There’s no let up: the “10 ways to get 20,000 Instagram followers” articles are replacing the same ones for Twitter, advocating similar techniques. A whole new batch of small business owners and marketers are being instructed in the magic arts of marketing domination via social media.

Those techniques are mostly variations on a theme, involving a combination of (at the simplest end) buying followers, and (at the more labour intensive, and masquerading as a genuine marketing skill end) following large numbers of more-or-less-carefully targeted users in the hope that they’ll follow you back. Usually not just following them, either – often you’ll be told to Like or Favourite multiple images or posts, or comment in some generic way to suggest a real interest in that user.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of marketers are arriving on all these platforms. Whilst growth has slowed a little on Facebook, Instagram is definitely flavour of the month (year, probably!) among businesses wanting to be part of its relatively responsive and active community.

And even though we absolutely think that businesses should be part of these communities, we can’t help wondering whether their presence is a benefit overall. Because the problem with “techniques” like those I mentioned above, is that it’s all fake. You don’t actually Like those images, or have any interest in what that user is going to publish in the future. You don’t care about the answer to the superficial questions you ask. It’s all about getting attention.

Now multiply that by hundreds and thousands of others all doing the same thing, and throw in the spammy “follower collector” individual users too, and what you end up with is an entire ecosystem of users who couldn’t care less about anything being said or done on the platform, so long as their web stats go up.

In case we really need a reminder, this is NOT what social media is about. It’s not what made it exciting when it first arrives, and it isn’t what keeps people coming back.

When we see how many businesses are working this way on Twitter and Instagram, we feel genuinely sorry for those marketers who are slaving away, day after day, clicking through user lists in a desperate bid to get their numbers up. Once that’s done, often by gaining reciprocal followers from other marketers doing the same thing, both of them are in the miserable position of trying to get genuine engagement from the other…see how this goes? It’s futile, exhausting, and massively dilutes the value of the social media site.

Back to reality

The cure for this is really pretty simple: stop looking at Social Media as a “tool”. It’s not. It’s a channel to allow other people to find and interact with you, and the thing about other people is that they’re unpredictable. No matter how much you’d love a 200% increase in followers / web visits / whatever, you can’t force it to happen.

If you step away from that perspective, and shift your focus to other things, it’ll be more enjoyable for everyone concerned. So, here are the top activities those businesses should do in the time liberated from hours of mindless clicking:

One: RESPOND. Look out for mentions of your business or brand, and be appreciative. Deal really thoroughly with questions, don’t just refer users to your website. Celebrate user generated content that’s relevant to what you do.

Two: CREATE. Be as creative and critical as you can of what you’re adding to the huge pool of content already out there. Make it worthwhile. The best possible images, the most thoughtful features. Share as much of the “behind the scenes” of your business as you can.

If you need a third activity, and want to get back into the numbers comfort zone a little, EVALUATE. There’s nothing wrong with spending some time analysing what type of content (articles, videos, images) and what topics, seem to please your audience most. That’s really part of being responsive.

But quit the manipulative stuff. In the long run, it won’t work. And in the short term, it’ll make your job tiresome as hell.