Getting unfollowed on Instagram is sort of like finding out your recent ex started seeing someone new. On one hand, you expected that it would happen eventually, but when it actually happens, you just feel icky.
The unfortunate reality is, unfollows happen all the time. In fact, I’m probably getting unfollowed right now as you’re reading this line of text.
The good news is, unfollows don’t (necessarily) mean you’re doing something wrong. There are a number of reasons why people will unfollow that have nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. We’ll delve into those later.
While it may be convenient for us to blame Instagram’s unfollow mentality on today’s throw-away society, that line of thinking can start to veer off into dangerous territory called self-victimization.
What I’m more interested in are the actions (or inactions) you can control. The things you might unknowingly be doing to jeopardize your own success on the platform.
Do any of the following scenarios sound familiar?
Is your account growing cobwebs?
If you don’t remember the last time you’ve posted a photo, neither will your audience (assuming you still have one, that is).
When you fall off the map, even just for a few weeks, it’s only a matter of time before your audience will unfollow.
And honestly…can you blame them?
Think of it from a follower’s perspective. Disregarding “real life” friends and family members who will continue to stick around no matter what, why should someone continue to follow you when you’re not providing anything in return?
When you don’t post for weeks (or months) at a time, your followers will be left wondering what happened.
Most likely, they’ll assume that your account is no longer active, say goodbye, and be off to the next thing.
That’s not to say you need to be fanatical and post three times a day, but the closer you can stick to a daily (or near-daily) schedule, the better.
Unlike platforms such as Facebook or Twitter where each post is a separate entity, Instagram is ruled by a grid. That means each time you post a new photo, it will fall next to the previous one. If your pictures start looking wildly different from each other, there’s a good chance people will hit that unfollow button.
Think about it.
Imagine you’re following someone because you love the beautiful pastel tones to their photos. Then, out of the blue, they post a super saturated image. The next day, they drop a black and white pic, and the day after that they add an over-exposed shot.
Are you going to want to keep following this person?
Maybe, but likely not for much longer.
People want to know what they can expect from you day-to-day. One of the best ways to attract new followers – and manage their expectations – is by sticking to a consistent theme.
This is not to say that your editing style can’t change over time. In fact, as you grow and hone your editing skills, it probably should evolve.
The idea is that it should change gradually, allowing your followers to adjust and come along for the ride.
There are a number of tools you can use to edit your photos and establish a consistent theme. My personal favorite is Adobe Lightroom because I love all of the capabilities.
That said, this platform isn’t one you can expect to master overnight. It took me a few months to learn the ins and outs of it and really hone my own editing style. So if you’re looking for one with a super quick learning curve, this might not be the one for you.
Many people will purchase presets in order to establish a consistent look. These can provide a great starting point for editing, but they’re not a panacea. The biggest mistake I see people make when it comes to presets is expecting them to work like magic. It’s not as though you can simply push a button and voila! Your picture is perfect.
The best way to think of a preset is like a head start in a race. It helps level the playing field by adjusting each of your photos in the same way so that you can edit them from that point, as opposed to starting from scratch.
However, no two photos are the same, and each will require something slightly different depending on the lighting, the time of day you shot, the colors, etc.
Outside of nailing a consistent editing style, you want to make sure your actual content, i.e. subject matter, is consistent as well. This really comes down to nailing your niche.
For instance, if you typically post about fashion and then you randomly upload a shot of the vegan burger you just ate, you’re going to confuse people (and probably turn them off).
Bottom line: Focus on sticking to a consistent editing style as well as consistent subject matter.
Even if it’s something you obsess over constantly, your followers don’t particularly care what your numbers are. They don’t follow you to help you grow. They follow because of what you can provide for them.
When people hit that follow button, they generally do so for one of these five reasons:
- They’re truly inspired by your content and have no expectation of a follow back.
- They’re looking to connect with like-minded people in their niche who will hopefully engage with their content in return.
- They view you as their target audience and they’re trying to sell to you.
- They feel obliged to follow because you followed first, but they’re not particularly engaged with your account.
- They’re not actually interested in your account and are just looking for a follow back before they unfollow.
Each of these reasons (aside from #4, arguably) provides a value to them.
Let’s focus on the first reason for a moment. When people follow you because they genuinely like your content, you’ve hit the jackpot.
Let’s call Group #1 the “Platinum Followers.” These days, a Platinum Follower can be hard to come by, so when you finally land one, you want to keep that person around.
The people that fall under category #2 follow because they’re looking for account supporters. They realize that to get some, you have to give some, and they’re happy to give and take.
I wouldn’t concern yourself with categories 3-5 much, as each of these will likely unfollow (or just won’t engage with your content).
When I first started my account and was just learning the ropes, a big influencer I admired said something that really resonated with me.
Ask yourself this:
“What are my followers getting out of following me?”
Your answer to that question should inform every single thing you post on the platform.
If you don’t know the answer right away, that’s okay. You’ll figure it out over time and it may even change as you grow.
BUY MY [INSERT PRODUCT HERE] NOW!
That was kind of annoying to read, right?
If you’re constantly pushing products and trying to make a sale in every post, your followers will catch on – and eventually fall off.
That’s not to say you can’t make money through Instagram; in fact, monetizing is a huge goal of mine.
The key is to do it in a way that’s tasteful and not obnoxious.
Above all, remember that Instagram is a social platform. Your followers want to be inspired, educated, and entertained. They do not want to feel sold to.
Do your best to keep your captions conversational and be genuine.
You’ll have much better results being a relatable human than a walking billboard.
As with anything in life, on Instagram, you have to give some to get some. If you’re not taking the time to engage with other people’s content and leave meaningful comments, you shouldn’t expect that in return.
Personally, I typically spend anywhere from one to four hours daily engaging with my current followers and reaching out to new accounts. It’s definitely a large time commitment, but you truly get out what you put in.
Not only does engaging demonstrate that you care, it encourages people to check out what you’ve been up to and keep the conversation going.
This said, you should never engage with the expectation of receiving anything in return. Engage on accounts you genuinely like and want to connect with, but don’t obsess over the return.
Over time, you’ll start to notice the followers who are taking an active interest in what you’re doing and these will be some of your biggest supporters on the platform.
And now for the things you can’t control.
While there are plenty of things you can do to garner better results on Instagram, changing the follow/unfollow epidemic isn’t one of them.
There is much controversy surrounding this method. Some swear by it, others loathe it, but without question, everyone is affected by it. No one, not even the largest of influencers, is immune to it.
If you’re not already familiar with the term, “Follow/Unfollow” is a strategy some people use to grow their accounts by following other accounts for the singular purpose of getting a follow back. Then, depending on whether they get a follow back (or regardless of the outcome), they unfollow.
It’s usually pretty obvious to figure out when this is happening. Typically, you’ll get a notification that you’re being followed by a large account who is following very few people in return. For example, an influencer with 100K followers starts following you and they only follow 500 people. The odds of this person being a genuine follower is slim to none.
If you truly like their content, go ahead and follow, but don’t be surprised when they bounce a few days later.
Fortunately, this method is becoming harder and harder to pull off, as most people have a tracker app that shows who unfollowed.
Although the constant fluctuation in your numbers can be highly aggravating, it’s not worth expending too much energy on.
The best thing you can do is focus on everything you can control, and expect that this type of unfollow will be (an unfortunate) part of your journey.
Another thing to add to the list of Instagram annoyances is bot accounts. These accounts are programmed to follow people based on certain criteria, but they themselves are not real people.
Thankfully, Instagram periodically sniffs out these accounts and shuts them down. So if you notice a sudden and dramatic drop in followers (say, several hundred at a time), chances are you were followed by a bunch of bots.
Even though it’s never fun to see your numbers drop, you’re most definitely better off without these fake accounts following, and your engagement will improve as a result. Since bots aren’t real people, they won’t ever engage with your content and they’ll certainly never buy from you, so truthfully, you’re better off not having them around at all.
I’ve spoken my piece on loop giveaways in a previous post, but regardless of my thoughts on the matter, if you’ve participated in one of these recently, you’ll likely experience a (large) drop in followers.
If you’re not familiar with these contests, people enter loop giveaways with the hope of winning something (a new purse, a gift card, a vacation to Bali, etc). As part of the rules for entry, they’re required to follow a large number of accounts (usually about 20 or more).
Once the winner is announced, many of these participants will then unfollow these accounts, as they only followed for the purpose of winning.
If you’ve recently wrapped up a loop giveaway, it’s likely that you’ll see people unfollow for up to several months after the giveaway is over.
Although this is super unfortunate (and highly annoying), it’s important to keep in mind that people enter these giveaways to win something, not because they want to follow you. While you obviously hope (and strive) to win them over with your content, it doesn’t always work out that way.
If you’re wondering what to make of all this unfollowing business, let’s just say there’s good news and bad news.
First, the bad news. Unless Instagram removes its unfollow feature (which is highly unlikely), you’ll never be able to stop all the unfollows – even by doing your best work.
Now for the good news. You do not have to be a victim of the ugly unfollows.
Instead, you can take back some control by showing up regularly on the platform, delivering your best content, providing genuine value, and engaging with your audience.
If the thought of doing all this overwhelms you, take a deep breath and reboot. You don’t have to go this alone.
To help you genuinely connect with your audience and provide real value, I’ve put together nine go-to writing prompts for creating engaging Instagram captions that will encourage your followers to stick around.
Download them here for free and start crafting messages that your followers will want to engage with over and over again.
At the end of the day, the more you can foster meaningful relationships with your followers, the less those petty unfollows will matter.
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