A taboo topic on the lips of the tattooed community at the moment is the buying of social media fans. Specifically, tattoo artists purchasing Instagram followers.
I’ve been chatting to various tattooists about this over the last few months and (in our usual Inkluded fashion) I thought we should all talk openly in order to fully understand a) why this is happening and b) how it is damaging to any industry (not just tattooing).
A few weeks ago the blogosphere went nuts one quiet Sunday when a group of bloggers decided to call-out fellow influencers suspected of using Instagram bots. Research was done, names were Tweeted, analytic reports were published and social war ensued. Whilst I don’t agree with using tools like bots to better your blog, I was worried that the ‘witch-hunt’ manner in which this subject was approached wasn’t quite right. Hence why I’ve had this – hopefully more insightful and less personal – blog in the works for some time now.
Before we begin, some background information for those who may be new to this…
What’s the difference between buying ADVERTS, FOLLOWERS and BOTS?
1. Promoting your posts and creating genuine ADVERTS within platforms.
This is completely legit and refers to the generating of ads to promote your posts or profile (on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) to reach a genuine audience and grow real followers. These social media advertising campaigns are placed within the sites themselves and are used by brands and marketers all over the world, including myself and the companies I work for. This type of promotion is open and honest, and can be very successful if executed correctly.
2. Buying fake FOLLOWERS.
Accounts using this method are easy to spot as the following will increase (often rapidly) but engagements (likes, comments) will stay low.
3. Utilising an automated ‘BOT’ to grow followers.
A bot is an automatic programme that manages your Instagram account. It interacts with others on your behalf (likes, comments, follows) so that users think you are connecting with them. It searches relevant hashtags (e.g. #tattoo) so that your liking of the posts is believable and you are seen to be ‘interacting’ with like-minded people.
You can potentially recruit genuine followers – those who may actually be interested in you and continue following you for some time – but this method is still considered ‘shady’ as you’re essentially faking your use of Instagram.
The ‘bot farms’ are often located in developing countries and it’s a multi-million dollar business (1). Instagram has cracking down on these ‘growth hacking’ mechanisms as one of its top priorities.
Accounts that use bots are easy to spot as they’ll have a huge ‘following’ list that keeps increasing and decreasing on a daily basis (this is how the bloggers were ‘outed’ that I referred to before). These profiles will also often comment generic statements repeatedly on multiple posts (“Great post! Your profile is great 👍“).
As you can see above, someone with a knowledge of how to spot the signs can make an assumption about which influencers they think are ‘faking it’. If you clicked through to this blog expecting a list of names… I’m sorry to disappoint you. It’s not part of Inkluded’s mission to personally attack any tattoo artists yet I do believe this is a topic we should be discussing right now.
In an increasingly digital world, social media has become such an integral part of our lives. What that means is – having a large social following is now considered an indication of your success. We believe that how we are being perceived digitally is a vital part of our progression – personally, professionally, spiritually, whatever.
A greater following attracts attention from brands and peers so more online fans can equate to more opportunities. Many tattooists are often denied sponsorship or digital shout-outs because they have less than the required number of Instagram followers to be considered: “contact us for a mention if you have over 100k followers”, and so on. It’s not the case with all sponsors, conventions, brands and magazines, of course, but we’re talking about an amount decent enough that it does drive some to consider options for growing their reach online in order to increase possibilities.
The same can be said for the blogging world. A large following equals large brand collaborations. Large brand collaborations can essentially turn what you do from a hobby into into a profitable career. When getting those number to roll up can be pretty cheap (a 2016 report stated that $250 could buy you 50,000 followers (2)), it can seem a small price to pay when you consider the life it could reward you with.
Quick disclaimer – I’m not trying to suggest that a large organic following is not regularly possible and worthy of celebration, of course. The world’s greatest tattooers and influencers have naturally grown a huge, well-deserved, fan-base. We’re not talking about them, but rather more specific emerging communities.
More followers can mean more recognition. But in my eyes, things just aren’t that simple and the amount of Instagram fans you have is not always an accurate reflection of your influence.
Outsider brands are often not fully aware of a potential influencer’s status within their own networks. Unless the company is completely absorbed in that industry, their marketing team need a fast way to deduct whether the blogger or tattooer is well-known and well-regarded. Sadly, these brands often look at that follower stat before anything else.
You can have a small following and still be more talented and respected in your field than someone with greater stats than you. And what about the real world? The actual humans who admire and receive your work physically? How do we track them in an ever-growing online age? I don’t have the answer but I think we can work on finding it.
So, why is everything we’ve discussed above, damaging?
By taking this kind of shortcut, in any industry, you’re compromising your reputability and integrity in your respective field. Rather than putting in the labour to perfect your craft (whatever it may be) and growing a fan-base who love you organically, you’re essentially faking it for a quick fix.
As well as obsessing about our followings, are companies seeking influencers also looking at our engagement levels? If someone has 50k followers but is receiving around 30 likes per photo, for example, they’ve either a) bought those numbers, or b) grown a following that isn’t actually interacting with what they are doing. If their audience is organic but isn’t engaging – why?
Most importantly, by putting so much value on digital following, we’re de-valuing other areas of our industry that, in the past, had room for more importance. The quality of work, for example. Are companies looking at this as well as the figures? How are they judging the standard of those tattoos? Where have they learnt those skills of quality analysis?
If we’re going to continue rewarding those with a huge level of fans and often ignoring those without, we need to start asking these questions together as an industry. We need to educate our brands and peers about how social media can be, in my opinion, misused. If we manipulate methods and fake connections, we create an industry that is dishonest and de-valued.
As Instagram continues to take-over the tattoo world, there’s much more to explore in depth. There’s an entire blog to be created about how some tattoos sharing pages are amongst the biggest culprits – buying followers so they can sell sponsored shout-outs to artists.
We’ve not even talked about how all of this affects the most important person in the entire tattooing process – the customer. How are potential clients influenced by these statistics? Are they more inclined to book in with someone who has more followers?
If you’re a blogger or tattooist feeling disheartened about your seemingly small following that you’re struggling to grow… don’t worry and don’t be tempted to pay for it with shortcuts. Just keep doing your thing. Truthfully, the real world can reward us in ways that social media never can.
Tattooing will always be worth so much more than those digits at the top of our profiles. It’s an artistic process that can only every truly be understood through experiencing it in person. Tattooers, what you do, it a thing of substance – carved from a rich history and kept alive through people coming together in the physical world.
No number on a smartphone will ever completely represent what we put out into the world every day – our passions, our processes, our connections, our art.