What the Data Tells Us About Instagram Follow Loops
A lot of people have a lot to say about follow loops. Unfortunately, most of this commentary is anecdotal. I love data and measurement in social media marketing, so I rolled up my sleeves and did some research. In this literature review, we review what all those articles say, and the clear conclusion they point to.
Hint if you don't want to read: follow loops are bad for Instagram accounts.
Written by Tim Campbell-Smith, January 2022
Follower Loops are a recent phenomenon on Instagram. They rely on a creator account to create the follow or engagement loop, encourage others to join, then many accounts follow each other and comment on each other's posts for a period of time. The goal of these follower loops or engagement loops is to increase the number of followers or amount of engagement on an account.
Recently, follower loops and engagement loops have come under scrutiny for whether or not they are effective. Unfortunately, digital marketers only seem to have anecdotal evidence as to whether they help or hinder an Instagram account.
In this confusion, I performed a high level literature review to take a statistical approach to social media marketing. To this end, I sought to answer this question:
Do follow loops help, or hurt, Instagram accounts?
To answer the question of whether or not Instagram follow and engagement loops help or hurt, a Google search was performed. The search included two key terms: “are follow loops allowed on instagram” and “follow loops instagram good or bad”. This search was performed January 25th from a Mac computer in Guelph Ontario. The search, results and scope of this review exclude any follow or engagement loops created by, endorsed by or in conjunction with celebrities, products and/or prizes.
A total of 27 articles were reviewed.
They were rated on a scale of Good (for Instagram), Bad (for Instagram) or Both/And. Initially the third category was to be neutral or neither, but all articles in this category made notes that follower and engagement loops were both good and bad for Instagram, when goals or intentions were considered.
According to 27 articles (cited below), 13 state that follow and engagement loops hurt Instagram accounts, 5 state they are good for Instagram, and 8 claim they are both good and bad for Instagram accounts.
It is worth noting that Instagram has no official position on this, though
Community Standards suggest it violates the Terms of Service. A high level summary from the articles state cases for, and against follow and engagement loops include:
Only short term gains
No substance, followers didn’t continue to stay with account
Great profile view numbers
Sorted history and background
Sometimes followers are from all over the place and not target audience.
It is still worth noting that Instagram's Community Standards and their Terms of Service have no official position on the matter. However, they do state promotions must be clear and meet certain guidelines (which many follow and engagement loops do not). Also, Instagram users are not to participate in, or engage, activities that simulate growth and engagement that are disingenuous. From a risk management perspective, this makes follower loops a less than ideal solution to grow an account.
According to statistics, Instagram follow loops and engagement loops are bad for business accounts. A review of 27 articles on the matter show they are less than ideal for a business to grow a genuine and engaged following. However, there is still much to be discovered in this area. For example, big data access to accounts that measure follow loops and their success over longer periods of time could help clarify the issue. Further to this, Instagram rarely takes an early stand for or against trends, and in this case a ruling would help clarify their efficacy for the community. Nonetheless, the literature reveals quite clearly that small scale follow and engagement loops not involving celebrities or prizes hurt Instagram accounts.
Data and Sources
Bad: 6 7 8 1 2 5 11 14 15 17 20 21 22 Total: 13 / 27
Good: 3 9 10 13 19 Total: 5 / 27
Both/And 4 16 18 23 24 25 26 27 Total: 8 / 27
12 https://www.sly-fox.ca/what-are-follow-loops/ (has 0.45% engagement rate)