1million entries I stop using it (some even have several million) but using ones this popular means your posts are super unlikely to even be noticed by those that regularly check the hashtags because they are being so bombarded with new entries. Using these overpopulated hashtags can also mark the hashtag for spam as lots of people think ‘great, popular hashtag means more people will see my post!‘ and will then repeatedly use this hashtag for no reason or relevance other than to hopefully get views, which is probably why ones like #like have been shadow banned. You can use apps or websites like this one to check out your recent posts and see what’s what. Being shadow banned means that your tagged content wont show up in that hashtag stream, which renders the hashtagging pointless…which is only made more annoying by the fact that so many of us cringe at using hashtags in the first place. Try to stick to more niche hashtags and use your insights to keep an eye on which ones work and which don’t. Unfortunately, this is really hard when you’re using loads of hashtags because it only tells you that hashtags brought in x amount of impressions and doesn’t specify which ones. The only way to really figure this out would be to use one at a time and see who wins the impressions race, I’m too lazy to do that but if you have the patience then this will devise a solid plan for which hashtags are working for you. Most of my posts only have an increased impressions rate of 20-60 visits because of the hashtags used, but I have had some gain hundreds of new audience impressions by accounts that don’t follow me (exactly what you want to be using hashtags for!) which really goes to show that it’s the choice of hashtag that matters not the amount of them. If a group of hashtags bring in less than 20 impressions to a specific post, I usually assume those hashtags are all pretty dead and whittle it down a bit for the next test. Apparently 91% of the top Instagram accounts use a maximum of seven hashtags, so try and stick to relevance and quality over quantity.
Having a high follower account might seem impressive and I know a lot of us feel like we worked for a long time to get there but, trust me, it is so liberating having a proper clean out – just like it is in every other area of life! Does this inactive, unengaged follower bring you joy? Nope, so remove. If you’re an influencer, blogger or run your business via Instagram in any way I think this is only going to get more important as so many more people know what they’re doing now. No longer can you hide your bad engagement behind a high follower count, we see you. I would urge everyone to cut off the dead weight and stop obsessing over that number, let’s get back to a more social aspect of social media. Whether you use instagram for business or leisure, wouldn’t it be great to just start enjoying it again?