I Took The Time To Remove 4,000 Instagram Followers. Should You? | Episode 161


I took the time to remove 4000 Instagram followers

I’m excited to share with you what happened when I deleted 3000-4000 Instagram followers from my @merriweatherc Instagram account! 

This episode covers my own experience and what happened when I deleted followers. I hope that it can provide some insight that you can benefit from if you also use Instagram as a marketing tool in your handmade business.

To give this whole thing some context, here are a few important facts to keep in mind about my account: 

  •  My Instagram account is OLD. The engagement on this Instagram account is bad – always has been, probably always will be. At the time of this recording, I have 28,000 followers and my most recent post is a reel posted four days ago that reached 2033 people and has less than 100 likes. This is NORMAL for my account. Is it also embarrassing? YES. But it is normal.
  • Because of its age, there are a lot of followers who probably aren’t active anymore.
  • For most of the time I’ve had this account, Instagram wasn’t the marketing channel it is today. Years ago it was normal to post 15 photos in a row of what you had for dinner, there were no trends like we have today … No one paid as much attention to the nuance and detail of the content that they do today. it was just a completely different world.
  • Over the years I’ve posted and deleted or archived a lot of content. I feel that is relevant to mention but I am not sure how that might impact the status of my account.
  • I use the account daily. Not always posting daily but I do have a consistent presence on the platform and I follow best practices.
  • I have used all the features of Instagram and I try new things as they roll out. (I do put effort in and I do feel that I ‘know’ what I’m doing. Sadly this makes very little difference in results.)
  • I have worked with social media managers on two occasions and neither time did we see any results from that either.

Considering the age of the account, and what was common and normal for MOST of the years this account has existed, it’s easy to understand why the engagement would be bad. My rational mind knows all of this makes sense. Regardless, I still sometimes get very tempted to revive my account and attempt to fix it’s crappy engagement metrics. 

65% of the time or more, I can’t be convinced that Instagram is WORTHY of the effort to do anything about the fact that my account performs badly. I don’t feel comfortable exerting that much effort for a free app that doesn’t even offer direct user support. It’s too precarious. As it is, instagram takes up too much real estate in my brain, my business and my life… for results that are meh at best. My motivation is fairly low to improve the situation because everything I have tried in the past did not work well enough or for long enough.

The other 35% of the time, I am tempted to fix the issues on my Instagram account because the other (also rational) part of my brain says, ‘well if you’re going to use it at all, fix it.’ 

I know I’m not alone in my waffling on Instagram, and I don’t want this to be a festival of feelings about Instagram, but I do think it’s important to highlight my personal feelings about it so you’ll understand why I did what I did, and what I was working with when I evaluated the situation.

One thing that is commonly suggested by instagram gurus is for Instagram users to delete ghost, robotic, inactive, spam or otherwise unsavory followers. 

Obviously, there is a ton of advice on the internet about how to improve the instagram experience and improve performance of an instagram account. Why did I choose this one piece of advice to follow? Well, the theory made some sense to me.

Deleting ghost followers is suggested because theoretically, if you have less followers who are ‘bad’ and unlikely to engage due to being fake profiles, spammers, or inactive etc, then your content has a better chance of reaching only people who are more likely to engage. I saw it explained like this: when you first post, Instagram shows your post to a certain percentage of your followers and based on the performance there, continues to distribute it. If your post performs well in that small group, instagram will see it as ‘quality’ enough to continue to distribute. You want that initial group of people seeing your post to be highly engaged. Since you’ll never know what random group of people that is, it is best to have them all, or as many as possible, be well aligned and removing people is meant to support that end goal.

It is probably easier to check followers as they come in but I obviously haven’t been doing that for the better part of a decade. I also think that is unsustainable to keep up with doing. Realistically, how many of us are going to keep up with that? Not me, certainly. Either way, I hadn’t been doing it all along, so I started out behind, if you know what I mean.

I had about 25,000 followers when I first started deleting followers in chunks. Over the course of several months, I dug into my followers and checked (what feels like millions of) profiles to confirm they were real humans who were actually aligned to my account and who actually use the app.

There were no hard and fast rules here, but I did have some key points I’d look for when determining if an account should be removed.

My criteria:

If the account had no profile photo, I removed them.
Again: this wasn’t a rule to live and die by so it wasn’t EVERY SINGLE TIME but for the most part, I did remove accounts that had no profile photo. My account’s purpose is to serve small business owners who want to grow and prosper in their business, and I feel like anyone using Instagram as a marketing channel in their business, with a business or branded username, should have a profile photo. That was just ONE indicator to me but a fairly strong one that the account owner wasn’t serious about their business. And if they aren’t serious about their business, I can’t help them. Therefore, not my ideal audience. (You’ll hear my talk about this later but, this wasn’t always a correct assumption.)

If the account was clearly spammy or a bot, I removed them.
It is easy to spot robots or fake profiles because they have weird usernames or have some imbalance in the values displayed on the top of the profile. Either they are following a ton of people and have no followers themselves, or they have a ton of followers and follow no one, etc. There is always some sort of imbalance in those three numbers on the top of the profile and that is a strong indicator.

I removed people who had not posted since 2016.
I removed people who were clearly not my target market.
I removed dozens of creepy old men. 

It was shocking how easy it was to find these accounts. There were SO MANY bots and fake accounts following me. Gray area, real humans who are just inactive aside, I deleted SO MANY robots, spam accounts.

I had to do this follower removal in chunks of 100-200 at a time because there are limits to the number of actions you can perform before it’s a red flag to Instagram.

I went as far as searching random keywords and letters to find more people to go through. I was bookmarking pics from accounts to delete later when I knew I was getting close to the daily limit. 

If this sounds like something that would take forever to do, you’re correct. It did.

I’m honestly ashamed to say how long I spent on this. It is embarrassing.In total, I removed between 3 and 4,000 followers over the span of several months. 

The results after deleting 4k followers?

And zero.

NOTHING CHANGED. My engagement was still shitty. My reach was still shitty. I will no longer go out of my way to remove followers from Instagram.

This is also why I’ve not gone into great detail about how I searched for and removed accounts from following me. Since it’s not something I think is worth doing, it is also therefore not worth explaining how to do it.

Here are four key things I found to be true in this process of removing Instagram followers:

I could never remove enough followers to make this worth it

I couldn’t ever make a dent in my account. I don’t want to sound pretentious here, because at the end of the day it probably sounds like I’m complaining about having followers. I’m complaining about having a lot of deadweight on my account and no easy way to remove it and the fact that it’s hurting my reach. The fact is I do have a substantial following, volume-wise. But honestly, I would rather have fewer followers at this point which is really what I was after. I couldn’t make a dent. For every 100 followers I removed, I got 50 new ones to look through. No matter what I do, I’ll never get my account whittled down to a number that will make the engagement I get look or feel any better. To genuinely make it worth doing at all, I would need to look at probably at least 70% of my followers and it’s just not possible to do. 

I was chasing after an improved look on vanity metrics, without any guarantee or even reasonable assumption it would last long enough to enjoy.  The algorithm will change. The way analytics are reported will change. The way people see accounts, the layout of accounts… all of it will change. And that is entirely fine, I just don’t want the marketing focus of my business to be on something that precarious or that changes as rapidly as Instagram does. I knew that beforehand, but this process really reminded me.

Deciding which instagram followers to remove

Second, It’s very difficult at times to make the call about what accounts to remove and that extends the time this process takes. Likewise, some of my best customers have accounts that look similar to the ones I was deleting.

Removing followers doesn’t support the end goal the way I believed it would

This leads me to the third thing I discovered: what I was doing (deleting followers who I assumed were not engaging with my content) was trying to accomplish something that isn’t worth accomplishing. 

All of this deleting people might not actually even be helping where it REALLY matters. 

When you use instagram as a marketing tool, the way your numbers APPEAR doesn’t matter as much as reaching the right people and the bottom line of the business.

I was only looking to make the engagement I get APPEAR to be better (the less followers you have, the engagement you get looks better. And since I was only deleting people I assumed were not engaging anyway, I felt it was something worth doing but it wasn’t.) 

The effort was only ever going to result in an improved vanity metric. 

Of course, when the gurus talk about deleting ghost followers, it is for the purpose of INCREASING engagement. To me, this is a separate goal. I can see how the two go hand in hand and maybe my engagement would have improved if I could ever overcome the number of followers, but that actually wasn’t what I was after. I know how to create engaging content, certainly, it’s not all without a miss, but I wasn’t trying to increase engagement, I was after something different.

Instagram doesn’t need to perform at an extraordinary level to be useful

And finally,  I realized that an Instagram account can still generate results without performing at an extraordinary level and Instagram can still ‘work’ without putting in an extraordinary amount of effort.

 You do not need to get thousands of comments, likes, and shares on every post you create. If we tap back to what really matters when using Instagram as a marketing tool: reaching the right people and the bottom line – then the rest is just vanity metrics. Would it be nice if we got better organic reach? Of course. Would it be amazing if everyone who liked a post also shared it? Yes, but that’s not realistic and more importantly it isn’t necessary. 

Focus on the content and the purpose, don’t get dragged by the vanity of it. 

Even if instagram DID work at an extraordinary level for me, and even if deleting all those followers had a positive impact on my account, I would actively be working to diversify and find another outlet to market on, reliably, long term due to the precarious nature of the Instagram platform. (Here’s why.)

My theory is that unless you have a following of about 2,000 or less, or a brand new account AND can commit to checking every follower as they come in, deleting ghost accounts or bad followers is not likely to make a difference for you either. 

So now what? I feel that I have done and tried everything I’m really willing to do to attempt to improve my Instagram performance short of starting over. (I’m not sure I’m willing to do it though I know several people who have for similar reasons to why I would be.)

For now, I’ve decided to just let instagram be what it is, and I will not be putting extraordinary effort into it anymore. This is easier said than done obviously because even though I know the vanity metrics mean nothing in reality, they mean something in my imagination AND because Instagram is the most attractive of the popular marketing channels. It is easily accessible and fully functional from a mobile device without anything extra needed. It’s ‘easy’ to post there – all you really NEED to have is a static image. And that’s where everyone hangs out.

I find that many other marketing channels are more difficult to engage with and produce content for, however in my business, they have all produced better results. Podcasting, blogging and email marketing all require content and production tools that aren’t as mobile-friendly, or ‘easy’ (and not that Instagram content is always easy because it’s not) but they all have a history of producing better results, long term for us. And ultimately that is what I believe we all want to spend our time on what produces the results that really matter, most consistently.

I don’t love the process of podcasting as much as I love the ease of use of Instagram, but I do love knowing that the time and effort are well placed.

In my own business, Instagram is not the lever most worth pulling. The question I hope you’ll try to answer for yourself is: is Instagram most worthy of my time and effort or is there something better for me? (Replace instagram with whatever your primary platform is or whatever platform causes you the most angst.)

And I promise you there is so much more opportunity beyond Instagram. PROMISE. If you also dislike the process of Instagram or the culture or needs of Instagram, I encourage you to explore the rest of the options. There is something out there that will work for you in terms of generating results but also that will align with your creative style and capability. 

You can explore those options with us and learn best practices for them inside of The Council – our membership experience for craft-based business owners where our resident marketing expert Brianne teaches members about marketing every month. Brianne is amazing at bringing new concepts and ideas to members and training members on how they can be more effective as marketers in the business, and you can begin learning from her as soon as you join the council! Of course, marketing is just one element of what we cover inside of the council, so you can get all the details about what we do and how we do it in the council at jointhecouncinow.com – we would love to have you join us and help you to diversify your marketing plan and create a plan that is less Instagram centric so you can be resilient and autonomous as you work to generate those results that really matter in your business.

If you’ve felt downtrodden about your instagram engagement or validity of your account, or if you’ve considered implementing advice about removing followers, I hope this provides some perspective!

Have you tried any popular Instagram advice? Have you tried removing ghost followers? If so, I would love to hear how it went for you! If you want to message us we are @merriweatherc on all social and our Facebook page is at the Merriweather Council! You can also just send vents about Instagram frustration if you’d like. I get it and I will listen. Have a great rest of your week and we will see you on the next episode! If you are watching on youtube don’t forget to subscribe to stay in touch! BYE!

Etsy sellers, you might also like these other posts:

Free Masterclass | The 4 Part Process to Unlocking the Unique Power of Etsy


hello + welcome

Oh, hi! Welcome to The Merriweather Council. I’m Danielle and I am a maker in business and mentor to other makers in business. I teach you how to turn your crafty tendencies into profits!

Oh, I’m also really into crafts, boy bands + iced coffee. Email me anytime to say hello or send cute Backstreet Boy videos or dog pictures .. or whatever! danielle (at) merriweathercouncil.com Thanks for stopping by.

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