How to Recognize and Manage Follower Quality on Instagram

Brian Powers
Brian Powers
How to Recognize and Manage Follower Quality on Instagram

From a business standpoint, sometimes we forget about the "social" in social media and focus instead on the "media" part.

Followers are the lifeblood of any social media strategy and concentrating on the people is what it's all about. You can have excellent quality content, spectacularly made advertisements, and a great product to back it all up, but if nobody sees what you're doing, why even bother? 

But not all followers are alike, and not all carry the same value. To keep your engagement rate on Instagram high and ensure that your own followers aren't actually working against you, we'll go into some detail about follower quality, how to assess it, and a little bit about what you can do to maintain quality. 


What does "quality" followers mean? 

Quality may feel like an aggressive term to use with regards to people, but what we mean by that comes down to relevance to your page and the propensity of engagement activity. An active customer who buys and enjoys your product, or someone who follows your brand because they like it, is a far higher quality follower than a bot, for example. They are the ones who like, comment, and share your stuff, and they're the ones to whom you most want to appeal. 

But on the flip side, there are a few follower types that constitute low-quality.  


Abandoned accounts 

Unfortunately, many of your followers are likely to be abandoned accounts. Perhaps they liked your page years ago but have not logged on in ages. These followers are low quality because they're, well, not really following. 
Believe it or not, an unhappy follower is often of far greater practical value than a fake or inactive one. While negativity can hurt your page in other ways, in the context of engagement, it is, in fact, of equal value to algorithms as positive engagement. 

Not that you should push for it, of course. 


Purchased followers 

Another form of "undesirable" followers is those that come from paid likes. These people, if they are real people at all, probably aren't interested in you and won't engage with anything. They serve no other function than to boost raw follower count, in effect serving little other purpose than vanity.  

This is similarly the reason raw follower count can be one of the least valuable KPIs for larger pages, but that's a topic for another time.  

And on that note, don't buy followers on Instagram or any other social media platform.  


Not only are these worthless follows a waste of money, but many of these follower services are also sketchy and unsafe, and by using them you are probably breaching platforms' terms and conditions and could lose your accounts as a result. 


Follow/unfollow accounts 

Some of your followers may also be follow/unfollow accounts that are simply trying to boost their own follower count by sending notifications to others.  

When someone follows an account, that account receives a notification informing it of the new follower. Since many users are in the habit of reciprocating by following back (follow for follow), it's one way that pages and individuals – even real ones – have bolstered their numbers. It's not against the rules, it's just not always very effective and can be a bit annoying. 

But the thing here is that most of the people that do follow back aren't genuinely interested in what you have to offer - they're just trying to get you to follow them, and when you don't, they'll likely unfollow you. Even if they do continue to follow your page, the likelihood of their engagement is often reduced.  
If your own social media team is considering using this strategy, be cautious. While it may be okay if it is targeted very specifically at pages and people in your niche or industry and your team or business has an interest in engaging with it, it can be a successful strategy. Either way, try to keep it narrow and don't overdo it. While we can't confirm for a fact that Instagram tracks this type of behavior and penalizes pages for it, large amounts of follow and unfollow activity can be seen as "bot-like", which can be a red flag for the platform.  


There are different kinds of high-quality followers as well 

The quality of followers can also take on another level for certain types of organizations, and here's where things get a little murkier for social media managers.  

There are varied reasons why an individual may follow a page, even if they are active. 

For example, a hypothetical men's cosmetics and body care brand named Gunsmoke has a strong and growing social media presence, especially on Instagram where the cosmetics industry really shines. The company is famous not only for creating high-quality products, but also for its powerful progressive messages and challenges to norms surrounding body image and gender expectations in men.  

The social media managers for Gunsmoke notice that they have several different kinds of followers of varying quality, but two stand out: 



These are Gunsmoke's customers. They like the product, they’re loyal, and they keep coming back for more. These are generally very high-quality. They are objectively valuable to the page because they literally generate direct income. 


These people may or may not be actual customers, but they like the progressive image of the company and support what Gunsmoke says and what they stand for. They may not be direct buyers, but their value lies in their brand affinity. This group is highly engaged – perhaps even more than buyers – and their value lies in their willingness to comment, like, and share content based on convictions. 


So, which is more valuable? This depends to a degree on the values of the organization in question, but in Gunsmoke's case they are both quite valuable. In fact, the latter group may be better for engagement and long-term growth. Buyers generate revenue, but supporters may be even better for generating reach, which, in turn, hopefully leads to more buyers.  

It's a brilliant cycle and one that is only becoming more and more real around the world as people on social media base their buying decisions on corporate image, responsibility and issues. 


Page inactivity and declining engagement rates on Instagram 

Much larger pages with considerable followings often seem to experience a decline in engagement rate over time, while newer, smaller pages might not to the same extent. This is because new pages tend to have more active followers. They just followed you, so they're more likely to be there, logged in, scrolling, and seeing your stuff. 

As time goes by, many followers may become inactive, keeping your follower count high, but reducing your engagement rate. This is natural, and just something to keep in mind as pages grow and time goes by.  

Unfortunately, pruning an Instagram following based on inactivity is a difficult and tedious task, especially for larger pages.  

While third-party tools exist that claim to do this, we do not have a list of recommendations at present and suggest that if you decide to use one of these tools, that you select one that only identifies inactive accounts, but not one that allows you to do bulk removal or take direct actions through that service, I.e., by linking your account directly. 

Always be careful when linking your social media accounts to third party tools.  

Sadly, the most accurate and most reliable way to prune follower lists remains to manually scroll through your followers and force unfollow those that seem inactive or fake.  

You can identify these "ghost followers" based on several factors such as a lack of recent quality content, no profile picture or info, or an enormously disproportionate number of pages followed compared to followers. While each of these factors individually may not indicate a fake follower, they are often seen in tandem and are strong indicators. 

No human follows 10,000 people. 



Engagement on Instagram – and all social media platforms, for that matter – is among the most important KPIs to monitor and your follower quality will heavily influence this rate. Your social media management team can improve your engagement rate and get a much better performance analysis by cutting out the noise and focusing on your high-quality followers. 

You can monitor your engagement metrics and manage your social media community on Instagram with Facelift Cloud! Try it out for free with our trial by following this link and discover how you can take your social media management and strategy from good to great! 

Brian Powers
Brian Powers

More about the author

A New Yorker in Germany, Brian is Facelift's content marketing manager. With over a decade of experience in content and social, he is responsible for managing Facelift's content, which includes the blog, guides and downloads
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