I deleted half my Instagram followers, and maintained my engagement.
Here's how, and more importantly, why I did this!
Ok, so this may sound like a weirdly self destructive thing to do, but hear me out. When it comes to social media, and Instagram in particular, everyone is always asking 'How do I get more followers?' But is that really what you want? Or would you be satisfied with a smaller following that comes with a more engaged audience?
I won't even begin to try and understand how Instagram's ever changing algorithm works. But for this example, I'll use some logic. Imagine you average around 100 likes & 10 comments per post. I'm sure that it looks better to the algorithm if you accomplish this with only around 600 followers instead of 1100. It gives the appearance that your post is more popular, which in turn can get it on the explore page along with getting your photo to the top of your followers feeds within that critical first hour after it has been posted.
This gets your work in front of more new faces & followers who engage with your photos. Which to me sounds like a smarter strategy than hoping that people who haven't opened Instagram in months are going to do so on the day you decided to post.
Part I: How I did this
In order to figure out which followers to keep & which were expendable, I used the iOS app Cleaner. I had used this app before to eliminate inactive users who were following me back in June of 2017 (check the graph in the next photo below). The app lets you choose between people who haven't opened Instagram in 30, 60, or 90 day increments. I saw slightly better engagement after doing this the first time, but it wasn't doing enough.
This time, I went into the ghost followers section of the app. These are followers who are still using Instagram, but for whatever reason, they haven't engaged with your posts. Who knows why, but they aren't. So honestly, who cares if you get rid of them, right?
After finding these ghost followers, the app will ask if you want to eliminate them. It does this by blocking them (which makes them automatically unfollow you), but then also immediately unblocking them (so if they wanted to follow you again in the future, they can). It does this with zero notification to your (soon to be former) followers. The app allows you to do 50 actions for free before you have to pony up a couple of bucks for unlimited actions. It only took about 90 minutes for me to shed everyone I wanted to delete. It should probably only take minutes, but Instagram doesn't allow Cleaner to run more than 150 actions (losing 75 followers, since you have to unblock/block each one) every 10-15 minutes.
Part II: The Results
Here's a graph from Socialblade that shows the results of what I did. I went from 1138 followers on March 11th to 642 on the 22nd - a loss of nearly 500 followers.
The next three images are screenshots from my Instagram business account. If you don't have this on your account, you can change it to a business account in the profile settings. It will take about a week before you get the numbers back on your followers.
The left photo was posted the day before I ran the app, while the right one was posted the day after I did it. I wanted to post two similar photos to get the best idea of how my images were performing after getting rid of nearly 50% of my followers. As you can see the likes went up on the new image, while everything else was slightly down, but not dramatically so. This could be chalked up to a multitude of factors - posting at different times on different days, or maybe one photo is just better than the other. But the engagement on my post stayed roughly the same - that's crazy considering there were nearly 500 fewer accounts following me!
Now here's another interesting set of stats. Every number is down (except "From Other", but who knows what that means). But these numbers aren't really all that important to me - impressions is just literally how many times your photo went by as someone scrolled through their feed.
The important number (again, to me!) is the percent of accounts that saw the post that weren't following me. That went up 7%. So again, more new people were seeing my work despite the fact that I dropped nearly 500 followers.
This is exactly what I was hoping would happen.
Part III: Why I did this
Those two numbers right there are why I deleted those ghost followers.
I don't get a ton of business through Instagram, probably because I use it only for my personal creative work. But it has happened (especially with people looking for headshots, which I do post every now and then), and it's happened more often in the past 4-5 months than my previous 2-3 years on Instagram combined. If I can start reaching new potential clients just from losing useless followers, then that's worth it to me.
Keep in mind that this whole blog is only from analyzing two separate photos, but I have a feeling that engagement on my posts is only going to improve from here on out. I'll run the Cleaner app probably around once a month, keeping an eye out for any new ghost followers and refining this process so it doesn't get so out of hand (nearly 50% 'dead' followers is ridiculous).
Even if it only brings in one new client, it'll still have been more than worth it.
I don't have thousands of followers, so this is the more important thing to me rather than some arbitrary follower number that was never going to be something insanely high in the first place. I'll take potential income over followers any day of the week.
Feel free to follow me on Instagram, but if you're not engaging with my posts, you'll be gone before you know it!