Why It Pays to Grow Your Social Following Ethically

Why It Pays to Grow Social Following Ethically | Ethical Influencers

For our latest influencer guide, we’re delighted to have Dorothée Lefering contributing her tips on growing social following in an honest way.

Dorothée is a Content Creator and Ethical Social Media Strategist. She writes the blog The Touristin, showcasing her green lifestyle tips while travelling across the world. She also founded the #igramethical campaign, to stop social media fraud and connect the people who are working hard to keep our social channels honest and fair.

In her below guide, find out what social media tactics you should avoid – and how this will pay off in the future.

Why professional social media marketers have to commit to enforcing ethics

For months I worked on a research project where I monitored user behaviour on Instagram. I carried out countless interviews and meetings over breakfasts, dinners, coffees, cakes, emails, and whatsapps, and gained invaluable information. Over time, it became more and more apparent that social media marketing fraud is a problem, and I started the initiative #IGramEthical to stop it. 

I started talking to people about the #IGramEthical initiative. I wanted to find out what the social media community can do to stop social media marketing fraud. I invited Influencers to a workshop to talk about it. Most reacted irritated. Cheating seemingly is the new normal. Many Influencers confirm that social media marketing fraud is universally accepted and not considered as fraud.

Influencer marketing continues to be one of the most important channels in marketing. When PR companies and the brands they work for, see reach, they pay Influencers high fees for their work. There are many paths one can choose to make social media marketing channels appear successful. It is easy to buy followers, organize commenting pods, and leave fake comments to gain followers, and hence appear successful in your media kit and to the world at large.

We are in a situation where one can hardly have success without engaging in fraudulent behaviour on social media. Influencers do not decide out of a sudden to cheat their peers and to lie to their audience, and to brands. It might be a slow process until one realizes one can’t grow without fraud and as a result starts cheating. If everyone does it, why shouldn’t I cheat too? It is indeed not uncommon for influencers, but also for brands, to accept the inevitable.

PR companies, brands, sponsorship and brand cooperations

There is a dependence on PR agencies and brand sponsors. A low following and engagement rate can have a fatal impact on sponsorship and brand cooperations. The economic dependence on social media posts is a reality for many. Those who have to live off it are more inclined to consider their social media accounts as a tool for making money. They see it as justifiable bending a few rules along the way.

The competition is high. No professional degree is needed to become a Social Media Influencer. Everyone can do it, and everyone dreams of becoming a success overnight. Influencers can act quite aggressive behind closed doors. Just like all the many athletes, many influencers feel high pressure to perform well. They don’t know other help than to resort to ‘doping’ their accounts. When I researched social media marketing fraud, I often heard from fellow social media users that they engage in performance-enhancing measures to not lose assignments. Many are also scared to start a fight with fellow Influencers who cheat the system. That shows that social status certainly also plays a role when it comes to committing social media marketing fraud.

Social media success is seemingly impossible

Even fresh on the market influencers will soon feel the compelling need for additional tools to better their performance. It is not alone about the quality of the work anymore, not by a long shot. Without diverse cheating strategies success is seemingly impossible. The providers of apps who promise follower growths and high engagement rates do the rest to boost demand. In what is considered as harmless, friends and fellow Influencers are asked to help to survive in the world of social media. If that doesn’t work, users can even generate engagement every time they post to Instagram when they buy themselves into Automated Instagram Pods.

Over the years, we ended up with fake-likes, fake-engagement, and lots of accounts full of fake-everything. Today more and more woke customers look for authentic content on social media. No one wants to buy products from brands who cheat. Customers vote with their purse. Users who receive unique and impressive experiences and content are more likely to buy a product and/or service. These days we can see that what many people buy is a lifestyle decision.

Professional social media marketers have to commit to enforcing ethics

As a member of a digital community doing good, collectively working towards a better world, we can stay true to our values. People who care can bring change. We need to try and create a fair environment. For us, for consumers and for brands. Tell all brands and PRs you work with about social media marketing fraud practises and let them know that it will harm their reputation when they work with influencer frauds. Everyone can be sincere and not sell lies to end-users, nor to brands we work for. It is as important as ever to fact-check that what we share online is accurate, and that we, in our chosen role as a medium, are a reliable source. We all can create the world we want to live in with leading by example and not engage performance enhancing measures on our social media channels.

The interaction of all the aforementioned different reasons for social media marketing fraud certainly puts a lot of pressure on Influencers. However, there is no question that each Influencer is individually responsible for their own decisions and apply straight forward work ethics. All professional social media marketers have to commit to enforcing ethics. If Influencers want to be taken seriously, following a code of business ethics (in the globalised world we live in, over country borders) is vital to this still (fairly) newly created profession.

#IGramEthical – and you?

Familiarize yourself with regulations in advertising. Look for information from bodies that research and regulate things like how to advertise and where consumers should see it. Check information published by consumer protection agencies and advertising standard authorities. See how they help consumers to not become a target of manipulation. The recently introduced GDPR is a great step in the right direction. It regulates data protection and privacy for all citizens of the European Union and the European Economic Area. If advertising would be unregulated, we would probably live in a sort of chaos. Regulations are not there to take away the fun but to protect consumers and marketers. Social media marketing is yet not so much regulated as it should be. Start by keeping it true.

How to use the #IGramEthical hashtag

Use the hashtag #IGramEthical to show that you say:

  • no to follower trains,
  • no to organized commenting pods,
  • no to automated commenting pods,
  • no to tribalism,
  • no to buying followers,
  • no to buying likes,
  • no to engaging in like-groups.
  • yes to an open social media community where everyone is welcome
  • yes to networking and learning,
  • yes to being transparent, and mark promotion as a promotion,

We can change the situation by talking openly with as many people as possible about social media marketing fraud and ethical social media marketing.


Dorothee of The Touristin | Ethical InfluencersAbout Dorothée Lefering

Dorothee is a blogger and Ethical Social Media Strategist, following a green lifestyle while travelling across the world. To Dorothee, it doesn’t matter whether it’s roughing it in the bush or enjoying a luxurious major city. As long as it is fair, green, and beautiful, she will explore and share her findings with us. Dorothee also founded the #igramethical campaign, to stop social media fraud. You can keep up with Dorothée on her blog, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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