Do You Really Need 100k Followers on Instagram? Why Followers Don't Always Indicate Success


When I sit down with businesses and aspiring influencers to review their social media goals, the first one they give me is always “I want to grow,” meaning they want more followers. I mean, that’s usually why you hire a social media manager in the first place, so I totally get it.

My response is always: “Why?

Instagram and social media in general has tricked us into thinking that six figure follower numbers indicate success, legitimacy, and respect. But that’s not always the case.

Let me backup for a second, I’m not taking anything away from anyone who has built a large platform through hard work. 100K or really anything with a “K” is definitely a milestone to be celebrated. So if that’s you, no need to get defensive!

What I AM saying is that just setting your sights on a number will inevitably distract you from your true purpose.

Why Do you Need 100k Followers?

Asking yourself why a larger platform would propel you to your goals, provide credibility to your business, or earn you some version of success is critical if you’re getting serious about using social media strategically. That question leads you to your real objective.

Of course, having 100k sets of eyes on your business would be wonderful. But having that many window shoppers who don’t actually take any action maybe isn’t, right?

No, definitely it isn’t.

Just having a huge audience that remains inactive does you zero good and does not legitimize your business, earn you respect, or pay the bills!

So figure out what you would do with that 100k followers or just more followers in general. Do you need to make sales? Do you need to mobilize your community? Do you want to make an impact? What is it?

That kind of thinking will also indicate what size audience you truly need to succeed at your goal. Then you can track progress towards that success with milestones. We’ll talk about the metrics you should be keeping an eye on a little later.

For example, I recently started working with several realtors. Their goals were of course to grow their community, but the ultimate purpose was to generate leads and influence their respective communities.

The reality is that those realtors don’t need a large audience with no buyers, they instead need focused, engaged audience that is made up of potential buyers and referrals. So our content strategy then becomes very specific to hit that goal as opposed to a broad one to try and just get popular or Instagram famous.

Be popular with the right people, not everyone.

Build a Highly Engaged Audience, Not a Large One

Listen, I started out as (and still am) an influencer. And I too thought that the magic carrot I had to chase was getting as many followers as I could. That way, brands would notice me and pay me the big bucks.

Turns out that’s only partly true. Yes, a larger platform does demand higher fees, but if your audience is unresponsive, those brands will notice.

That is why engagement is so important. If your big old platform isn’t reaching anyone and not one of those many followers cares about your content, what good is having that platform?

According to Sprout Social, high engagement rates indicate the health of your audience.

Engagement is typically rounded up as likes, comments, shares, and really any actions taken on your content. What they mean by the health of your audience is whether they’re responsive to your content and if they’re even real people.

So, having a smaller audience that actually cares about your work and what you do is a better goal than just building a large one. For influencers, the value you bring to brand work is measured in that engagement and how much of your audience will respond to sponsored content.

Plus, higher engagement also drives higher fees for sponsored collaborations.

For businesses, high engagement in turn results in more leads and potential conversions.

Social Media Metrics to Actually Care About

That follower number is often referred to as a vanity metric. Typically, those vanity metrics are things you CAN measure, but don’t actually matter. They can easily be manipulated, which means they don’t accurately indicate success of a business or platform.

Ah, see? Bringing the train back aground!

So here are metrics that are actually worth your time:

Engagement - Yes we already talked about this, but the action taken on your profile and individual pieces of content is important to measure. This provides valuable insights for you on what content resonates with your audience and how to make more of it to connect with them.

Engagement rate on a post is calculated by taking the actions taken on the post (likes, comments, shares, and saves) divided by the total number of followers.

Other engagement indicators are watch time (for video based platforms), and account mentions and shares. You can check some other good indicators in that article from Sprout Social.

Impressions and Reach - Impressions and reach tell you how many times your content and your profile are seen. Impressions is the total number of views. Reach is the total number of unique views (so no double counting there).

Review these in tandem with your engagement to understand the total performance of your content with your audience and in general.

Traffic Sources - Another good indicator is reviewing where your audience is coming from and how they’re discovering your content. This can help you shift strategy and continue to build an engaged audience

Conversions - As a business, tracking this is obviously important. This includes an analysis of click throughs from your social content to your site. For influencers, this may mean reviewing your affiliate links and tracking conversions made through those.

These are just a few examples of metrics that mean more to you than the follower count. As I mentioned before, your important metrics will be defined by your overall goal with your social media.

What’s more important is that you track these, review, and optimize content to keep putting out content to which your audience actually responds.

Define your goal, determine your content strategy (not just getting a bunch of followers) and then measure your success at achieving that goal.

Fake Followers

It’d be remiss of me to not discuss fake followers in this article.

Fake followers are basically fake accounts created to fluff up follower numbers of real accounts. They’re also referred to as bots.

When someone offers to get you a certain number of followers for a price, this is typically what they’re doing.

Now, the reason fake followers are a detriment to your account is that they kill your engagement. You may end up with a fat follower number, but then we come back to the issue of engagement and making no real impact with your account.

Remember, fake followers mean $0 for your business and poor performance on those brand deals if you’re an influencer.

Macaulay Culkin used fake cardboard cutouts to deter people.. Don’t be Macaulay. Don’t make it look like your party is full thinking it’ll attract more people.

It’s that perspective that followers = major success that pushes some of us to make the decision to buy followers. That’s why I can’t stress enough to step back and figure out why the followers are important to you.

External Validation is Fleeting.

If there’s anything to remember from this article, it’s that the feeling of external validation upon seeing 100k followers on your account is fleeting. Measuring your success solely based on how popular you are will prevent you from achieving your real goals.

Focus your energy on setting real, measurable goals that make an impact for you and on your audience. Then track those. You’ll feel better achieving them than just filling an auditorium with people who don’t care.

So ask yourself again, why do you need 100k followers?

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I am a freelance men's fashion and lifestyle digital content creator, social media coach and consultant, and brand strategist. Follow along for articles related to style how-to's, fashion trends, and content creation business behind the scenes and strategy tips.

Denver, CO

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