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Quit Using Social Media Like It's 2008


I think I can officially call myself a social media veteran, even though I didn’t hop on the bandwagon until later in 2008. As of this writing, that was about 13 years ago—over a decade! Wow.

But what’s interesting is that I’m still seeing people use the same stupid social media tricks they did in 2008. Hope you'll pardon my rant as I discuss some examples from my recent Instagram adventures.

“Check out my profile, podcast, etc.”

Usually, this one comes through comments on my Instagram posts or Stories. The comment “seems” like it came from a human, but it’s hard to tell. The request is to check out a particular Instagram profile, post, or some other content such as a podcast or blog post.

Unless the person is someone I regularly (emphasis on “regularly”) follow or am acquainted with, why should I care? I follow hundreds of people with great content. And if I’ve scrolled past your stuff in my feed or search or whatever, it didn’t excite me enough to check it out. It’s also likely that I’m not following this person and he or she is not following me either, thus causing me to think it’s some sort of robot account.

Plus, you’re using my post to promote your stuff!

“We should connect, work together, etc.”

This is when random strangers pop into the comment thread for one of my posts and immediately want to “connect” or “work together.” This is akin to a dating pickup line from someone you just met.

Why, oh, why would I want to connect with you? The comment doesn’t provide any context. But when I hop on over to their profiles, it’s usually clear why. Most of the time, it’s a multi-level marketing (MLM) or business “opportunity” which thrives on building a “team” of affiliates or sales reps under them. Nope, not interested. And if I am, I’ll reach out to you.

Okay, this seems nice on the surface. But why do you have to tell me? I’ve noticed that though these people say they “love” my posts and content, they don’t bother following me. My guess is that they’re looking for me to follow them because they’re “so nice.”

The Follow/Unfollow Game

Around 2008, not too many people were on social media yet. Twitter was just really starting to build and there was a lot of “follow me and I’ll follow you back” type invitations going on. I didn’t take these folks up on it then and still don’t.

Recently, I had a really interesting and unusual bump up in my number of followers on Instagram. I always look at the profiles of people who follow me for a variety of reasons. I might want to follow them back if they’re relevant. And I’m curious what kind of people find my content interesting enough to follow me.

What was weird about the recent influx of followers was that they were in entertainment or were social media influencers. What was even more interesting about them was that they had some pretty significant following numbers, I’m talking anywhere from 20,000 to 100,000 or more followers and they personally followed a few thousand people at most. Even weirder is that they all skewed young, like really young, say 16 to 25 years old.

Why would they be following me, a (youngish) Baby Boomer writer and editor? But just for grins, I followed them back. I wanted to see what they would be posting and if they engaged with me on any of my posts.

I think you can guess how this went down. No, they did not engage with any of my content on Instagram, not even a single like on a post. And, of course, they unfollowed me within a few days, maybe even hours, of following me. Why would they even bother going through the exercise?

Here’s my theory. Stick with me on this since it’s quite a game.

Playing Social Media Games and Gaming the System

The more followers these influencers have, the better chance they have to score influencer marketing sponsorship deals... and, therefore, money. They know that many users automatically follow back anyone who follows them. That’s what they’re betting on to pump up those numbers.

But they don’t want their personal Instagram news feeds filled with posts from these tens to hundreds of thousands of people they fake follow and don’t really care about. So once they score a follow, they have no problem unfollowing lots of people. They also are betting that these unsuspecting new followers are busy or lazy and are unlikely to unfollow them. Net effect is that their follower numbers grow (which is what they need for those influencer deals) and their personal news feed remains limited to those people they really want to follow.

On a related note, I had to question how they actually did the whole follow/unfollow thing. It takes time to do either. I’m guessing they used some sort of program (free or paid) to get followers. Have you ever seen some of these programs? Do a Google search. Everybody seems to have an angle. Seriously, just check them out. It’s nuts. They all stress that these tactics gain “organic” followers. Okay, maybe technically. But almost all of them game the system in some way. (The same types of programs were rampant for Twitter back in 2008, too.)

Then, once the desired mass of followers is scored, they can use some sort of automated unfollow utility app or program. Yes, there is a such a thing.

The risk these tactics run is that their follow/unfollow shenanigans may trip off Instagram’s algorithms and they may have their accounts banned or restricted. I’ve not been able to confirm any particular level of activity that trips it. And, of course, the algorithm is likely in a constant state of being updated. So why risk it? Obviously, the influencer sponsorship prize they’re seeking appears to be worth it. And if they’re using some sort of algorithm hack or app to do it, chances are they'll unfollow just enough people to not trip off the algorithm police.

How I Responded

In response to this recent spate of scammy behavior, I became my own unfollow police and did a manual audit of those I was following. Immediately unfollowed all those who exhibited this behavior. I also noticed that some of my early followers, many of whom I was surprised that they followed me, had also disappeared. So this unfollow thing has been going on for quite a while. Goodbye to them, too.

What I was left with was a list of people (and some dog influencers... don’t judge) that I enjoy following and/or who engage with me and my content. Two can play this game and now I’m even less inclined to follow back those who seem to be unlikely followers of my feed. I always checked profiles on every new follower. But now when I see someone with a very big number of followers who doesn’t appear to be following too many people, I’m going to think twice.

The best policy for genuine social media engagement? Go organic. Be a real person following and engaging with real people in a real way.

The best policy for genuine social media engagement? Go organic. Be a real person following and engaging with real people in a real way.

— Heidi Thorne

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2018 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 11, 2018:

Lawrence, though I jumped on the social bandwagon in 2008, even I was considered being late to the game! :)

Yes, have seen some of the follow/unfollow gaming here on HP, too. But nowhere to the degree I see on Instagram and such. I'm with you. I just don't have the time or energy to game the system.

Wow, 50K followers for $50. What a deal. Not!

Thanks for sharing your experience! Have a delightful week!

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on September 10, 2018:


I wasn't on social media in 2008! Didn't even get to Facebook until later!

As for the gimmicks you describe, I've noticed a few even here in HP that do the same. My take is I really amtoo busy to go down this track!

I simply look at people's feed,if they've gotinteresting stuff there then yes, I folliw them and see where things go.

I also realise not everyone will like everything I write, and while I'd like them to, its okay to not visit every post.

You also missed the 'backstreet' hacker who promises you 50,000 followers for $50, I've seen a few of those ads around.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 22, 2018:

Yep, Suhail, I'm always harping about social media nonsense. :)

I find it amazing, too, that some of my best author friends have meager followings. But I'd rather see that they're authentic to their message, mission and followers, in spite of their numbers.

Thanks for adding that example to the conversation! Have a wonderful day!

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on August 22, 2018:

Also, Heidi, the problem with social media is that it has exponentially reduced books and serious articles reading habits. Everyone wants to tweet and post a message without participating on other already existing posts. I am following some adventure travelers on Facebook, who are gifted writers and am utterly astonished at the fact that they have very small number of followers.

I vaguely recall that you touched on this matter in another article.



Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 14, 2018:

Vladimir, "write for me?" Really? Wow, it really does take all kinds! :)

Glad you're trying to stay out of the social game playing.

Thanks so much for stopping by and have a terrific day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 13, 2018:

Hi Suhail! This whole follow/unfollow thing is just rampant and annoying. Thanks for reading my rant. :) And, no, you're not alone.

Have a beautiful week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 13, 2018:

Linda, since you and I are both active on Instagram, we are definitely seeing the follow/unfollow nonsense pretty regularly. I'm much more selective, too, when it comes to following.

Glad to see I'm not the only one who follows the dogs! :) I have my favorites (mainly rescues) and try to limit it to those accounts. A few of their humans are so creative with the "dog's" posts.

Thanks for being a loyal follower on HP and Instagram! Have a great week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 13, 2018:

Hi Louise! Glad to hear you're leveraging your social presence to promote your blogs. I really don't like these scammers either. I've accidentally followed a few, too, but luckily not too many and I unfollow them when they become a problem.

Thanks for stopping by and your kind comments! Have a great week!

ValKaras on August 13, 2018:

Heidi---I admire your straightforward honesty in all these matters. To tell you the truth I was not aware that all those games were being played at social media. Trying to stay out of it. Only a few times I got a silly comment like: "Follow me...". The craziest one I got was: "Would you, please, write for me..."

Well, nothing new under the sun---it takes all kinds and it certainly becomes obvious in this online business.

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on August 12, 2018:

"Go organic. Be a real person following and engaging with real people in a real way." This is the best ever quote, seemingly from someone that I can say I know, albeit in a limited way, ha-ha.

Now I knew that this follow/un-follow thing was going on, but due to shortage of time it would have been impossible for me to do any analysis. I only thought it was by some unethical people, who have taken me on a ride. Then I just found time to read your article :-)

Thank you for letting know that I am just not the only victim.



Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 12, 2018:

You've shared some great points, Heidi. I share some of your social media frustration, especially about the "follow then unfollow" situation. I'm much more selective about who I follow than I used to be. I only follow people whose posts interest me very much, people that I've interacted with on another site, or relatives that live in other countries. I have to ration the dog accounts that I follow on Instagram though, even if they are interesting, or my feed would be filled with almost nothing but dog posts!

Louise Barraco from Ontario on August 12, 2018:

This is so true I try and use all my social media platforms for both of my blogs to promote as well as meet and connect with people. I don’t like scammers and try not to follow them :) such a good read

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 12, 2018:

Hi Pamela! It's good that you've decided what you want your social media profile to be and act accordingly. Glad you found it helpful. Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely Sunday!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 12, 2018:

Your remedy for the scammers sounds perfect. I try to keep a rather low profile on social media, but I think any action at all can produce some problems. I found the information in your article very helpful.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 12, 2018:

Bill, that personal touch and being genuine, whether online or offline, will never go out of style. Thanks for taking a moment from your farming to stop by. Happy Sunday!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 12, 2018:

Hi Liz! Glad you found it useful. Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely Sunday!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 12, 2018:

I love your conclusion, Heidi, and I concur completely. In a world which seems to be growing more generic, I believe showing ourselves and being real is a very effective marketing tool.

Liz Westwood from UK on August 12, 2018:

This is an exceptionally interesting and insightful article on a very topical issue.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 12, 2018:

Rajan, I love how you called these programs "crutches." That is a perfect description of what they are. These people aren't confident enough in their ability to attract and retain and audience.

Thanks so much for adding that to the conversation! Have a beautiful day!

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on August 11, 2018:

I did not know there is a follow/unfollow program that makes it a breeze for scammers to game the system which in any case will backfire sooner or later. Genuine followers do not need these crutches.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 11, 2018:

Flourish, I think you find out who your true followers and fans are over time. I quickly scan the email notifications to see if my fave folks have published something. If they have, even if it's not super relevant, I'll usually pop in and leave a few words.

I haven't yet done a clean-up here on HP of those I'm following. I haven't observed rampant follow/unfollow behavior here which is why I probably haven't made the effort. (Have you been seeing it?) As well, since according to my Google analytics, the biggest chunk of my traffic is organic via search, I'm more focused on that behavior than internal HP traffic.

While the social media game has evolved, people haven't. So I think we'll always see gamers, no matter what year it is.

Thanks for being a loyal reader here on HP and have a beautiful weekend!

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 11, 2018:

I like the part about "cleaning up" your list of who you follow. On HubPages, do you do the same? There are so many people who don't comment to let you know they're reading or at least stopping by.

Even the shy could occasionally say that they're checking in and remind you that although they rarely comment they are still there. It seems like some of the most active folks often don't return the favor whereas there are others who are loyal and true no matter what, bless them.