If you want to sell something online these days, a lot of your marketing strategy just boils down to ‘brand influence’. How many followers do you have? How many likes do your posts garner? How many people are talking about you?

As a newbie writer, most articles bombard me with information on how I should concentrate on being heard on social media sites to sell my book. And man, it is hard to get even an iota of attention on any platform. It’s bloody fucking difficult.

Here’s the most annoying bit of having few followers online — people think they can take you for a ride. For example, I have only about 300 followers on my Instagram account and several people who call themselves ‘book reviewers’ keep reaching out to me, asking me if I would like to pay them for a review. Some of them had 100,000+ followers. I felt flattered, but there was no way I was going to pay anybody for a review. However, out of curiosity, I checked their Instagram pages, and what surprised me was the low engagement on their posts. Despite having 100,000+ followers, they had only an average of 100 likes per post. That just seemed a little odd and made me wonder if most of their followers were just bots. Or people with fake profiles. I mean I have friends who are just regular friendly people, who are not trying to become ‘influencers’ and their posts rake up 200/300 ‘likes’ with just 700/800 followers. And that’s because regular people have their friends and family following them, or people who are actually interested in their life. Not bots.

Days later, I see an interesting news article on my feed — RAPPER BADSHAH ADMITS HE PAID RS 75 LAKHS TO BOOST LIKES, VIEWS.

Rs 75 lakh is almost 10,000 dollars. I am not even kidding. This Badshah guy is pretty popular in Bollywood, consider him Kanye West of South-Asia. He apparently paid some firm to gain more views and likes on his music videos and confessed the same to cops. While I first laughed at the news article, I thought about just how desperate even established artists are to gain more ‘likes’ and ‘views’ on their content to establish they are popular or whatever. It’s just sort of sad.

A popular Bollywood singer lamented how even established personalities succumb to such cheap tactics to maintain the optics of their brand. Here is a screenshot of the tweet —

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Well she is right about the artist being ‘lazy’, because garnering organic likes and followers is a hard hard job. While some of his songs are very catchy, the bulk of them are pretty average and their lyrics even worse. Sample the fucked up lyrics from one of his songs — ‘If you follow your diet plan, your figure will make me change my flight plan’ — the fuck? March this year he dropped a song whose title sounded like an already popular song and what he came out with was just a ‘cringe-fest’. At least 700,000 people have hit the ‘dislike’ button on the video. Take a look for yourself —

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(YouTube Screenshot)

Sure, you might argue ‘hey, cut him some slack, the video has 4.5 million likes, so what if there are some haters?’. But well, we don’t know if he bought those ‘thumbs ups’, do we? It totally makes sense that this guy needs to pay people to increase the positive buzz around his creations.

And this just makes you question just how ‘real’ the millions of followers of certain celebrities are. Remember the time when big names like Opran Winfrey, Ellen has lost million+ followers when Twitter decided to eliminate suspicious accounts on its site?

Well, here’s the link the the NYT article to jog your memory — In Twitter Purge, Top Accounts Lose Millions of Followers.

Kim Kardashian West lost about 3 percent of her Twitter following, dropping down to about 58.5 million as of Thursday evening. Justin Bieber had been stripped of about three million followers so far, while Ariana Grande lost about 932,000. -Excerpt from the same article.

I am not saying these guys paid firms to boost their followers, but it just establishes that there are millions of fakes accounts and bots that just follow several famous accounts. And some these accounts are obviously owned by firms that offer services to people to buy ‘likes’ and ‘follows’. And some celebrities were indeed found guilty of paying firms to get them more followers. One celebrity lost over 70% followers after the ‘clean up’.

A lot of sites now have stricter policies when it comes to fake account and you can end up being banned if it’s found that you have bought followers. Because being an online ‘influencer’ is serious business, with brands paying people with a large following, because they believe their followers are ‘real’.

As a new writer, I see no point in paying anybody anything, because I want to make money out of my books. I want people to pay to read my book. I don’t want to pay them to read my book. That’s just fucking stupid. Me paying any sort of money to buy fake followers also wouldn’t help me in any way either. I need real people following me, showing real interest in me and my work and actually bothering to buy my damn book and leaving a review because they wanted to and not because I paid them to. That’s like setting up a shop and then giving away your product for free to the customer and topping it off by giving them money for taking it for free.

I have been reading books all my life and only after becoming an published writer am I beginning to understand some knew facets of the publishing world and how some writers work. Now I have a concrete idea as to why some SHITTY BOOKS become bestsellers — they are probably by writers who are simply buying favorable reviews. Some ‘reviewers’ ask for less than one dollar to do review books, so if you can set aside 100 dollars to pay small-time reviewers to leave a reviews on a bunch of sites, you can easily rake up 100+ fake positive reviews. That’s just insane. Because getting product reviews on any site is a herculean task. It took me 6 months to get 10 organic book reviews on my debut book. And I have seen somebody on social media get 100+ reviews on their book within a month and I know for a fact that almost all of them are paid reviews.

Here is the thing — I can definitely afford to set aside 100 dollars to just get paid reviews on my book. One just needs to make up their mind about looking at it like an ‘investment’. A 100 favorable reviews will obviously give my book a massive boost, both in terms of visibility and rankings and will definitely influence other unsuspecting readers into thinking “ooh this book has such great reviews, let’s me try it out”. Next thing you know — BOOM — you are probably selling thousands of copies due to a ripple effect.

I just can’t ever get myself to do it when it comes to my books. I have been reading books since I have no idea when, those are my fondest memories. I might have become a writer only recently, but I have always been a reader first. Books are my first love, they were in my life before music and films became an obsession. As a reader, I could never betray/mislead fellow readers with paid reviews of my books. I just cannot.

Nobody is getting a single dollar out of me, forget 10,000 dollars. I do believe in giving free copies of my book in exchange of a ‘honest review’. A fair trade? That’s a debate for some other day.

Disclaimer – I originally published this post on my Medium account – Would You Pay 10,000 Dollars For ‘Likes’?