Social media is a rapidly evolving beast and what was once easy for brands and individuals is now difficult. Something I’m asked often is: should we use bots to help grow our following? In this case, focusing on Instagram which seems to be the current channel where bots are rife. You’ll know this by the plethora of comments you get that say ‘nice’ or something similarly generic across any post with a hashtag.
An Instagram bot is a paid service that gives likes, comments and follows that are automated through your Instagram account without you needing to do anything. They’re reasonably cheap too – for around $10 you can give 10,000 engagements that you target through hashtags, followers and the accounts that you want to get near to.
This quote from a Reddit thread shows why many are so bot-curious:
“My boss doesn’t realise there are ‘like bots’ out there…. I’m creating the content for IG, and my “likes” are down and I’m getting roasted. I know it is because we have almost ZERO actual organic growth on the platform, and I know it is from the fact we just spam hashtags like #igdaily. (I’ve tried to move away from this.)” full thread here
In an environment where many are using bots and few understand that social media has largely become a pay to play channel, I dont think this is the only SM manager struggling.
So if you can’t beat them should you join them? Are bots a good idea to give a quick engagement and awareness boost or do they simply cheat the system in order to raise vanity metrics?
I decided to give it a go.
After researching a few bots I found reviews pointing to Likestagram as the most credible. One of the dangers of using bots generally is that Instagram could recognise them for what they are and block your account as a result. That’s why it’s key to always test on a personal account and to gain full approval, outlining the risk fully, before ever setting one up on a client’s Instagram account. In the same vein I decided to test this out on my blog’s Instagram account The Full Agenda.
I went for the $10 package which gives you 10,000 likes ( I know, cheap right?)
In the theme of being a ‘lifestyle blog’ I ran the below targets:
- Likes on the followers of similar bloggers and lifestyle magazines (which I listed)
- Likes on hashtags such as #lblogger, #bblogger, #fblogger and so on
- Targeting my followers with likes
Here’s what I discovered:
- I definitely saw a higher average number of likes against the images I was posting over the month, compared to images I had posted prior to running the bot. Regardless of whether I added hashtags or not, I went from averaging around 10-30 likes to 60-80 per post. While this is a vanity metric (do they truly like the post or are they just responding to your like on their own? It’s possible some accounts even have a bot set up that says ‘if X likes my account like their latest post back’) I do think the more likes your post has, the more it will then achieve organically.
- More followers. Since running the bot over a month I’ve gone from 343 followers to 434. Considering I’ve been running this account for a few years and have only achieved a small amount of followers this does help the account to look more appealing on the surface. If you were attempting to work with brands (or again, use the power of people jumping on trends) this could benefit your account. Also, two months later and I still have 423 followers. Unlike other ‘fads’, it seems that these followers have stuck around.
- Interestingly, many of the accounts I’ve been following for a while (and whose content I love) have followed me back since I’ve been targeting more likes at their accounts. I see this as a benefit as they are the accounts I wanted to build relationships with – which is why I followed them in the first place. As someone who doesn’t sit on Instagram enough to be able to frequent regular likes on their images, it does show that the more regular interaction you have with your followers the more they reciprocate. I could also guarantee that these likes and engagements (unlike the ones from non-followers) were genuine.
- This is a super cheap way to raise engagement and following – at $10 for 91 followers, you could easily boost your account 1000 followers at a time for as little as $100. Compared to Facebook and Twitter ads, this is a much cheaper way to gain page ‘fans’.
- It’s a bot! Unfortunately, followers and likes are both vanity metrics. For most brands, the true goal is something more tangible – website visits, product sales, referrals and so on. I didn’t see a rise in clickthroughs on my profile URL, site traffic or email sign-ups during this period – all more valuable metrics which I see as higher value than followers or likes.
- It sits very uneasy with me that people who I genuinely admire and wanted to build relationships with had perhaps been ‘duped’ into following the account by believing I had been spending time engaging with their account. For ‘faceless’ brands, perhaps this isn’t such an issue, but for individuals and bloggers, the question of whether this is an ethical way to grow followers does arise. When you have people following your account that you know in real life this also poses the problem of someone mentioning an Instagram image they posted and you having no recollection of it, despite having liked it!
- Short-term gain. Unfortunately this method only works for as long as you are paying for it. Since ending the campaign I haven’t seen a higher number of engagements or likes on my photos and the growth of followers has slowed immensely.
Would I recommend using an Instagram bot?
In a nutshell, no. It’s something which I could see would build value for bloggers and individuals but isn’t something I’ll be recommending to the companies I work for and individuals I advise. While bosses like those above would be easy to impress with this method, in the long run this isn’t a sustainable way to build value.
When people are following you for your likes back, rather than because they can’t live without your content, there’s no longevity which could cause problems in the long-run. For bloggers in particular, the expectation from brands is both based on follower counts and individual engagement per post, which is often a percentage of followers. The more followers you have, the more engagement your posts are expected to get.
If you want to use bots to help you break the 1,000 followers mark then fine. But is it going to get your brand long-term results and help you to achieve your goals? Unarguably no.
If you really want Instagram, or any other social media success, you can’t cheat your way to the top. It takes hard graft, compelling content and a true understanding of what your audience wants to see.
Like any marketing activity, the good stuff doesn’t come easy. But when you reap the rewards of the seeds you sowed through hard graft and not cheap bots? Well there’s no feeling more wonderful.