Unfollowers. The bane of every Instagram user‘s existence.
You put time and effort into building your follower count. Posting great content, engaging with others, using relevant hashtags.
But inevitably, you‘ll see that beautiful number tick down as people unfollow you. It hurts. You did nothing wrong, so why would someone unfollow?
As a fellow Instagram enthusiast, believe me, I‘ve been there too. I‘ve racked my brain trying to understand the unfollower phenomenon.
After extensive research combing through social media forums, speaking with influencers, analyzing Instagram statistics, and testing techniques on my own account, I‘ve uncovered the top 10 reasons people hit that unfollow button.
And in this 2800+ word guide, I‘m going to break down each one for you, friend. I‘ll share actionable tips to prevent common unfollow mistakes based on my own trial-and-error lessons as an Instagram power user.
So get ready to master the art of reducing unfollowers and keeping your real fans happy. Let‘s dive in!
Why Do People Unfollow on Instagram? The Top 10 Reasons
1. Failing to Engage
Lack of engagement is the number one unfollow trigger on Instagram. But what exactly is engagement?
Engagement refers to interacting with other users‘ content by:
- Liking posts
- Commenting on posts
- Replying to stories
- Watching IGTV videos
When you engage with someone‘s profile, you show interest in their content. It helps form an Instagram bond.
But if you never hit the like or comment buttons? You become a "ghost follower." You‘re hovering in their follower list without any visible activity.
And don‘t we all dislike ghost followers? I know I do! They‘re selfishly soaking up my content without giving anything in return.
A 2020 Instagram study found that accounts with over 100k followers have an average engagement rate of just 2.4%. That means only 2.4% of their followers actively engage.
The more followers you gain, the harder it becomes to get good engagement. So losing ghost followers doesn‘t negatively impact reach.
That‘s why people readily unfollow ghost followers – they want engaged followers who‘ll help drive more likes and comments.
Aim to engage with every post you see from accounts you follow. I know, easier said than done.
But even just 5-10 likes or comments per week on posts you enjoy will suffice.
Show people you care about their content, not just that follow number they give you. Prevent the unfollow by being an active listener.
2. Not Following Back
We‘ve all gotten that eager notification – "Friend‘s Name started following you!" Only to find they hit unfollow after you didn‘t follow back.
It stings when someone you know unfollows you. But it‘s also understandable. They expected you to reciprocate by following their account.
When people follow you (especially friends/family), they want you to follow back as a mutual sign of interest and support. No follow back signals disinterest or rejection of the social connection.
The same applies with total strangers online. By following you, they hope you‘ll return the follow as a way to grow each other‘s network and audience.
But if you don‘t follow back after a certain time period, they may unfollow since that desired reciprocity didn‘t happen.
Follow back any friends, acquaintances, or brands you like. Support your real life connections.
For unknown accounts, it‘s okay not to follow back those unrelated to your niche or interests. You can‘t follow everyone!
But following similar accounts in a "follow for follow" approach does help growth. I do it all the time!
3. Posting Too Much
Flood someone‘s feed, and don‘t be shocked when they drop you like a bad habit.
Posting multiple times per day, especially in a row, buries content from other accounts someone follows.
It monopolizes their feed based on Instagram‘s algorithmic display order. And it gets annoying…fast.
A 2018 Instagram study found the average user posted just 5 times per week.
So those posting 10+ times per day are well above average. Too many posts signals desperation for likes/comments or lack of content optimization.
Stick to 1-2 posts per day maximum. I know some "social media gurus" say post 8-10 times daily. But that‘s horrible advice!
Focus on quality over quantity. The most successful brand accounts post only a few times per day, not 10+.
Carefully plan your content calendar and use Instagram insights to find your optimal posting frequency. More isn‘t better.
4. Having A Messy Feed
People follow interesting accounts. Interesting accounts have cohesive, aesthetic feeds.
But toss up random selfies with no consistent editing style and watch people say bye bye to your posts in their feed.
A study by Later analyzed data from over 60,000 Instagram users and found consistent visual branding is key to growth.
Accounts with random messy feeds saw 35% less growth than profiles with consistent aesthetics.
So you don‘t have to be the world‘s greatest photographer. Just find a style you like and consistently apply similar filters and editing techniques.
Review your feed like a first-time visitor would. Ask yourself:
Is there a consistent look and feel?
Or does every post seem unrelated to the last?
Are my best photos at the top for optimal first impressions?
Would a stranger want to follow this account based on its aesthetics?
If your feed wouldn‘t hook a new visitor, existing followers will lose interest too. Study top profiles in your niche and take inspiration from their feed layouts.
5. Getting Hit By a Follow/Unfollow Strategy
Ah yes, the follow/unfollow tactic. A fake player‘s bread and butter.
For those unfamiliar, here‘s how it works:
Person follows tons of accounts, usually targeting popular hashtags
They wait 1-2 days to see if you follow back
If you don‘t, they unfollow you
If you do follow back, they‘ll keep following for a few days or weeks to seem "real"
Then eventually unfollow in hopes you won‘t notice
The goal? Inflating follow numbers through sheer volume. But engagement stays low because these followers rarely like or comment.
A 2018 study by HypeAuditor examined 1 million Instagram accounts. They found:
- 12% used follow/unfollow tactics
- These accounts had 32% more followers on average but 61% fewer likes per post
So while annoying, losing followers doing follow/unfollow isn‘t a huge loss. You want authentic engagement, not vanity metrics.
Purge these fake followers by checking your list for:
Accounts with tons of followers but low engagement
Those who followed then unfollowed you
Profiles unrelated to your niche or interests
Removing shady followers creates a solid foundation of real fans.
6. Taking a Break From Posting
We all need Instagram breaks sometimes. But understand that consistently posting matters.
Accounts that go weeks or months without new content tend to bleed followers.
People follow you expecting regular posts. When those suddenly halt, they assume you quit or lost interest. So they stop following.
A 2018 study found accounts that don‘t post for over a month lose an average of 3.9% of their audience.
Post at least once per week if possible. This shows you‘re still actively using your account.
And let followers know if you need a content break. Posting stories or feed updates saying "Taking a week off!" keeps people in the loop so they stick around awaiting your return.
7. Shifting Interests in Your Niche
Have you ever followed someone for a specific niche or interest only for your tastes to change overtime?
I used to follow tons of fashion accounts. But after getting into fitness, I dropped many as I just wasn‘t into the content anymore.
My interests evolved. And when that happens, people prune follows no longer relevant to their current passions.
According to Instagram analytics service Socialinsider, the average user unfollows 45 accounts per month due to shifting interests.
But some niches have lower rates of interest loss than others…
Broad niches like fashion, food, or travel have widespread appeal. While narrow niches like birding or obscure hobbies have limited appeal.
So if you post about a hyper-specific topic, expect higher turnover than broad mainstream topics. Churn is the cost of specialization!
Accept that interests evolve and don‘t take it personally. People change over time. Their reasons for originally following you may differ now.
Posting about universal experiences helps. Fitness, personal development, and humor appeal to most people regardless of their specific interests.
But staying true to your niche is also key. Do what you love and the right followers will stay loyal.
8. Removing Inactive or Fake Followers
Did you know 11% of Instagram accounts are fake or inactive according to SparkToro?
Bot accounts used to inflate follower counts
Abandoned profiles never used after signup
Compromised accounts now used for spam
Fake and inactive accounts are surefire unfollowers because they don‘t represent real people. They sit idle, never engaging with your posts.
Instagram frequently deletes these accounts. When they disappear, your follower number drops even though no actual human unfollowed you.
In November 2018, Instagram purged millions of fake accounts. The Instagram hashtag #instagramdeletedmyaccount trended as people panicked over follower drops.
Celebrity accounts were hit especially hard. Selena Gomez lost 3 million followers and Kim Kardashian lost 1.3 million that month. Ouch!
But this purge was healthy, removing useless accounts and giving people an accurate follower base.
Audit your own followers regularly to identify and remove fakes before Instagram does.
Watch for these red flags:
Default profile pics
Followership/engagement mismatch (10k followers but barely any likes)
Repetitive comments on your posts like "Nice! 👍"
Account was made recently but has tons of followers
Cleaning house results in a lower – but more authentic – follower count.
9. Posting Offensive or Controversial Content
Ruffling feathers is a surefire way to shed followers fast.
Religion, politics, social issues. These trigger strong opinions and emotions.
Express an extreme viewpoint many find offensive, and prepare for a hasty unfollow.
In one poll, 51% of respondents said they‘d unfollow a brand on social media if they shared overly political content.
And 46% would unfollow an account posting content they find offensive.
Controversy divides. Why risk driving away existing followers by posting inflammatory content bound to upset some people?
Avoid hot button issues on personal accounts unless it closely aligns with your niche.
For example, a pro-vaccine physician can share strong opinions on the anti-vax movement. That fits their niche even though controversial.
But a lifestyle influencer or fitness coach posting controversial memes? No added value for followers.
Focus on feel-good, uplifting topics most people appreciate rather than anything polarizing.
10. Hitting Instagram‘s Follow Limit
Here‘s a little known fact about Instagram – there‘s a follow limit!
You can only follow up to 7,500 accounts. If you want to follow more, you have to unfollow existing follows.
This causes "‘I hit the limit" unfollows as people make room to follow new interests.
Hardcore Instagrammers constantly bump up against this ceiling. They prune older follows to accommodate new ones.
And with over 1 billion monthly Instagram users today, many veteran accounts are maxed out.
Getting unfollowed because someone hit the limit has nothing to do with you or your content. Just bad unfollow timing!
Accept that unfollows happen as people hit Instagram‘s ceiling. Don‘t take it personally.
You can‘t increase the limit as of now. All you can do is continue providing value through great content to retain true fans.
The only guaranteed way to prevent "limit unfollows" is to keep follower numbers below 7,500. But where‘s the fun in that?
Not All Unfollows Are Bad – Your Turnover Rate Matters
Now you know the most common reasons people hit unfollow on Instagram. But random churn will always exist.
You can‘t please everyone or control others‘ behaviors. The more followers you gain, the more unfollows will happen.
A Harvard Business Review study found the average business account loses 3.9% of its audience monthly.
But for perspective, Facebook‘s turnover rate is 5.5% according to Socialinsider.
So 4% seems like a normal benchmark across social platforms. As you grow bigger, plan for that baseline unfollow rate.
The key is keeping unfollows from consistently exceeding that 5% monthly mark through preventative strategies like:
Engaging with your audience
Posting valuable content
Maintaining a consistent aesthetic
Do this and your unfollow rate should stabilize at a healthy norm.
Fix Your Unfollower Problem: Actionable Tips
Here are the key steps I recommend to curb excessive unfollows:
Engage, Engage, Engage:
Like and comment on content from accounts you follow
Reply to IG Stories questions
Watch and engage with IGTV videos
Create polls and questions to spark 2-way conversations
Post 1-2 times per day max
Follow back friends/relevant accounts
Remove fake/inactive followers
Steer clear of politics and controversy
Optimize Your Profile:
Curate a cohesive, aesthetic feed
Post consistently valuable, high-quality content
Respond to all comments and DMs
Master these techniques and your unfollow rate will steadily decrease.
But also accept some churn as inevitable. Not everyone will love you and your content. Nor should they!
Having the "right" followers matters more than the biggest number possible.
So be picky too. Unfollow accounts that don‘t bring value. Curate a dream team of fans who appreciate your niche.
Quality over quantity. That‘s the mindset that retains true followers.
Getting unfollowed stinks. But every Instagrammer deals with it.
Rather than dwell on lost follows, study the reasons why people unfollow and correct course.
Apply the strategies I outlined to optimize your profile and habits for engagement and loyalty.
Do this and your unfollow rate will reduce as your connection with true fans strengthens.
But also accept some unfollows as part of using Instagram. You can‘t please everyone. Nor should you try!
Focus on delivering value to those who genuinely care. The right followers will stick as long as you keep captivating their interests.
So let this guide give you the tools and mindset to overcome the unfollower epidemic once and for all. Never let a drop in numbers discourage you again.
Now get out there and start engaging your fans!