Online followers for sale!

MUSCAT, July 23 – In the digital age, it is not just commodities that you can buy online. A company, website or an individual can get an assured number of followers on social media provided they are willing to shell out a few bucks. It’s not uncommon to see ads like these online. “For 500 followers, just pay $4 for and get 100% Real Instagram followers,‎” says an ad in an attempt to woo some brands, companies or individuals. There are others that simply say, ‘Buy Instagram Followers’, ‘Genuine Followers Fast’, etc. AB, an active social media influencer who prefers to use only her initials, says: “There are people and agencies that sell followers on demand.”

There are agencies that “sell followers” to certain unscrupulous brands and social media influencers, which help them boost their image in the public eye. This, in turn, boosts their business. According to her, one can easily buy and sell followers to anyone for a price and promote oneself or get people to follow a particular brand. She, however, said nobody will admit they have “bought followers” as their credibility will be in question and their business would be in jeopardy. “It’s a thriving business and a vast industry,” according to Midhun, a digital editor. A large community of social media “specialists” is working on reselling followers. “But it’s highly unethical to have fake followers to boost one’s image,” he said.

On the flip side, a company or an individual could face legal liability if it is found the numbers have been purposely inflated, says Antara Bose, an active social media personality. “This destroys brand’s credibility, making it difficult to restore lost image,” she warns. Hubspot, a Gulf-based digital marketing agency, says that the practice of buying followers to popularise a brand is on the rise, with many social media entities — artists to brands to online personalities — jumping into this bandwagon. Salma, who is active on Instagram, feels the buyer (of followers) is taking a big gamble because the online regulatory authorities keep a watch on such activities.

She quoted a recent report on CNBC, which said 48 million Twitter accounts could be of inactive members who lure advertisers to pay hefty amount for online posts. In Oman, for instance, companies are willing to pay up to RO 250 for a photo and RO 500 for a one-minute video provided he/she can prove their online followers run into thousands. Adam al Balushi, another social media influencer, says if companies in Oman are ready to pay RO 250 to RO 500 for a single post, then you can “imagine the volume of business the social media influencers are doing”.

However, it is not very difficult to spot accounts that have less engagement than the typical accounts. Genuine Instagram accounts tend to follow relatively identical engagement patterns. A study that analysed the accounts of two million influencers suggested that less than 1,000 followers averaged 8 per cent engagement; 1,000 to 10,000 followers, 4 per cent engagement; 10,000 to 100,000 followers, 2.4 per cent engagement; and 100,000 to 1 million followers, 1.8 per cent engagement. However, an average 1.7 per cent engagement was found to be from more than 1 million followers. Misinterpreting the “follower database” can also invite legal consequences.