If you are experiencing a drop in reach and engagement on Instagram, you are not alone.
Lots of people are having trouble connecting with their full audience on Instagram. It’s no secret that the Instagram algorithm changes are making organic reach more difficult to achieve.
Before I dive into the content of this article, I want you to say this aloud with me:
“When my reach is low, I will not complain about the Instagram algorithm. Instead, I will find solutions to improve my organic reach.”
Look, we already know the algorithm sucks. That is a given.
But complaining doesn’t solve problems. Solutions do.
Instead of playing the victim and claiming that you are being terrorized by the algorithm, let’s tell a different story and take responsibility for our own experience on Instagram, shall we?
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So, let’s cut to the chase—I am in the process of removing thousands of my Instagram followers.
I know this is going to be controversial, and some people are going to think I am crazy for trying this.
But before you form an opinion, I encourage you to read through the whole article.
Based on my understanding of the Instagram algorithm, I wholeheartedly believe that removing so-called “ghost followers” will improve your experience on the app.
What is a ghost follower on Instagram?
I would define a “ghost follower” as an account that is following your page, but hasn’t engaged with any of your recent posts.
Since ghost followers aren’t engaged, they are also less likely to see your posts in the first place. I explain this later in the article.
Some ghost followers are empty profiles, inactive accounts, or bots. However, not all of them are.
If you have accounts that are following you but also following over 5,000 other people, it’s likely for those accounts to become ghost followers because there is so much content in their home feeds that they might never see yours.
How do you accumulate ghost followers?
1. Buying followers
I feel like this goes without saying, but DON’T EVER DO THIS!
Buying followers is an obvious way to get lots of inactive accounts following you, but just because someone has ghost followers does not mean they were purchased. There are lots of other ways for this to occur.
2. Using the follow/unfollow method for growth
Guilty. I did this in the very beginning of my journey as an influencer (back in the Instagress days). This is such an outdated and ineffective way to grow a community, so DON’T DO IT!
3. Loop giveaways
I have done a few of these in the past… PLEASE DON’T DO IT!
In loop giveaways, people follow several accounts in exchange for being entered into a giveaway to win a large prize, such as a Louis Vuitton bag or Canon camera.
These giveaways don’t work because the people who follow you are only doing so to be entered into the raffle. They don’t care about your content, and therefore they will be unlikely to engage with it.
4. Buying a pre-existing Instagram account
Most of them have fake followers. Besides, purchasing accounts is against Instagram TOS anyway, so DON’T DO IT!
5. Pivoting your content
I think this was the thing that affected my Instagram account the most.
If you completely change your niche on Instagram, you will likely have a lot of people who aren’t interested in your content anymore. Therefore, they won’t engage, and they will become ghost followers.
So, only pivot if it makes sense for your platform!
Before you run off and remove your ghost followers, PLEASE read the full article to learn the safe way to do it.
There is one safe way to remove ghost followers, but there are also tons of unsafe ways to do it.
Promise me you won’t start removing yours until we’ve reached the end of this post, K? K.
I always say vanity metrics don’t matter, and I mean it—in fact, they can hurt you if they represent people who are not interested in your content.
“Vanity metrics don’t matter.” I have restated this message over and over again to my audience, clients, coworkers, friends, and pretty much everyone I speak to about Instagram.
But up until this point, I’ve been holding on to my follower count because I thought it validated me in a way.
When I met new people and they looked me up on Instagram, they would say, “Wow, 11K? That’s a lot of followers!”
Sure it is, but the follower count isn’t what matters.
What really matters is the 1-on-1 relationships you form with people, the community you build with your platform, and the impact you create.
I had a community in the beginning, but a lot changed over the years.
I’ll give you a brief history of my Instagram account.
I started my journey as a blogger and influencer in late 2016. After a devastating breakup, I started my first blog called Style of Change.
It was a lifestyle blog that I grew to 25,000 unique monthly visitors. I eventually monetized it with ads, affiliate marketing, and sponsored content. Most of the brands I worked with wanted me to include social shares with the sponsored blog post package.
So, my Instagram account turned into an influencer page, and I built a community around it.
Most of the people in the community were people I knew personally, other influencers, and people who enjoyed content from lifestyle bloggers and influencers.
But the influencer path didn’t fulfill me. I lost focus and made a lot of mistakes.
For two and a half years:
- I had no clear content strategy.
- I posted content about whatever I wanted without thinking about my audience.
- I lacked consistency in my posting schedule.
- I also wasn’t consistently engaging with my community.
- I participated in loop giveaways (which I hate to admit, but we’re all about honesty here!)
Those mistakes penalized me in the long run, and I explain why below.
Information directly from Instagram on how the algorithm works
- The “algorithm” is actually multiple processes and ranking mechanisms that are used to personalize a user’s experience on Instagram. (about.instagram.com)
- When ranking posts in the feed, Instagram considers four factors: post info, user info, the follower’s activity/interests, and the relationship between the user and the follower (about.instagram.com)
- Instagram “labels” certain posts it doesn’t want to spread (such as misinformation) and ranks the offending posts lower in the feed (about.instagram.com)
- Explore page content is tailored to each individual user, and it’s designed to show users content they are likely to enjoy. This is based on their past Instagram activity and existing relationships with other accounts (about.instagram.com)
- User behavior is the driving factor in which posts get seen and which ones don’t (about.instagram.com)
- It’s important to optimize your profile for Instagram Search by using keywords in your name, bio, handle, and captions (@mosseri on Instagram)
- In the coming months, Instagram is going to prioritize four key facets of its platform: creators, video, shopping, and messaging (@mosseri on Instagram)
My interpretation of how the Instagram algorithm works in 2021
Disclaimer: Only the people who created the Instagram algorithm know how it really works. Anyone who claims to be the all-knowing algorithm God is lying (unless it’s someone who works for Instagram).
That being said, the interpretation below is based on hours of research, 5+ years of marketing experience, and what I have witnessed with my own Instagram account.
The Instagram algorithm shows you content in your home feed based on your relationships with other accounts.
For example, if you frequently engage with your friend’s posts, you will see those posts in your home feed first.
The same goes for your favorite celebrity. If you frequently like a certain celebrity’s posts, the Instagram algorithm will view you as having a strong relationship with that person’s account. Their posts will show up first in your feed.
So, here’s what happens when you post a piece of content:
- You publish your post.
- Instagram shows that piece of content to a fraction of your followers (mostly the accounts that have a strong relationship with yours).
- Your followers choose whether to engage with your post or not.
- If your post gets good engagement from your followers, Instagram will view the post as being “high quality” and show it to more of your followers. You might also get impressions from hashtags or explore.
But the catch is that if a lot of your followers see your post and don’t engage with it, Instagram will think they are not interested in your content, and the algorithm will push your content farther down in their home feeds.
Bottom line: They will be less likely to see your posts in the future.
The effect ghost followers had on my Instagram account
Over the past couple of years, I have noticed a sharp decline in organic reach (which isn’t out of the ordinary considering the changes Instagram has made to its algorithm).
But I mean, in 2021, my reach is only 10% of what it was in 2019.
My likes have dropped a lot too, but I don’t really care about that.
I just want people to see my content so I can build my community and create an impact. I could care less about vanity metrics like followers or likes.
So, for months, I’ve been obsessively trying to figure out how to improve my reach.
- Creating better content is a given.
- Engaging with other accounts is a given.
- Making Reels is a given.
- And using hashtags, too.
However, I’ve also heard influencers and social media experts talk about removing ghost followers as an effective method for improving reach.
Logistically, it makes sense. Removing unengaged followers would boost the overall morale of an account.
After thorough research, I made the decision to remove most of the ghost followers from my Instagram account. I am in the process of deleting them now.
Keep reading to learn how I distinguished my ghost followers from the engaged ones.
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How I identified my ghost followers
I hadn’t removed any ghost followers in the past because I didn’t know where to start.
But recently, I found someone on Fiverr who has an amazing service for finding ghost followers without ever logging into your account!
I highly recommend Tombaenre on Fiverr for his service called: I will identify all your ghost followers without any login info.
You can read the full description of the service on Fiverr, but basically he has a proprietary algorithm that will analyze your followers and rank them with a quality score.
The quality score is based on how likely the follower is to engage with your content in the future.
For example, profiles that are inactive or following 5,000+ other accounts receive a low quality score because they are likely to remain ghost followers.
Followers that can likely be re-engaged will receive a high quality score. You may not need to delete these. Before you do that, try engaging with a few of their posts to improve the algorithmic relationship.
After completing the service, Tom sent me a data sheet that listed each ghost follower with details on each, including the quality score. Using the sheet, I’ve been able to remove my “lowest quality” followers first.
And like I said, Tom’s service did not require ANY login info whatsoever! I would not recommend using a service that asks for your username or password.
BTW, this is not sponsored at all. I’m just sharing this info to help you in case you would like to find your own account’s ghost followers.
How to remove ghost followers safely
Instagram works hard to prevent bots and third-party apps from performing actions on its app.
DO NOT use another app to clean out your ghost followers. If you do, your account will be at risk of being deactivated for violating Instagram’s terms.
I recommend following the process below to get rid of your ghost followers without receiving an action block or ban from Instagram:
1. On your profile, go to your “Followers.”
2. In the search bar, type in the name of the account you want to remove.
3. Once the account pops up, tap “Remove.”
4. Repeat the process for each ghost follower. I would say removing 30 per hour is safe. Don’t remove too many at once!
You might be thinking, “What if I go through all this trouble and it doesn’t improve my reach?”
Like I mentioned earlier, there aren’t any “gurus” or “experts” who completely understand the Instagram algorithm. Only the head honchos of Instagram know what’s up.
There’s a possibility that my reach won’t improve after removing ghost followers, but in my opinion, it’s worth a shot.
After all, what do I have to lose?
- A meaningless vanity metric? Okay.
- Followers who don’t care about my content? Okay.
- The “social proof” of having over 10k followers? Okay, but honestly my expertise is social proof in itself. I believe in my knowledge and skill set 100%. Instagram followers won’t make or break my success as a marketing coach.
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