• Let me first start this off by saying that there is only one way and one way only really to know that somebody is buying followers and likes. The only way is to get the receipt, to get the receipt from them buying followers or buying likes. It is why when we were the first company in the world to come out with a tool that could verify a following as authentic, we never talked about fake followers because we understood after months and months of research that, literally, nobody can say 100% that you bought the following unless you have the receipt.

    That's why we talk about authenticity and not about fake followers. Did they buy? Did they not? We didn't care if you bought a following or not. We cared if it was authentic and engaged. You can have an unengaged following because your content is boring and nobody cares about it anymore and they don't engage with you. Thus, your content doesn't get served. Thus, your reach numbers are really low.

    You can have it because of that or you can have it because you bought a following. Also, you get 500,000 followers and five years ago, you bought 50,000 followers, but 50% of your audience is super engaged and your reach is 50%. We're going to say that that's an authentic following. It doesn't actually matter to us how your following got put together. It is just, are people seeing it? Are they interacting with it? Are you creating some sort of connection there? That is what matters.

    I think for a lot of people, they spend too much time pointing a finger and saying, "I know that person is cheating." Look, I know how frustrating that can be and it's not fair honestly. It is the reason we created the tools that we did, is to try and stamp that out in the industry, to try and create a standardized way for an influencer or a brand to say, "Is this a real or a fake following?"
    I understand the frustration, but it is not worth your time to worry about it. Look, the reason people are buying engagement a lot of times is sometimes because they bought followers and they didn't have enough engagement to hide that they bought followers, so it's a whole slippery slope. Another thing is that brands for so long, the only metric they had to decide whether something was working or not was engagement.

    There was this huge temptation to buy engagement to make yourself look better, to make it look like you had a really engaged audience. Now, I really don't think that many people are buying engagement anymore. We haven't seen it run rampantly. Excuse me. There is still a lot of the comment pod stuff going on. I really encourage you. If you are in a comment pod, I really encourage you to leave.

    I think that I say all the time that you can't hack your way to success, right? Like long-term sustainable success, building a real business, you can't hack your way to it. The comment pod is not going to get you there. You need to be focusing on the right things. We talk about here at Fohr, this is something I borrowed from Ray Dalio's principles. At his firm Bridgewater, when they have a goal, they think about their goal and they think about the things that could stop them from achieving that goal.

    They think about the root causes of those problems. What are the root causes of the things that could stop me from achieving this goal? They fix that. If you say, "I'm not getting brand deals because my engagement's not good," you might say, "I'm going to enter a comment pod to bolster my engagement, to fix my engagement." That's a symptom, right? Your bad engagement is a symptom of a bigger problem, which is your audience hasn't engaged with what you're doing.
    Instead of wasting your fucking time in a comment pod, spend it fixing the root cause of the problem, which is that you're no longer creating content that people find interesting, right? That's a harder problem to solve. It's a lot easier to solve for the symptoms. Most people spend their lives running around solving for the symptoms, but not taking it one step further and looking at the root causes, what is actually causing this to happen.

    If you do the hard work and if you can identify the root causes of your problems and you can solve those, everything changes, right? Because, look, the people we talk about on this show all the time, people who are killing it in this space, they're not in comment pods. They're not buying engagement. They're not working with firms that go on and do a shitload of engagement for them to drive traffic to their pages.

    They have figured out what their audience wants and they're telling unique stories. They're doing it over and over and over again and that is working. It sounds simple because it is. Unfortunately, it is a difficult thing to find and you've got to make sure you're focused on the right things. I'll be straight with you. I have a bit of a jealous streak, okay? I've got a bit of a chip on my shoulder.
    I think it comes from my insecurity of wanting so desperately to be successful and being so worried that that won't happen. For me, if I'm being honest, I feel like if I don't end up being successful in a traditional sense that my whole personality doesn't make sense and that my identity is so wrapped up in that idea that I am special and different and that I can achieve this some form of success.

    When I see other people achieving it easier than me, I often get really jealous and I start making excuses, "Oh, they come from a rich family. Daddy gave them $5 million when they hit 25. That's why they're successful" or "They bought their way into Harvard and met this person," whatever. I make up some big story about how that person's success is less valid really because I don't have it yet and I'm jealous.

    I heard someone say something once that was basically like other people's success is not your failure. Just because someone else is successful, it doesn't mean that you won't be and it is not detracting from what you are doing. For me, that was a fairly liberating thing. I still struggle with it and I still have a chip on my shoulder. I still have those insecurities about whether or not I will achieve the things that I want to achieve.

    I'm doing a better job at not getting nasty about it because I just end up sounding bitter and small. I end up giving too much weight to this person in my life or this person who doesn't know who the hell I am, doesn't care about me. They're not sitting around the table or drinks talking about your Instagram and whether it is a real or fake following. They don't talk about you, but you're spending all this time.

    I just think it is unhealthy. I think it focuses you on the wrong things, which is you're focused on, why is everyone else doing better than me instead of what can I do to be better? It's a subtle shift. I know it's an easy thing to say and it's a hard thing to do, but it was very helpful for me. Look, I can sit here and talk about fake engagement. It's something that we look at. We look at comments to see if it's just other influencers commenting.

    That's the easiest one to spot, is that if all your comments are-- other influencers are saying, "Oh my God. I love this top. I can't wait. I've got to buy that," it's bullshit. It's obvious that you're part of a comment pod. We used to track engagement and build a time graph on when engagement came in to see if we could see spikes. We never rolled that tool out. Honestly, Instagram is increasingly looking like it's going to get rid of likes and that this isn't going to be as big of a part of the platform.

    I wouldn't worry about it too much. It's why we now really focus on numbers that are much harder to fake reach, saves, DMs. The step outside of Instagram, maybe even more important. Clicks, swipe-ups, sales, those things that you can't fake. I guess you could fake swipe-ups, but it is harder to do that. Increasingly, we are looking at those numbers that live outside of Instagram to let us know the impact that an influencer is having on our campaigns.
    There's a funny thing about people who complain about like fake engagement and fake followers but are using comment pods and trying to hack the algorithm. It's like that's cheating, kind of. You're trying to figure out how to trick a computer into doing something that you want it to do instead of just focusing on creating something great. Like if you go back and you look at your most engaged photos, you're probably like, "Yes, that makes sense. Those are my best posts."

    If I'm being honest, I knew that was going to do well, at least from me. The stuff I know is going to do well, does well. I'm not generally surprised. If you just did more of that, you wouldn't have to focus on all this bullshit. You lament and you get frustrated that other people are cheating and then you spend your time figuring out how to kind of cheat yourself. It's a losing game. The battle of man versus machine. In this case, machine is going to win.

    The only way you can win is to be great and to deliver things that people legitimately want. I think Instagram is really good at understanding what those things are and listening to that audience and serving it up. Lastly, if you're looking at engagement and you're focused on engagement, you're focused on the wrong things. I think if you look at your feed and you have less than 15% reach, if you take the amount of average reach that you have, go take your last 10 photos.

    Add up the reach, divide it by 10. See what your average reaches. Divide that by your following count. If that is under 15%, that is a big problem. That is a problem that you need to solve. I'm not going to say what the average is because that's data that we have that I'm not giving up. You can buy me a drink and I'll tell you what the average is, but that's the number you should be worried about.

    If you're under 15%, you're in a bad place. I'll say this. If you're over 30%, you're doing pretty good. All right? See where you are. If you're in the middle there, you've got to focus on, how can I get more people to see this photo and it's not a comment pod. You're not going to trick the algorithm. I guarantee Instagram's data scientists and engineers are a little bit more clever than that.
    You think they don't know if engagement is coming from a DM. They have ways to figure this out. I read this book In the Plex about Google and they were talking about the early days of the algorithm. There were things you could do to hack it. Companies were figuring out holes in the algorithm in Google search algorithm and they were exploiting it. Their teams of hundreds of engineers patched those holes immediately.

    Any time you think you can trick it, I fucking guarantee that Facebook and Instagram have figured that out and they've built something so that that is no longer playing into the algorithm. End of all of this, I will say you shouldn't be worried too much about what other people are doing. You should be working to solve for the root causes of the problems, not solve the symptoms of the problems.

    You should understand that engagement is an outdated metric in general and be focused on other things. You should be searching for product/market fit with your content. You should be figuring out what your audience wants to see and deliver more of that. Every single post you put out should be better than the last one. Every single post you put out should deliver value for your audience. Every single post you put out should inspire, entertain or educate.

    Don't really worry about the rest. It should sort itself out if you do all of that. In closing, if you can, I would spend less time worrying about people that you are convinced are cheating and just focus on what you're doing. There's a lot of opportunity out there. There's enough for everyone. Again, I know it's frustrating to see someone cheat. Generally, that doesn't work long-term.
    Episode #186
    - 5 tactics to improve engagement (and prevent fake engagement)