Local bloggers lose social media followers

Local DJ-blogger Peggy Heng.

For prominent local bloggers, numbers are everything.

The number of followers on their social media sites such as Twitter and Instagram, that is.

So imagine the online stir yesterday when several of them found out that a huge chunk of their followers on Instagram had vanished overnight.

The photo-sharing service, which is owned by Facebook, had begun its purge of spam and fake accounts.

Among major celebrities, Canadian pop star Justin Bieber saw his followers drop by 3.5 million within a day.

He is two million followers behind TV reality star Kim Kardashian, whose 22.2 million followers now make her the most popular on Instagram.

Local personalities were also not spared, with several seeing a substantial drop in their followers.

In the past 24 hours, top celebrity blogger Xiaxue's Instagram followers went from 574,000 to 544,000.

Model-blogger Yan Kay Kay has 79,000 followers now after suffering a dip of 3,000 followers, while local blogger-DJ Peggy Heng lost 500, leaving her with about 7,300 followers.

It is a numbers game for the bloggers as clients and advertisers look at the number of followers on the bloggers' social media accounts before deciding to engage them.

Bloggers whom The New Paper spoke to welcomed the "purge", or what has become known online as the "Instagram Rapture".

They unanimously felt that the big clean-up allows clients to properly identify if the bloggers they are working with had bumped up their numbers by buying fake followers.

Xiaxue, whose real name is Wendy Cheng, 30, told TNP: "Why should people with fake followers be earning clients' money when they, in fact, are not reaching out to that many people online?

"They deserve to be exposed for their inflated numbers."

She added: "If someone lost 60 to 70 per cent of their followers overnight, it's obvious that the numbers were fake."

Blogger Melody Yap, the fiancee of top food blogger Brad Lau aka ladyironchef, lost 2,000 followers.

She has 44,200 followers now.

The 25-year-old said: "I felt relieved and grateful that Instagram is finally doing something because too many of the spam bot accounts have been around for longer than they should be.

"But there is no way that we can delete them on our own.

"People who used to claim about how almighty their numbers are and how they are oh-so-popular and successful are but jokes now."

Yan and Heng admitted the temptation to buy fake followers has always been there, but both are glad that they did not succumb.

TEMPTED TO BUY FOLLOWERS

Yan, 32, said: "Instagram is a platform I work on and post ads on. Hence, a part of my income comes from it.

"I was tempted to buy followers in order to stay competitive in this industry, especially when I saw (and) suspected others (were) doing it with no backlash."

"I would be super embarrassed right now if my numbers dropped drastically because then everyone would know I bought them.

"Most importantly, I sleep well at night with a clear conscience." Some local personalities saw their numbers drop drastically, including Miss Singapore Universe Rachel Kum, who saw a 55 per cent dip in her Instagram followers from 27,000 to 12,000. Celebrity model-DJ Nicole Chen saw her followers decrease to 7,300 from more than 13,000. Fashion blogger Crystal Phuong's followers plummeted from 13,000 to 4,900, while Dawn Yang's numbers dipped from more than 80,000 to 59,000.

China-born MediaCorp actor Ian Fang's followers fell from 145,000 to 123,000 but managed to climb up to 130,000 by yesterday evening.

When contacted yesterday afternoon, Kum, 29, said she was unaware of the significant drop in her followers as she "had not checked her Instagram yet".

This was all she wanted to say before adding: "Could you ask someone else instead? I don't want to be interviewed."

Other personalities who suffered big drops did not respond to TNP's queries by press time.

Fake fans cheap to get

It barely burns a hole in one's pocket to buy fake followers on social media, says a social media expert.

"It is extremely inexpensive. You can pay anything between $10 to $20 (on online sites that specifically offer this service) for anything from 1,000 to 10,000 fake followers and see an overnight boost," said Dr Michael Netzley, academic director of executive development at Singapore Management University.

This can create a good and positive impression, and advertisers are not likely to devote time and attention to check these followers.

Dr Netzley calls the Instagram purge a good way to "get the crap out of the system".

For Mr Lars Voedisch, managing director of public relations and social media consultancy PRecious Communications, the move is beneficial in two ways.

"For normal users like us, we want to believe that the people following us are real," he said.

"For networks like Instagram, it is about cutting down attempts at gaming the platform and algorithms as it negatively affects trust in advertising products."

DO RESEARCH

Mr Voedisch also encourages advertisers to do their research and not focus on absolute numbers alone.

"Look at changes over time and look at engagement figures - how many of the followers engage through 'likes' or comments.

"Brands have to do their homework and benchmark against industry averages," he advised.

Dr Netzley also encourages companies to approach a third-party measurement company which does health runs of social media accounts.

Companies like blog advertising firm Nuffnang and social media advertising community ChurpChurp practise vigilance.

While they look at numbers first, they also take into account engagement in terms of likes, and the quality and relevance of comments.

Tracking tools are also used to check the growth of followers on social media accounts.

Ms Yang Hui Wen, regional director of the Netccentric Group, which owns the two companies, told The New Paper: "We have noticed the pattern before but it's usually semi-popular bloggers who want to give the appearance of a large following. It is a shallow world, in that sense."

Ms Ngeo Mei Ting of make-up and skincare company Benefit Cosmetic Singapore said she would take measures to conduct stricter checks from now on.

She said: "We usually hand-pick our influencers and make the effort to meet and get to know them. The relationship is usually built on trust."

Their social media influencers include popular local actress Nurul Aini and YouTube breakout star and host Maimunah Bagharib.

Ms Ngeo said: "Still, I will now be more wary and monitor more closely after this (purging)."

This article was first published on December 20, 2014. Get The New Paper for more stories.