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Buy Instagram Followers… and Burn in Hell???

There are those who say to never buy Instagram followers. Ever.

People like my Pastor.

When I told him that I could boost the church's Instagram account the same way that I had boosted mine — by buying a few followers — his entire face turned purple, his eyes bulged out and then in a very loud voice he let me know in no uncertain terms that doing something like that would land me in Hell!

Is buying social media followers really so bad?

Is buying followers really that bad???

Let me back up.

I don’t consider myself a dishonest person. I don’t cheat on my taxes. I don’t cheat on my girlfriend. And if I have 11 items I do not go to the ‘10 Items or Less’ line.

So it seemed a bit extreme to me that the Pastor would threaten me — me, of all people! — with eternal damnation.

And for what?

Why Buy Instagram Followers?

There must be a reason to buy followers, after all there are a whole lot of people doing it and there are a whole lot of companies that will make it happen for you. Probably the biggest of these companies I’ve seen is buzzoid.com which recently said they could get you going with 1000 followers for 13 bucks. In addition to these guys there are a whole lot of other companies advertising to do the same (of course you also see articles like The Dirty Business of Buying Instagram Followers and videos like The Dark Side of Instagram to fill you with shame. So there’s that.).

Buzzoid Screenshot

1000 followers for 13 bucks? Huh...

So why would a person want to commit such an apparently atrocious crime as purchasing followers on Social Media? Why do it?

Here are the 4 reasons you might hear:

Now, people like the good Pastor always seem to assume reason #1. They always assume that the purchaser of followers is the shallowest of humans with the most fragile of egos.

But, come on. Let’s be real. No sane person would purchase 1,000 followers then turn around and say to themselves “Oh my God! Look! I’ve got a thousand followers! I am so awesome!”

A thousand people love me!

I’m here to tell you that I’ve known many buyers and not a single one of them has had ego as a motivation. So I am not sure why people like the good Pastor insist on this as the explanation.

Now, Reason #2 certainly does happen. Name anything popular and someone has invented a scam for it.

That’s the world we live in. I will admit that my first time charting these waters, I fell for a scam.

But I certainly didn’t fall for a scam because of ego.

I fell for a scam because I was desperate. Am desperate. I am an independent filmmaker and these days if you don’t have social media success you do not have independent filmmaking success. It is as simple as that.

There, I got that off my chest. Now I feel better.

The General Impression of Buying Followers

I was really confused about my pastor’s reaction. So I asked my friend and co-worker Doug what he thought about it. You know what Doug’s response was?

“Are you just looking to get laid?”

Seriously. That was the first thing Doug said.

“What?” I asked, a bit flabbergasted.

“Why do you want to be popular on Instagram? Are you just looking to pick up girls?”

“No, I don’t want to pick up girls!” I said, “You know I have a girlfriend. You know that I’m happy with her. You know that I would never cheat on Laura.”

“Dude, people change,” said Doug with a shrug. “I just thought that maybe things weren’t going so great and you wanted to go on social media to meet somebody else.”

“How would buying followers help me meet someone else?”

“I dunnow. It’s just the first thing that came to my mind,” said Doug, “Like having a bunch of followers would make you feel less down on yourself. Build up your ego, man. You need to have more confidence if you’re gonna start picking up girls.”

“It’s for my business!” I said in exasperation.

“Business?”

“My business. I’m an independent filmmaker. A proudly independent, independent filmmaker!”

Doug paused. He looked at the ground, puzzled. Truly puzzled, it seemed to me. Then he looked back up at me.

“That’s a business?” he asked.

Not a Filmmaker = Real Business

Which is a whole other problem that we can get into after we’re finished with this one, if you want. Yes. I am an independent filmmaker. And yes, I consider that a business.

Even if no one else does.

Even if friends and family don’t take you seriously when you say something like that.

But back to spending money to get more Instagram followers. We didn’t get all the way through our list of ‘why’s’ did we?

Reason #4

If you are an independent filmmaker, or an independent anything, you need to have a strong social media presence. I’m not telling anyone anything new here. Social might have been created for personal use, but it has become an essential part of pretty much any business out there today.

And what is the first signal that makes you think that someone or some company has a “strong social media presence?” The very first thing?

Lots of followers.

If you go to an account, look up in the corner and see “13 followers,” you don’t take that account seriously. It’s a joke.

And if you want your posts to be seen and if you want to get your message across in your posts, you can’t be seen as a joke. When random people get to your profile, they need to take you seriously or they won’t listen to what you have to say.

You don’t need to have Kardashian-level numbers or anything. You don’t even need to have Osmond-level numbers. But you do need for people to not dismiss your account before they even start reading your posts. You do need that number to be big enough for people to take you seriously.

There is a certain psychological shift that happens when people see large follower numbers as opposed to small numbers.

And “psychological shift” is essentially the definition of marketing.

Check out the novel!

Check out the novel non-Hollywood!

“Buy Instagram Followers... and Burn in Hell???” is a non-Hollywood story, a short story set in the world inspired by the novel non-Hollywood — a world of independent filmmakers, indie rockers and aspiring actors. If you like this story, please check out non-Hollywood on Amazon. (and maybe one of Neal's other books, such as Political Music Club or The 33rd Year


Bought Followers and Bot Followers

Okay, so remember how I told you that I first fell for a scam? Let me tell you about that one.

This was way back in the day. Back when I was not as savvy and/or cynical as I am today.

I weighed a lot less too.

I got an email from a guy — I don’t know his real name, let’s just call him Dick Head — who claimed that he had a gigantic email list of fans of independent film. DH would like to mention me in his next email blast. And he would like to link to my Facebook profile.

So far, so tempting.

DH went on to tell me that he would do this… for two hundred bucks. For two hundred dollars he would encourage “his” people to check out my work and my profile.

“His” people, so DH claimed, were such big fans of indie film that they would all flock to my profile and many of them would follow and like and friend, etc.

They were such fans, in fact, DH said that if my friend count didn’t go up by at least 5,000 then he would refund my money! Wow!

I had a brand new credit card and not a lot of street smarts so I did it!

Okay, first let’s take the part that was actually true. Sort of.

The day before DH’s email was to go out I had 22 friends. I knew each and every one of them. My real friends were my Facebook friends.

The next day I had 5,022 friends.

Even in my naiveté I was smart enough to think, “Exactly 5,000? That’s weird.”

Then looking at the profiles of my new “friends” it became obvious. These were not real people. They were as fictional as Peter Pan or Luke Skywalker (by the way, don’t tell Doug that Luke Skywalker isn’t real).

Your new followers like everything you do!

Your new followers like everything you do!!!

This was the first time I had experienced, or even heard of, fake profiles.

I was understandably upset.

Here I had visions of real film buffs checking out my work, recognizing my genius, telling all of Facebook that I was the next Scorsese, hyping me so much that the judges of the Independent Spirit Awards would simply hand me a trophy without so much as a vote because there were clearly no other filmmakers who could compete with the quality of my work.

Instead, what I got was 5,000 fake friends.

I spent the next 2 days writing angry emails to DH (which he never responded to) and fuming in my apartment.

Then I got a Private Message from one of my 22 real friends saying “Wow! Did you see you’ve got 5K friends now? Congratulations!”

It was then that it dawned on me: although DH had not given me what he had said he would give me, he had given me something else — that psychological shift I was talking about earlier.

People would now see my profile differently: they would see me as the kind of guy who had 5,000 friends!

Keep in mind that if you’re expecting the followers you purchase to be involved in the same way that your real followers are involved, then you are setting yourself up for disappointment. As I had. But if all you want is a number that makes first-time visitors take you seriously then this is absolutely the way to go.

I was beginning to think that maybe DH wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe DH was actually an okay guy?

Then I found out from my credit card company that apparently I had purchased 7 brand new iPhones. I had also seen fit to purchase 36 bicycle tires, download a few expensive software programs and subscribe to a number of porn sites whose names I will not mention.

Responding to the Pastor’s Objections to the Purchase of Social Media Friends

But back to my Pastor.

As I went to bed the night that my Pastor had kindly told me I was going to Hell (and Doug had assumed I was combing the internet for loose women) my mind was naturally turning over the conversation.

How could the Pastor (or Doug, for that matter) think that I was looking to boost my ego? Did I project that sort of lack of self-confidence? Am I a schlub?

I would have asked my girlfriend, but she had already drifted off to sleep.

And, hey, the fact that I’ve got a girlfriend should say something about my self-confidence.

Shouldn’t it?

Anyway, the more I thought about the Pastor, the more it bugged me. I had simply been trying to help. Under his administration the church’s Instagram account looked anemic and pathetic. It had:

I, as someone with experience turning a pathetic Instagram account into a professional-looking Instagram account, was merely trying to help.

In exchange for which I had been threatened with damnation.

(And since the threat had come from a Pastor, I kind of figured that maybe I should take it seriously)

But as I drifted off to sleep I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why he would think that buying social media followers would be such a big sin.

It’s marketing dammit! How many times do I have to explain that?

The Social Media Anxiety Dream

I was lying face-down on a rock. A very, very hot rock.

The space around me was bathed in a red glow. All around me was an eerie crimson. And heat. And rock. And flames.

As the heat of the rock began searing the flesh of my cheek I screamed and leapt to my feet.

I looked around at my surroundings of rock and flames and I noticed a young couple chained to the stone wall.

The woman turned to me and said, “Bought Instagram followers, did you?”

Now, I don’t know about you, but often when I’m in a dream I find myself asking myself the question “Is this a dream?” And though I am able to ask this question in my dream, never do I arrive at the answer “yes.”

Is it like that for you? The question comes up, so my brain obviously knows it’s a dream, yet my brain will not admit that fact to me. My brain leaves me in suspense.

So in this suspense I began to walk away from the chained couple, down the corridor of a blood-red cave. Behind me, but long out of sight, I could hear the woman yell, “You shouldn’t have done that! A Kardashian would never do that!”

I turned back to her and I shouted into the red-tinged darkness (in what I meant to be a powerful, confident tone but which instead turned out to be a frightened whimper), “It’s marketing!”

“You were warned!” I heard her shout as I began to run away from her, “You were warned!”

I ran from that voice as fast as I could.

In my panic I very nearly ran right off a cliff.

As I stared down into the abyss I began to make out forms in the darkness. Reddish shapes, crammed close together and squirming in the pit. As my eyes began to adjust, I could make out thousands of these forms.

Demons.

Suddenly, and in one motion, thousands of pairs of demon eyes looked up and into mine.

It was horrifying.

And yet, through my terror I managed to reach into my pocket and pull out my iPhone.

I can never pass up the opportunity for a good selfie.

I turned around, held up my phone and took a moment to get really good framing of my head in the foreground and the demon pit in the background. On the screen was a terrifying view of eternal torture and anguish.

I couldn’t resist thinking “damn, this sucker will go VIRAL!”

As I snapped the selfie, I woke up with a start and shot bolt upright in bed. Next to me I heard Laura mumble, “What’s wrong?”

“I was just in Hell.”

“That’s nice,” she said sleepily, “Go back to bed.”

Selfie in Hell.

Awesome selfie opportunity!!!


Breakfast The Morning After a Social Media Anxiety Dream

The morning after my social media anxiety dream I sat at the table eating Cheerios and thinking about the day ahead. There was a lot going on at my day job. I would be busy today.

Laura walked over, her usual giant mug of coffee in her hand, and asked, “So what were you dreaming about last night? You woke up screaming.”

“I was screaming?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t know I was screaming. I, uh, I had a dream that I was in Hell.”

“I suppose that would make a person scream,” she said.

“It was one of those dreams where you could feel everything. And obviously in Hell things don’t feel so great. I remember my face pressed against this excruciatingly hot rock.”

“Hell rocks are the worst,” said Laura.

“They are.”

“Did you kill someone?”

“What?”

“Why were you were sent to Hell?” she asked, “Did you kill someone?”

“Buying Instagram followers.”

“You were sent to Hell for buying Instagram followers?” Laura asked with a laugh, “Oh my…”

She trailed off, then she shook her head and laughed again, “Well, it’s a good thing you don’t have to worry about that,” she said.

I paused midway to bringing a spoonful of Cheerios to my mouth. “What do you mean?”

Laura said, “I mean since you’ve never bought Instagram followers you don’t have to worry about that. Of course I’m sure that there are other things you’ve still gotta worry about being sent to Hell for,” she said with a smile, “We all do, I suppose. But at least you don’t have to worry about that one, thank God.”

I looked up at her with her giant mug of coffee. She had a nice, pleasant smile on her face.

“But I have bought followers,” I said.

“What?”

“When I was first building my audience. I bought followers. You knew that.”

Laura set her coffee down on the table and looked me in the eyes.

“No,” she said, “I didn’t know that.”

“Yes you did. I told you,” I said. “That’s how I got things going.”

She stood looking at me. There was something unsettling about the way she was looking at me.

I said, “If someone comes to your page and they see a dozen followers they don’t take you seriously. But if you’ve got a few thousand it makes people feel different about you. I’m sure I’ve told you this before.”

Laura slowly shook her head.

I continued defensively, “The ones you buy — the followers — aren’t real followers. Everything is still like starting from zero in terms of getting real people interested in what you do. It’s just the number up in the corner is bigger and that makes you look better.”

Laura looked at me and said nothing.

I continued, “It’s marketing.”

She looked at me for several moments.

She picked up her coffee and took a sip.

She placed the coffee back on the table.

Then she said, “I don’t know how I feel about that.”


Laura contemplates how she feels

I sense some judgement here.


Alternatives to Buying Followers

So, if using money to increase your audience size is such a bad thing. What alternatives do you have?

Well, you actually have only one:

That’s basically it, really.

There’s plenty of good advice out there. Lots of tips. A lot of well-known internet marketing experts have covered this ground.

Neil's one expert who rocks a sweater!


And the thing is, I do take this kind of advice. I am trying to grow my account organically.

I mean, getting real people to check you out is the whole point. I post a ton of stuff that I hope real people will check out. And when they do, I want them to give me a chance and not write me off because my follower number is low.

Is that so wrong?

Youtube, Vimeo and Buying Views

Before heading off to work I always check my online stats. As I said, I’m an independent filmmaker and as such I have several projects up on both Vimeo and Youtube.

I logged on to my Youtube Studio to see what my play counts had done.

Oh, and let me say for the record here that all of my Youtube views are real. Not the “real Youtube views” you see advertised, but actual real real Youtube views! They kind of have to be.

Oh sure, you’ll see ads about people who will sell you views — and supposedly those views are considered “real” — but in my opinion you don’t want any part of that.

Why?

Why would I feel differently about Youtube views than I would about Instagram followers? Isn’t it the exact same thing?

Yes it is. When you’re new to Youtube and you put up a video you do suffer that exact same discrimination against low numbers.

And it is a real pain in the butt to get past it. From an ethical and marketing perspective it is the exact same battle and the exact same weapons are completely justified.

So why don’t I just buy a few Youtube views?

Because unlike the other social media spots, Youtube actually monitors this sort of thing.

And not only will they take away purchased views, they will cancel your account!

And not only will they cancel your account, they will never let you open another one under that name ever, ever again from now until the end of time!

So, no. Not a fan of the o’l buying viewers strategy for Youtube.

Brian gets a lot of views without buying them. Maybe he knows what he's talking about?

And as for Vimeo… Um… come to think of it I don’t think I’ve ever noticed any ads for buying views on Vimeo. I wonder why that is? Maybe I’ll check into that.

At any rate, the view count on almost all of my videos had gone up at least a few from the day before. I’m established, so that’s pretty much the norm.

I was noticing an interesting trend though.

The film that I cared the most about, the one most personal to me, the one I had spent years on, was not getting a whole lot of complete views. Meanwhile, a silly little thing that I had knocked out in 2 days as more or less a joke seemed to be taking off. I…

“What else don’t I know about you?”

I looked up and saw Laura standing next to me. I’m not sure when she had arrived. It must have been some time when I was checking out my stats. But it really felt like she had just… appeared.

I said, “I’m sorry, what?”

“What else don’t I know about you?”

“I’m not sure what you mean, babe.”

“Don’t ‘babe’ me. Not now,” Laura said, “I had no idea that you were the type of person to do what you’ve done. And I want to know what else I don’t know about you.”

“‘What I’ve done?’”

“Yes, ‘what you’ve done.’ And it makes me wonder about you. Who have I been living with for the last 2 years? Who?”

“Um…” I began, perplexed, “Um… first off ‘what I’ve done’ is just marketing.”

“‘Just marketing?’”

“Yeah, just… just marketing,” I stammered, “And… and secondly, I thought you knew. I wasn’t keeping something from you. I thought you knew.”

Laura just looked at me.

She still had her giant coffee mug in her hands.

She looked at me a little longer.

She shook her head and then said once more “I don’t know how I feel about this.”

Then she turned and walked out of the room.

When you're done here, there's a novel waiting:

non-Hollywood, the novel

“Buy Instagram Followers... and Burn in Hell???” is a non-Hollywood story, a short story set in the world inspired by the novel non-Hollywood — a world of independent filmmakers, indie rockers and aspiring actors. If you like this story, please check out non-Hollywood on Amazon. (and maybe one of Neal's other books, such as Political Music Club or The 33rd Year


Never Use the Internet to Pick Up Girls. Never!

My little encounter with Laura had rattled me a bit.

I’ll admit it. It was unexpected and I was rattled.

When I arrived at work I told Doug about it. He said, “She probably figured out you were trying to get laid on the internet.”

“That is not what I was doing.”

“Dude,” said Doug, “It’s just us guys here. You can admit it. There’s a lot of hot chicks on the internet. Some of them might even be interested in a guy like you.”

“A guy like me?”

“Yeah a guy like you,” Doug repeated.

“I’m sorry, but what do you mean by ‘a guy like me?”

“You know, a guy like you,” he said with a shrug.

“A guy like me?”

“You’ve gotta admit you don’t have great self-esteem. That’s, like, really obvious,” said Doug. You’re that kind of guy. A guy who would buy his way onto social media doesn’t have a whole lot of self-esteem.”

“It’s marketing!”

“It’s lying!” said Doug, “All I know is that I don’t need to lie on the internet just to get laid. It’s pathetic.”

“I am not using the internet to get laid!” I shouted.

“Me, I would never use the Internet to pick up girls. Never. But then I’m not you,” said Doug, “I’m not that kind of guy.”

That kind of guy?”

“The kind of guy who would buy Instagram followers. That ain’t me.”

Which Brings Us Back to the Pastor

This really needed to end. I needed to get to the core of this whole follower controversy. I needed to deal with it.

And that meant going back to where it had started.

That meant going back to the Pastor.

Luckily it was BINGO night. I knew that the Pastor never missed a BINGO night. It was his best chance at connecting with his flock. BINGO night attracted a crowd at least as big as, and often bigger than, his Sunday sermon.

And the congregation was in a much more receptive mood as well.

I got to the church a bit early, hoping to catch the Pastor before the crowd arrived.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t there yet.

Although the crowd was. And they were ready for BINGO.

I looked around the room. It was packed, and mostly with older women.

As I scanned the room, a gray-haired woman who happened to be standing next to me asked loudly, “Are you here for BINGO? We don’t get a lot of young men here for BINGO.”

“No,” I replied, “I’m just here to see the Pastor.”

“Ah,” she said. Then she looked at me curiously. I wasn’t exactly sure why she was looking at me that way, until she said, “You look nervous.”

“I do?”

“Uh-huh. Did you do something wrong?”

“What?”

“You look nervous and you’re here to see the Pastor,” she said. Then she added, in a low, secretive whisper, “Did you kill someone?”

“What? No! No, I didn’t kill anyone. No!”

“Then what did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything!”

“You did something. A man your age wouldn’t be here on BINGO night if he hadn’t done something,” she said as she fixed me with a disapproving gaze.

“Instagram. I bought followers on Instagram.”

She looked at me carefully. “Oooooh. I see,” she said with a disapproving shake of her head.

She continued looking at me with a gaze which indicated complete and utter disappointment.

There’s nothing quite like the disappointment of a woman who looks like your grandma.

Then she asked, “What’s an Instagram?”

“It’s… nothing. Never mind. I’ll come back later when the Pastor’s here.”

It was like being in a graphic novel

It felt like I was in a graphic novel.


Pastor’s Status? Arrived.

As I was backing away from the gray-haired woman I saw the Pastor walk in the door at the other side of the room.

For some reason, I hesitated.

I knew that I wanted to talk to him. I came here specifically to talk to him. Yet still I hesitated.

Why was I nervous?

I’m not a generally intimidated type. I’m a film director, for cryin’ out loud. I’m used to being in charge. I don’t get nervous meeting new people. I am not the least bit afraid of public speaking. Even tarantulas don’t affect me… much.

So what was going on? I was, well, I think it would be fair to say… terrified to talk to the Pastor.

Terrified.

Why?

Finally, I worked up the courage to approach the Pastor. When he saw me, there was not the least trace of the angry disappointment that he had shown me the last time we spoke. He was perfectly pleasant when he said hello.

I immediately blurted out, “Pastor, you’ve gotta remove this curse!”

“Curse?” he asked.

“Yeah, whatever curse you hit me with. Voodoo. Hex. Whatever you want to call it.”

“Um, I don’t do hexes.”

You’re a holy man! You must have some power like that! You did something to me!” I practically shouted.

Over the Pastor’s shoulder, I noticed that several of the BINGO women now turned their attention toward me. As I stood looking at them, the Pastor turned and looked over his shoulder and smiled at them.

“It’s all right ladies,” he said in a calming voice, “I’ll be with you in just a moment.”

And at that, he led me out of the BINGO room and through the side door of the main hall. The gray-haired woman who had asked me if I had killed someone followed along. I suppose she must have figured that she was part of the conversation now and deserved to be here for the good part.

The three of us stopped right before the pulpit. With the podium and giant cross behind him, the Pastor turned to me and calmly said, “I’m a bit confused, so I need you to tell me what’s going on.”

“What’s going on,” I said, “is that ever since you told me how evil it was to buy Instagram followers, my life has fallen apart. I can’t sleep, my girlfriend is looking at me like she might leave me, and my friend Doug — who is the kind of person who has no qualms about parking in handicap spots — is treating me like his moral inferior. I’m just a filmmaker who wants his social media to look good. I’m not a bad person!”

“Ah, I see,” said the Pastor. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that our conversation had affected you that much.”

“It has. It has.”

“Good!” said the gray-haired woman with a smile.

The Pastor ignored her comment and spoke again to me, “Well, for the record, I don’t hex people. Also for the record I don’t actually think that there are such things as hexes,” he said, “but obviously you feel guilt about this lie.”

“It’s just marketing,” I said.

“Ah yes, I remember you saying that before. But it seems pretty obvious that you feel guilt about this.”

I looked at the floor. It’s just marketing I told myself.

The Pastor looked at me and said, “What do we do when we sin?”

I looked up at him. What the hell was he on about now? What do we do when we sin? Really?

I stared blankly at him.

The woman fixed me with a look that clearly conveyed that she thought I was an idiot. Then she shouted, “We REPENT!”

“Oh right,” I said, “I knew that. I just wasn’t sure what he was on about there for a second, but, yeah, right. Repent. Yes.”

The woman rolled her eyes at me.

The Pastor looked at me calmly.

“Right…” I trailed off.

Repent and Unfollow

So, how exactly does one repent for the sin of buying followers?

Turns out that you absolutely can.

I had thought that wouldn’t be possible, but actually there are several ways to get rid of fake followers.

So now, here I sit, going through the process of shedding the followers I paid my hard-earned money for. I am in the process of righting my wrongs to the Universe.

Laura is helping me. I didn’t really need her help, but I pretended I did so that she would know that I was doing the whole ‘repenting’ thing.

Wait. If I’m only doing this so that she knows I’m doing it, does that make the repenting invalid?

Ah, crap…

~ • ~