Numbers don't lie ... but can you trust them?

contributed by Triber Emily Roberts (@emilyroberts_poetry)

When I switched to business profile a few weeks ago, I knew immediately I would regret it, but I couldn’t bring myself to switch least not right away. The numbers gave me a concrete way to judge each poem, my followers, everything. While I always knew that most of my followers didn’t like a given post, the new numbers made everything real in a bigger way.

(Disclaimer: I am awful at remembering numbers so the following numbers are estimated. Also, I promise I won’t make all of this post about me.)

Let’s say I had 700 followers and around 20 likes for most poems after a few hours. According to the business profile, 100 people were seeing each of those poems. That meant that only ⅕ of the people who saw a post were hitting the like button, and less than ⅕ of my followers were even seeing the poem. I remember thinking that the algorithm liked the ratio of ⅕.  I would watch the numbers change for hours after each post. I quickly noticed that once the like-to-seen ratio dropped below ⅕, Instagram stopped showing my poem to followers.

This is when I started obsessing over the idea of fake followers.  I think the name should be obvious, but here is how I defined it.

Fake Followers - All of the followers who hit the follow button but never planned to read or like one of your poems; The followers who just follow you to get a follow back and are too lazy or too scared to unfollow you.

My reaction to the numbers and the ⅕ ratio was to start unfollowing people and begging people to unfollow me. That’s not what this blog post is about but let’s just say, I had an extreme reaction. I spent weeks talking about this with anyone who would listen. That is ....until I had multiple conversations with different family members. All of the conversations went something like this:

Me: “If less than ⅕ of the people who see a given poem in the first few hours like it, Instagram will not show anyone else the poem. That means at most only 100 people see any given poem because 80 of them secretly hate my poems but refuse to unfollow me.”

Family Member: “Oh….one of those eighty is me. I swear I don’t hate any of them! I just like some better than others. The rest are fine. I didn’t want you to think I was blindly liking all of them without reading them. I’ll like all of them from now on.”


So that is why I am here today. I want to talk about the idea of “fake followers” and “true followers” and the constant question, “how do I know people like my poems?”

I started with my story to show that trusting the numbers can be a distraction. Not all followers are the same. They are all individual people with their own lives who see Instagram slightly differently than you.  As an experiment, I have put together a list of “types” of followers. This is not an exhaustive list.

  • The stores who want you to buy something so follow you for follow backs - Yes, I am looking at you, random camera store that only sells fancy camera lenses. Why you follow me is a bit unclear. Especially because I post all of my poems on a white background except for that brief period where I tried photos and well...there’s a reason I stopped.

    • Random restaurants, dentist offices, and online jewelry stories are also included in this category.

  • The newbies who mass follow for follow backs and then forgot to unfollow you but never plan to like one of your poems.

  • The newbies who mass follow for follow backs and do remember to unfollow you.

  • The loyal fans who read every poem but are too shy to comment on a poem, and don’t want to like EVERY post because they are worried it would be weird.

  • The loyal fans who like every poem because they think you are awesome.

  • The loyal fans who like some but not all of your poems and follow you anyway. They only like and comment on the poems they think are good, and are loyal enough to stick with you despite your not-so-good ones.

  • The random people who like every poem they read even if they don’t like it. They want to support everyone on Instagram and want to generate enough goodwill that you may eventually read their profile.

You can see why I don’t trust the numbers.

So what am I proposing? Quality over Quantity. I am not talking about quality of posts (though that helps). I am talking about quality of connections. (Yes, I know it’s cliche, but you’ve read this far, so give me a few more moments of your time.)

I know there is a not-so-small part of all of us that not-so-secretly wants to be popular enough that we can just spend all day writing poetry and not doing anything else. We are only human. Realistically, that may or may not happen. You can’t control that right now. I am a big believer in letting go of the things you can’t control, focusing on the things you can, and understanding the difference. (Yes, that’s based on the Serenity Prayer. I don’t care if you have issues with the religious association. It’s still common sense for mental health).  Be honest with yourself. What daily actions can you really take? What do you actually have control over?

Here is a non-exhaustive list of specific actions a person can take on a given day regarding their Instagram account and followers:

  • Mass follow a ton of people that probably won’t follow you back, annoying most of them in the process and overcrowding your feed so you can’t find stuff you like.

  • Mass comment on every post begging people to follow you. Some will. Some won’t. You’ll be known as that person. Warning: People will likely be annoyed.

  • Worry and stress about why your numbers aren’t going up.

  • Spend hours researching strategies to make your numbers go up. (see first two bullets)

  • Pay people to be your followers.

  • Be authentic. Like posts that you like. Comment on posts you love. Tell people why you love their poems. Start conversations with interesting people. Read poems on the explore tab to find people who think like you do and people who don’t. Post stories about what you are thinking and feeling. Be honest.

I know which strategy I am trying to follow (the last one).  Am I saying numbers are meaningless? Kind of. Do I still obsess about them? Yes. Constantly. I am not perfect. I am still an accidental fake follower of multiple accounts because I was following back everyone who followed me for a while. Maybe that’s good. Maybe that’s not.

I switched back to a personal profile a few weeks ago.  I feel much better about my numbers. I want to say that they are getting better, but, to be honest, I have no proof of that. I am awful at remembering those things. What I do know is that I am posting more stories and hearing back from more of my followers. I comment on more poems and respond to more stories.  I spend more of my time getting to know other people on Instagram. I am closer to finding my true online tribe. Having those conversations is a highlight of my day. I am not going to say it is better than getting new followers because, let’s be honest, getting hundreds of new followers would be awesome. I will say that it gives me a greater sense of belonging than any number of new followers does. Every day I connect to people on Instagram who I have nothing in common with, except for this crazy hobby that we share.  That feeling cannot compare to yet another follow by a camera lense store and/or what I can only guess was a Dentist’s Office in Brazil (true story).

Let me know what you think. You can find me at @emilyroberts_poetry. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let’s chat.

- Emily Roberts, 2018 

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love & light,