My Biggest Instagram Pet Peeve

My Biggest Instagram Pet Peeve

Instagram is a really cool thing; it's chock full of amazing work that inspires. It's also a great place to connect with the people who make that work. However, when people create fake connections by following and unfollowing, I get quite annoyed.

Instagram is a place for me to showcase my work and to draw inspiration from fellow creatives. This means that when it comes to following, I only follow people who inspire me. So, it often happens that someone will follow me, I'll check out their profile, and I'll politely decline to follow them back. Sometimes, they choose to keep following me, and sometimes, they don't. I certainly don't blame them if they choose to unfollow me when I don't reciprocate their request. 

On the other hand, there's another phenomenon that I've noticed more and more lately. Someone will follow me, I'll check them out, like their work, and follow them back, and they'll unfollow me soon after that. It's happened so much that I've begun to call it "follow farming." It's annoying and self-serving behavior. Of course, I understand that I'm talking about followers on a free mobile app; there are certainly larger problems in the world, but what I'm really getting at here is the behavior, not the actual act. It's misrepresentative of one's intentions, and that's what upsets me and others. I've even seen some photographers say they'll go so far as to block anyone who does that to them. 

What I'm getting at here is a larger issue than just Instagram followers or even photography (I see this in music constantly too): the tendency to ignore fellow creatives in the quest for self-promotion. It's easy to get caught up in it; we're busy people, and it seems like a more efficient route because you're only spending time on yourself, but the truth is less rosy than that. People are very good at picking up on disingenuous behavior, and it's a quick way to alienate someone. In an industry that relies heavily on networking, that's a dangerous game to play. 

In the music world, I've seen composers burn out their careers because they spent years promoting themselves to the point of blanket-spamming without taking the time to establish relationships. Those relationships will serve you much more than a follower ratio will. Sure, there are those who make their living primarily from social media referrals, but for every one of those people, there are 100 others who make their living through established relationships and word of mouth; they may supplement through social media referrals, but relying solely on them is a tenuous perch upon which to rest one's income. 

But really, at the end of the day, I just want to know that we're not being so petty as to trick each other into social media followings. We're in a creative industry, and we're supposed to be inspired by each other. When you pretend to be inspired by someone just to add your follower count, well, that's just a waste of my time and yours. 

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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I have seen the same thing. It seems to have gotten worse since the new algorithm rolled out. I love the term "follow farming". I am still quite new to instagram with only 200+ followers. I noticed in the past three weeks that I will jump 10 to 25 followers after a post only to have them evaporate. Some are the Russian spam sites, but a good majority are established users that will follow only to unfollow once I follow back. It is very frustrating and I feel somewhat unethical.


Yes! A billion times, yes! Relationships are key. Authenticity is crucial. Thanks for naming this - it's bugged me for a long time, and the major reason I use Iconosquare.

I think they call it "follower fishing". No problem... I use an App that tracks these people. What really bugged me was when a Fstoppers staff writer did that to me. Uhhh, so smart.

Was it Jason Vinsom? He did it to me too!

lol what a dick!

Hahaha yes!! It's so annoying. And in general I know when it will happen, i can allready smell them.
A good clue is if people start following without one like..., fishy

People that do the follow farming should spend more time improving their work and less time doing social media shenanigans on a temporary platform. Better work gets you followers without the games. If you aren't gaining followers organically with great photos and relevant well-picked hashtags, just use that as fuel to improve yourself. In 15 years your followers will be gone but the time you spent on your craft will still be with you.

There are apps/sites that do this for you. I can't think of the name of it right now.. but some of these are completely automated.
Lets not welcome these robot overlords!

I have actually tried one or two of them and they work to try get attention to your feed. I no longer use them as it isn't the same as making a real connection with someone or someone who really likes your work finding you and following you.

This has only happened to me once Jason Vinsom started following me on ig and I was really happy because I had recently enjoyed reading about his Fstoppers article on foreground bokeh. Anyway, I followed him back despite the fact that I had 2000 followers and was only following about 50 photographers in my field of interest. So, after a few days the b@sterd dumped me. Jason Vinsom is a perpetrator of this kind of vile ig trolling !


Aren't people obsessed with those following thing...? I get that it is marketing and all, but is it really?
If I take a picture I want to share, I do, but I don't follow anyone because I don't care what others shoot. It is waste of time from my point of view. Instead of stressing about IG, pickup the phone and cold call some agencies or local companies. It will bring you more money.

I am so tired of the phony crap on instagram! Especially the So and So your friend on facebook is now on Instagram as . . Crap. . I found none of them were on my FB friend list. Instagram really needs to get its act together to be a benefit to creatives.

There's 30/40 people that follow me and then unfollow, without any reciprocity, every day. It's the internet. People are fucking weird.

haha I've posted about this before. It totally bugs me!

What you are experiencing is not the actual individuals but bots. You can subscribe to a service which will comb through Instagram and follow people using keywords you specify. Then after a set amount of time it will automatically unfollow that user. It will also make comments on photos too. All in an effort to gain followers.

There are like 4-5 Fstoppers writers that do this, along with many others in IG. I stopped following back people that follow me since 95% those people will just unfollow me anyway within 48 hours. Unfortunately, it's how the game is played. @christopheradamphoto

I use Crowdfire app to easily list all the users that dont follow me. Some are so good I keep the follow, but these guys too good to follow back etc.. Boom you are gone.

Agree so very much with this article. I see this behavior on 500px also. I have followed only about 20 people outside of my reciprical followers. Some how it appears I follower more than 150 people more than follow me. Annoying!!

The technique is called "F/UF" or "Follow/Unfollow". It's not the actual person that is doing that but instead an automated program, usually MassPlanner or Instagress.

The idea is you put in a certain hashtags that is related to your niche/photography work/business to the progams, then the app will find account with those hashtags, like/comment on those pictures, and follower the users. Then few days later, the app will automatic unfollow them.

So please don't get mad at the user but just let it go. It's nothing personal and they dont mean to do it because they dont like you, it's the bot and this is the norm practice on Instagram. If you see an account with tons of "Following" number (not Follower), like over 800, you know they are doing this technique. I do not use this technique to gain followers cause I don't want my feed to get clog up with people i dont know, but I'm friend with a lot of big accounts who has became success in less than a year using this technique.

Feel free to check out my account:

That's all the more upsetting, because not only is the intention the same, they're not even taking the time to personally look at someone's work.

Exactly, worse still they are insulting people by trying to trick them into following.

It's like the intro to the old Top Cat cartoon where he tips a doorman with a coin (with a string on) to look good to his pals and then yanks it back out of the guys hand.

This technique is similar to spam, and scam. It might be the "norm" for big accounts but that doesn't make it better. I don't get mad at it. The thing is I only follow an account if I want it in my feed.
It seems to me that the core of the problem is in both parties: The bad behavior is obvious for people using bots to like/comment/follow others. That is somehow disrespectful, as Alex stated they are not even looking at the pictures. But on the other hand people that "follow back" are as guilty: I never follow back as an automatism, and no one should. Sure I check the account that follow me, but I will only follow them if their pictures inspire me; not to be nice or whatever. And if they then unfollow me I don't care: I have news inspiring pictures in my feed.
The only mean I see to tackle this "method" would be to make it impossible for an account to unfollow before... let's say one year (or maybe six month). That would be easy to implement. The large majority of users don't unfollow regularly, that would not bother them.

What I do to increase my followers is
1. try to provide great content.
2. like a lot of pictures. Sometimes I like pictures that are not really amazing, I am very generous in terms of likes, but I do a little selection, and yes to be honest I hope they'll come to see my profile, and maybe follow. But I don't follow! Only if I find inspiring. I don't trick people.

This is also one of my complaints with Instagram. The same thing also happens on Twitter. I think it might even be worse on Twitter. I use services like CrowdFire to find and unfollow the people who do this.

This is pretty much what stopped me dead in my tracks with Instagram - or at least stopped me from aggressively trying to grow my following. I used to spend a couple hours a week finding people I genuinely thought had cool photos, leaving a comment, liking a pic, and following them. Was I fishing for followers myself? Yes, but I never monitored who was following me back or anything like that. It was so annoying to have new followers come in, only to see them disappear the next week. Seems so pointless . . .

You're lucky, Instagram just up and deleted my account for no reason, no warning, not suspended but completely wiped clean. Now I can't even get angry at the instagram farmers!

Anyone know how to retrieve a deleted instagram account? For a full recap of what happened you can see my post in the Instagram Group on fStoppers.

I stopped using Instagram because of the shameless self promoting; And the video ads taking up my bandwidth? Forget it, the last straw was the instagram messenger sending me advertisement messages, what a waste of time! So, I moved into 500px, and other than the site signing you up to follow 50 people when you start up I am happy. No longer am I being bombarded with "Buy this, buy that", and I can focus on being creative. Of course I'm not running a business yet, and I can see how being in the most popular social sites would be important, but the only people I follow are the ones that I truly feel are capturing the photos I want to see on my feed that inspire me. After that if they do not want to see the photos I create, then it's their loss and there's others who do.

Times have changed and not always for the better, peoples work is social media driven, time and time again i will see some mind blowing photographers with very little followers and other mediocre photographers with a mass of followers, this probably means some people are social media savvy but some amazing photographers with amazing work gets overlooked time and time again, but whatever we think it looks like social media is the way forward, a way to self advertise, its seems to be all about how many followers you have over quality of work. IMO :-)

Gah, I thought I was the only one who got annoyed by this! I think it's a real shame that people don't feel confident enough in there work to just put it there and hope the people who will appreciate it will see it; instead they pressure people in to seeing it. It just seems like the wrong way of going about it all :(

If the follows aren't "organic" and for that matter as a portrait photographer, local...what does it matter if you don't have a huge 5k+ follow? Facebook has proven that, as it devolved, it becomes pointless with their noodling with the system. If Instagram is going the same way, it looks like you are the popular kid on the block...but what's the actual reach-without paying. And yes, I see my follows bounce up and down. This sounds like like bragging rights and not much else.

Imagine how much easier the life would be if IG simply didn't show me who follows me.

I pretty much never follow back when someone follows me because...
1. I am probably not interested in their work.
2. If I am interested I wait a few days before following to see if it a bot that will unfollow.
3. I follow accounts that interest me, most of which I find by searching for stuff that interests me.

Only have a small number of followers but I think most are organic (I blocked/reported any obvious spammers). No one has ever unfollowed - maybe their bots are all sitting waiting for me to follow back so they can unfollow ;)

I had a guy follow and unfollow me multiple times, after about the 5th time I commented on one of his photos "great shot but one quick question, how many times are you planning to follow and then unfollow me"
he stopped quickly after that.