[[updated February 20, 2018]]
It feels great to launch an Instagram account, start posting, and watch the follower count go up—“they like me, they really like me!” People value your content enough to want to follow you so more of what you’re posting will show up in their Instagram feeds.
What doesn’t feel good? When you see that number sliding back down. On a social media analytics report somewhere, you see a negative number, in red, in the section on “follower growth.” Bummer.
So, just why might you be losing Instagram followers? Knowledge is power. If you know why people are leaving, you can take steps to taking away those reasons that make them want to leave.
Here are a few reasons people unfollow others on Instagram:
If every post you publish looks like a desperate sales ad, you might lose followers. You can offer promotions and deals on Instagram, but if the same content is repeated and insistent, your broken record becomes your empty follower list.
Solution: First, tone it down.
Focus on the beauty, performance, and excitement of your product. Offer text-based images about promotions interspersed with photos of your products or photos that give followers a ‘backstage pass’ to your business process. If you offer a service, show yourself or your staff performing that service or smiling from behind the front desk.
You and your product should be front and center, with promotions appropriately sprinkled here and there in your stream of posts. Hiral Rana shares this advice on improving your Instagram content: “brands can subtly grow followers on Instagram by keeping their posts interesting and entertaining with lifestyle messages rather than excessive sales or discount coupon offers.”
You might lose followers if your posts come in such rapid succession that people are inundated with your content and have a hard time seeing other types of content in their feed.
Solution: Scale back.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all frequency for all businesses—despite what those ‘social media gurus’ out there are telling you—there is the best frequency for you and your business, and you can find it through experimentation. Post less frequently (like a few times per week) and moving upward in frequency by steps to see what it does for your engagement and follows. Instagram users are more forgiving of accounts that don’t post frequently enough and less forgiving of accounts that post too often.
Although you can go through eras of lower frequency, stopping altogether will certainly hurt you. If you haven’t engaged with users or published a post in a long time, at some point your followers will think they are following an abandoned account. This may lead to some unfollows.
Solution: Keep it going.
If you know you will experience a busy period in your business where social media might get less attention, plan ahead by scheduling posts (you can do this with Agorapulse!) so you don’t have to create content during a busy season. For those whose busy seasons are unpredictable, keep some evergreen content ready.
Some people will unfollow an account if they feel the content, or even the tone of the content, is inappropriate.
What is inappropriate? This depends on the audience. If you are a Rock & Roll musician, posting videos of you smashing your guitar on stage may be appropriate, but posting a photo of yourself wearing a “Classical Music is the Best” T-shirt may lead to you losing Instagram followers (unless you’re being funny and your followers appreciate your sense of humor). If you are a vegan foods company and you post a photo of your recent deer hunt, you will deal with your fair share of unfollows (and perhaps a rise in angry comments).
Solution: Know what is appropriate to your audience.
This doesn’t just apply to holding back obscene words or images; it also applies to what your audience expects from you as a brand. Some types of content are inappropriate for most audiences. Other types of content might be appropriate for one audience and inappropriate for another. There are two steps to fixing the problem of inappropriate posts: 1) build a consistent voice for your brand, and 2) get to know your followers.
Instagram states in its Platform Policy that it does not allow other platforms to “use the Instagram APIs to post automated content to Instagram, including likes and comments that were not initiated and entered by an Instagram user.”
Since the beginning of 2018, Agorapulse does allow direct photo publishing to Instagram business profiles. The restriction stated above still applies to all personal profiles, and to tools that are not official Instagram partners like Agorapulse is.
If you use a software that violates this policy, your Instagram account could be “shadow banned,” or worse, deleted. Alex Tooby explains that using bots to automate your interactions with others on Instagram “can not only attract an unengaged and inauthentic following to your account, but it can also get you in trouble.”
Solution: Only use social media management software that abides by Instagram’s policies.
One major sign of a platform that doesn’t abide by the policies is if it requires you to provide your login information. You should never have to give anyone (or any company) your password. Another sign of trouble is if the platform promises to post directly to Instagram for you (and doesn’t meet the criteria just mentioned), or take other direct actions such as liking and commenting for you.
Sure, buying followers can increase your follower count in the short term. However, you’re not buying real followers; you’re buying bot accounts. And bot accounts usually get discovered by Instagram and purged. Remember the great purge of 2014?
Whatever you buy you’ll likely lose again in the long term. It’s just not worth it to let your ethics slide like that. In some cases, paying a third party to grow your followers will still be less effective than doing it yourself.
After experimenting with a third party that uses bots to grow customers’ Instagram following, Andrew Tate found that “…the regular method clearly beats the bot when it comes to acquiring followers, even though the bot was ‘working faster’ than a human.”
Solution: First, stop obsessing over vanity metrics.
Followers aren’t the only people seeing your posts. If your content is good and you use strategic hashtags, people will see your posts and be influenced by your content whether or not they choose to follow you. Case in point: my sister once tagged me in an Instagram post of a product that I ended up buying, and I never followed the account that posted it. I like to think that the account would rather that I buy the product than follow its account if it had to choose between the two. Focus on your goals. Focus on real followers. Focus on what matters.
If you gain a little or lose a little here and there, don’t worry. There are many accounts out there that follow lots of Instagram users with the hopes that they will get followers in return. You may get followed by a few accounts, only to see them leave in a few days. This has nothing to do with your own strategy and more to do with tactics others are using to increase their followers.
Solution: Don’t blame yourself for these unfollowers. They follow only to gain your followback, then they unfollow.
To avoid many of these issues that lead to losing Instagram followers, be yourself. Social media marketing uses different technologies and platforms, but in the end, it’s all about human relationships. People tend to “unfollow” for the same reasons online that they do in real life.
Have you changed the way you engage on Instagram, and are you seeing follower growth as a result? Share your experiences in the comments!