Thursday, 20 June 2019

The Truth About Influencer Growth Tactics



It's been seven years since I first hit publish on this blog of mine, and in that time a LOT has changed in the blogging world.

In recent years, the surge in popularity of blogs and YouTube channels alongside newer apps like Instagram and Snapchat (not to mention Tik Tok, which makes me feel like I'm 87 yrs old coz I just do not get it!) have seen the creation of a brand new type of "career" which just didn't exist 7 years ago - the social media influencer.

The term itself is a bit like marmite - you either love or hate it, and for me it's  more the latter - I'm not entirely sure why but I just don't feel all that comfortable with the title.

I'm certainly no big time "Influencer"...instead I'm often given the title of "micro influencer" by the PR agencies I work with...which feels no less icky to me! I can barely influence my children to stop picking their noses and wiping it on the sofa, so do I really hold any influence over anybody?! I personally don't think so!

However, it is what it is...and at the end of the day, that's what a LOT of companies are now paying bloggers and social media users with a decent amount of followers to do - to use their so-called "influence" to persuade consumers to buy a particular product, try a particular service, and so on.

Social media influencers draw a lot of criticism from the general public, but make no mistake about it - there is some SERIOUS money to be made in this business.

And when money is involved, the desire to perform well and increase your earning potential comes in to play.

This is natural, of course. Show me a working person who doesn't want to do well in their job and earn a lot of money?!

But recently I've noticed that the "playing field" has become more and more uneven for influencers...with many using certain techniques, tricks and tactics to increase their follower numbers and social media likes (which, in turn, will increase their brand appeal and earning potential of course...) whilst others who are out of the loop don't know anything about these techniques or the fact that people are using them.

And that's what I find a little unfair.

Because I've lost count of how many newer bloggers (or even some who have been around for years but for whatever reason have simply not come across these new growth techniques) are comparing their follower numbers and likes to those of their peers, seeing a big disparity between them and feeling pretty shitty about it.

Feeling that their content must be lacking in quality, feeling that they aren't "as good" as other people, concerned that maybe this isn't the right job for them...when in actual fact, they're simply not in the know.

So that's why today, I want to talk - no holds barred - about the tricks and techniques that a HUGE percentage of bloggers and influencers are using to tip the scales in their favour.

Am I doing myself any favours in talking about this? Probably not! I'm not exactly sure how much PRs and brands know about these tactics and I could well be cutting my nose off to spite my face here. But I believe above all else in honesty and transparency - and I have no desire to get a foot ahead of anybody else in the race without being completely honest about it.

So here goes!



You may well assume that I'm referring to the obvious tactics that we've all heard about like buying followers and likes...and for quite a while I assumed that those bloggers I was seeing who were suddenly getting 1,000 likes per photo had bought a tonne of likes! But now I realise...that's not what it is at all.

Sure some people probably do still buy likes & followers, but I think most influencers have now realised that this is a huge waste of investment - the value of bought followers and likes is pretty much zero, it's very easy to see who has bought them with just a few minutes investigation on the many free analysis tools online, and it could potentially backfire massively should the social platforms in question decide to have a mass clear out of bot accounts like they have done in the past. When people suddenly drop 20,000 followers over night...it's pretty obvious they'd bought them! It's also very easy for PR companies to check up on those bought likes and followers.

No...the tactics I'm talking about are a little more sophisticated than that.

So let's break it down!

*Blog Engagement Threads

These are nothing new and have been around in some form or other probably since blogging began. And let's face it...when we first started our blogs, didn't we all encourage our friends in the blogging community to comment on our blogs if we commented on theirs?!

Well that's essentially what these threads are. You join Facebook groups designed to boost your blog engagement, and you take part in threads where you can drop a link to whichever post you'd like to receive comments on. In turn, you leave a comment on all of the other linkers blogs.

This way your blog looks like it's receiving good engagement!

The downsides to this method are that it can be pretty time consuming - some of the threads will have 20 links in which means you get 20 comments! Yay!

But eek you also have to LEAVE 20 comments on other blogs.

Often the subject matter of the other blogs won't be of major interest to you so this can be a dull task to complete, and I also find that in turn the comments you recieve back can sound dull, a little robotic and pretty disinterested because inevitably - the people commenting are probably not that interested in your post either, and are just trying to make it through their "to do" list quickly by skim reading.

Natural organic blog comments have dropped off MASSIVELY in recent years, due to more people reading and running via their phones these days. Nobody takes the time to comment on blogs anymore, it's just the way it is.

I used to worry about WHY I received so few comments on my posts quite a bit. I'll usually only get a few comments per post, occasionally more if it's an emotive topic I'm writing about.

And I'd see other bloggers always getting 20+ comments on theirs. I had no idea what I was doing wrong!

Now? I can spot the "comment thread" comments a MILE off...so I don't worry so much!

Sure I could join in those threads if I wanted to, and sometimes I do if I feel like I need a boost or I'm just really intrigued to get some feedback on something I've written about, but most of the time (as you can see from my lack of blog comments!) I don't bother because it's too time consuming and the lack of interested and engaged comments looks too spammy to me.

But it's all personal choice. Just know the option to join those threads is there if you want it!

I've also noticed some companies judging who to pick for brand campaigns based on the number of blog comments they have lately - despite it being very obvious that the comments are not organic. Which is weird....but ok!

*Instagram Pods

Again, I think the vast majority of people are aware of these now but in case you're not - they are basically groups of influencers in a similar niche to each other, usually around 10 of you, who all join together to commit to leaving Likes & comments on each others Instagram posts.

Most people conduct these groups through DMs on Instagram, some people have moved their pods over to Whatsapp or other messaging services after talk that Instagram was "clamping down" on pods.

There's always a lot of panic about Instagram's policy on the use of pods.

Personally? I used to join in with them regularly as I found that they were a great way to give an initial "boost" to a photo - and I find that getting an initial boost of a few likes & comments really helps to get your posts shown to your actual engaged followers in the Instagram algorithm.

Now I don't join in any, as I took a little break from them last year to see how I did without them and found that my posts tended to perform better on their own.

Again, just know of their existence. Know that if you see a person always getting a nice little hit of likes and comments right away, and always from the same 10 or so people...they're probably not some super popular algorithm-beating machine...they're probably just in pods!

*Social Media VA's

These are another thing that has increased in popularity over the last year or so, and I can totally see the appeal of them!

A VA is a Virtual Assistant and it basically means that you employ somebody to do certain tasks for you.

Now some bloggers use VA's to write their blog or social media posts in a ghost writer sort of fashion, some use VA's to manage all of their social media accounts and create content for them, and  some use them to join in the engagement threads for them so that they get all of the "engagement" without having to do any of the work!

In short, you can use VA's for all sorts of things - as long as you can afford to pay them! Since joining in some of the threads I mention in this post, I've realised just how many of the bloggers with the BIGGEST followings actually use VA's to join in engagement threads for them - it's very eye opening!

 Not that there's anything wrong with doing it, it's just surprising when you realise that people you thought were at the top of their game are actually employing VA's to use all of the engagement tactics on their behalf. It doesn't take anything away from them of course - they're STILL at the top of their game - they're just paying for help to achieve that.

Personally? I employed a blogging friend of mine to do some VA work on my Facebook page in 2018 - it was great because it meant I didn't need to find any memes to put on there, but ultimately I couldn't afford to keep paying someone else to do work I could do myself.

*Follow/Unfollow

Of all of the growth tactics out there, this one has to be the most hotly debated and most likely to cause world war 3!
The follow/unfollow method is basically a way that many many Instagram users  take advantage of to try to grow their accounts. In basic terms, they follow a certain amount of people...wait a little while for them to follow back, and then a few days later - they unfollow them.

The fact is that this technique WOULD work well, except that the existence of apps that track unfollowers means that people can see when you've unfollowed...and then they'll just unfollow you straight back and probably get angry with you too!

I myself have been SO UPSET when I've used Unfollow tracking apps and found that a blogger I thought I was friends with had unfollowed me.  I'll freely admit - I've lost sleep over worrying about that!

But now I realise that most of the time, these people are not even doing this process manually. Sure, SOME still do but there are actually apps now that do all of the following and unfollowing for you!

I found out about one of these in 2018 from a friend of mine who's Instagram was growing absolutely amazingly well - it turned out she was using an app which followed and unfollowed people for her.

I decided to give it a go, like I do with most things - nothing ventured, nothing gained right?! What's the worst that could happen?!

Well...damn! Who knew these things could be so complicated!

I had mine set not to unfollow anyone that I was already following, but it went right ahead and unfollowed basically everybody I knew of its own accord! I only found out because the friend who's told me about the app was one of the people it unfollowed so she told me what had happened!

After my little dabble with that app, my nerves simply couldn't take it and I abandoned it (along with my $20 subscription fee!) - but I have no doubt that some people do indeed still use it, infact there are people at the top of the blogging/influencing game who gained their many followers using this very technique, so next time you get annoyed by a blogger follow/unfollowing you - just keep in mind, it's probably the work of an app and not them personally!

*Instagram Like Threads

This is one of my most recent discoveries, and I honestly have NO IDEA how long this has been around for but I'm guessing from the number of people I've seen who are using it...it's been quite a while and I was almost certainly one of the last to know about it! (this often seems to be the case, I'm not sure how to get inside the inner circle of tactical growth knowledge?!)

There are certain Instagram like threads you can use - much like the blog engagement threads - to increase your likes & comments on Instagram. They are like-for-like and comment-for-comment reciprocation threads.

Most people are members of several of these groups, and drop their Instagram images into several threads each day - resulting in THOUSANDS of likes and hundreds of comments.

Which makes their engagement look AMAZING...but of course, it's not organic. These are not true, engaged followers and the engagement holds no true value for a brand.

However - when brands are choosing who to work with, they usually choose those with the highest engagement rate.

Meaning that if you DON'T use these threads? You get left behind and your income drops substantially! Believe me...I know.

It may sound silly but I was always proud of my organic engagement. I wasn't getting anything close to the engagement that others were getting by using these threads, but I thought my organic engagement was good.

But brands don't see it that way - they look at the numbers and the numbers only in most cases.

So you can either choose to stay organic and keep your pride but get left behind for paid campaigns  or you swallow your pride and join in the crowd.

And again, from joining in with these threads in recent weeks...I've learned that the vast majority of bloggers, even some of the highest profile ones, are using this technique.

I'm still making my mind up on my approach to this one tbh.

I desperately want to avoid them and keep with my organic engagement, but can I afford to do that when brands choose the highest engagement rates? I honestly don't know!

There IS one way that a brand can check if an influencers engagement is genuine or coming from threads, and I WISH more brands would realise this - all you need to do is ask for a screenshot of their insights.

If they're using threads, then their views coming from "Other" will be high - this usually means people are viewing their image from an outside link. Usually...engagement threads!

(Its normal for SOME views to come from "Other" but if its in the hundreds, something is probably off! Especially if this is the case across numerous posts).



So that's all of the tactics I know about, but I am SURE there are many others that I'm blissfully unaware of!

If you know of any and fancy spilling the beans, leave a comment below and fill us all in!

Now let me just reiterate once again, I'm not here to judge anybody who uses these tactics - some of these I use myself on occasion, some I have tried and decided weren't for me - I've been clear about which I've used in this post.

I'm writing this post simply because I want all of those people who were unaware of these techniques and were perhaps judging themselves or their content harshly because their engagement isn't up to standard of everyone elses to KNOW that this is what the reality is.

Chances are, your natural organic engagement is actually great...you're just not on a level playing field.

Which kind of sucks, doesn't it?!


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