A few weeks ago, my desire to stay informed on all things Met Gala got the best of me, and I went on an Instagram following spree. Among the new additions to my feed were Jourdan Dunn, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Olivier Rousteing, Emily Ratajkowski, and Zendaya.
Within less than 30 minutes of adding this somewhat random mix of fashionistas, I received 10 follows of my own. To put that in perspective, I usually earn one or two new followers a week, if that.
Here's the thing: If you keep your Instagram account set to "public" — and you aren’t a celebrity or influencer — you’ve probably experienced the odd random follower notification from time to time. Just how many randos you get depends on a few factors: who you’re following, how many (and which) hashtags you add to a caption, the people you tag in a photo, and how often you add a location to a post.
Click on one of the random accounts that follows you, and more often than not, you'll see that the account has hundreds or thousands of followers, but no posts — or just a few posts of its own. Or, it's set to private. This is because many of the random followers you get aren't real people or companies; they're bots.
There's a huge bot problem on Instagram.
Evan Asano, CEO of Mediakix
"There's a huge bot problem on Instagram," says Evan Asano, CEO of influencer marketing agency Mediakix. "Through Instagress and other bots, you can set it to Like, comment, and follow people who post images around certain hashtags or other celebrities and influencers. The idea being that if you Like people's photos, they'll come back and check your profile and might follow you back."
At the end of last month, Instagram shut down Instagress, but there are many more like it. Often, a bot will be set to follow an account and unfollow it shortly after, Asano says. The maximum number of accounts someone can follow is 7,500, and a bot's goal is to reach as many accounts as it can as quickly as it can. If you're not tracking who unfollows you, you'll never notice the loss of a random follower.
Of course, your random followers aren't always bots. "When someone Likes a highly-engaged account, followers will often look at who comments and Likes," explains Karen Robinovitz, the chief creative officer at Digital Brand Architects, a talent management firm representing many high-performing influencers. "It's pretty safe to say that there's a commonality from an interest perspective among followers of the same account, so it becomes another pathway for discovery. Once a person stumbles upon content that resonates, they'll naturally follow the creator."
the average person will spend up to eight months of their life on Instagram.
This speaks to the whole cabinet-of-curiosities element of Instagram. Part of why many of us spend so much time on the platform — one Mediakix statistic predicts that the average person will spend up to eight months of their life on Instagram — is because we get sucked down the "Search and Explore" rabbit hole, hopping from one tattoo or Disney food account to the next.
Spending eight months of your life searching Instagram is a terrifying thought. At least we can try to spend all that time interacting with real people with whom we share common interests — rather than with bots.