The f word in followers

In today’s digital era the word ‘followers’ is a universal term used on a wide range of platforms. In real life, a follower is a person who imitates, copies, or takes as a model or ideal, however on social media Webopedia defines a follower as ‘someone who subscribes to receives your updates.’ In this post, I’ll talk about what it means to have followers, online AND offline. Can our society function without status? To begin, think about the platform you use most regularly and ask yourself whether or not you can imagine it without followers. I’m analyzing the importance of followers on Instagram, especially in regard to using status as a tool for social media marketing. I found that the digital era, along with its continual growth of social media platforms has encouraged an addiction to social approval and image distortion. So how important are followers in today’s society?


To put into perspective how valued followers can be on social media here is an equation:

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I want to further build on this concept by looking at Instagram as a status symbol. Alice E. Marwick, an academic observer of American online culture argues the fluidity of status, in that a person can have it in one area and lose it in another just as easily. She says with Twitter for example that ‘not only does follower number literally measure popularity, it also implies a level of influence, viability and attention (Marwick 2013, pg 96).’ She’s right you know; as shown above, ratio plays a big part in society’s value of followers. Sadly, enough, if you’d like to witness this pitiful notion there’s an article by  The Business Insider from last year talking about the ‘cool ratio’ equation. This equation may have similar results in real life. For example, in 2001 Anderson et al (2001) of the American Psychology Association found that ‘one of the most important goals and outcomes of social life is to attain status in the groups to which we belong.’ We see this just by looking at our own social hierarchies that formed in high school. The ‘popular’ group was popular regardless of their online status. So does this mean the line is drawn between social status in real life and social status online?

Focusing back on Instagram, last year social media users got this notification…


It was Instagram cleaning up the spam accounts in a form of ‘spam purge’ and essentially taking away what looked like thousands of real followers from ‘popular’ accounts.
So what happens when we come across a popular Instagramer with a damn right ‘cool ratio’ number? Essentially, following almost no one but having thousands of followers. I’m cringing just addressing this concept but we have a perceived legitimacy based on the numbers. Sometimes we will think ‘how can YOU have these followers?’ But do we take into account the hashtagging, regularity of posts, other linked platforms, paid posts, collaborations OR worst of all ‘BOTNETTING’ (buying followers). As a regular Instagram user I’d like to think we do, but looking at the broader and even worse spectrum it’s hard to believe. Tindenberg and Gomez Cruz (2015) of the Digital Ethnography Research Centre state ‘images play an important role in how we experience being in the world and increasingly, due to the ubiquity of online interaction how we ‘shape’ our world’. This one sentence along with the thought of the contemporary quantified self can be a scary thought.

Overall, status applies to both the online and offline world. It is extremely valuable in today’s society. Having followers means you have status. There may not always be a connection between the status of an individual online vs the status they have offline. However, people interact so regularly online that a status highly regarded as one of the most important aspects of our world. Our society can not function without status as it has become more than just a number or a ratio, it’s a tool.

In previous research here is what I found to be the conclusion to getting rid of status online.

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.. just to make matters even worse, I suggest you give up your attempt to claim the ‘coolest ration number’ because Beyonce already won that award 6.1 mil times over.

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Anderson, C., John, O., Keltner, D. and Kring, A. (2001). Who attains social status? Effects of personality and physical attractiveness in social groups. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(1), pp.116-132.

Katrin Tiidenberg and Edgar Gómez Cruz (2015) Selfies, Image and the Re-Making of the Body

Marwick, A. E.. (2013). Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age. Yale University Press.