Ok so before you start losing your mind. Let me tell you the story from the beginning… (sorry it’s a long one)
A few weeks ago I was talking with a friend about blogging and social media in general, and the conversation turned to Instagram and bots. This was before the whole thing blew up on Twitter over Easter, I’d heard of bots but never really given them a second thought. From the little knowledge I had, I understood they were one step away from buying followers and really not a good idea. My friend actually made them sound quite appealing though and came up with quite a few positive sounding points…
So this got me thinking. Could this actually be a useful way to help your Instagram grow? Is this like an electronic PA, working on your behalf to get your profile out there and noticed? I don’t use Instagram very much. Apart from the fact that I’ve been unwell recently, I’ve never been a big user, I often go weeks between posts and don’t have a big following, so I decided to sign up and trial one of the services to see if it actually works, and if it could give my profile a boost. It’s not like I was buying followers, so what could go wrong??
I should point out here that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of sites offering a combination of paid for followers (across all social channels, not just instagram) as well as different bots. I was quite surprised at how big a business it really is.
I went to the site that was recommended to me and considered signing up – but it felt wrong. It felt like cheating… or was it? The site told me I’d be growing my following organically, so it can’t all be bad, right? I thought it was worth a shot.
I just want to point out that didn’t intend this to be malicious. I didn’t want to follow and unfollow thousands of accounts every day in order to gain a zillion followers like some people have. I was just curious and wanted to see if this could be a useful tool for bloggers to help grow their Instagram following in a genuine way.
So I signed up, and once I got the hang of using the dashboard I was extremely impressed with how sophisticated the technology was. You could literally specify what you want to do in terms of following accounts, liking posts and commenting, down to the finest detail. You could select which hours you want the bot to run, which hashtags you want to target, wether you want to like, follow, unfollow, comment, or a mixture of all of them, and how many per hour. You could also specify the location of the users you want to target, how many followers they have, and which of their posts you want to comment or like. So just for an example – you could say you want the bot to run for two hours on a Saturday morning starting at 9am. Where it will comment on 10 posts per hour which it randomly selects from hashtags that you input to the system, and like 20 posts per hour. You could also further drill down so it only chooses people in a specific country, and with specific followings too.
It really was very clever. So I set up my dashboard, input some hashtags that I use, which are mostly beauty ones, and let it do its thing by following and liking new accounts. This didnt really do much in terms of gaining more followers, though I did get a few more likes where people reciprocated, but nothing noticeable.
I then decided to try the comment feature. You’re advised to use a ‘neutral’ comment that can be applied to pretty much any instagram image. I went with ‘Love! Your feed is fab!’ which I though is friendly and positive but still quite generic. I then let the bot do its thing again.
This is where I really saw a difference. People notice comments. This definitely drove new users to my profile, and suddenly my followers started to increase, and so did my likes and comments. After my initial ‘yay this is working’ reaction, I looked at my profile and saw I had quite a few responses to my generic ”Love! Your feed is fab!’ comment – and I felt terrible.
These people were thinking this was actually me commenting on their profiles. I received some lovely replies, and this is when it first hit me that bots really aren’t a good idea at all. I felt so bad and that I’d basically duped these people. I try to be a straight up, what you see is what you get type of person, so when I realised this was happening, I just had this terrible feeling of disappointment (in myself) and guilt.
And sure some of these accounts were actually great, and had I had the time I’d definitely have commented on them myself. But plenty also weren’t, or just weren’t to my taste or wern’t of interest to me, and this bot was running around pretending to be me, telling all these accounts that I loved them – it just felt very wrong.
I have to say, there’s no doubt that the way I used this bot did give me real followers. Those that followed me decided to follow me (and / or comment) off their own back – BUT – the method you use to get people to notice you in the first place just didn’t sit right with me. Commenting on random posts, following accounts you’re not actually interested in – and of course there’s f/uf (follow / unfollow) which is something else that people have been using bots for (this is following and instantly unfollowing accounts, with the hope that those people will follow you back) It’s just all quite dishonest at the end of the day. My bot was originally set to unfollow but I changed this partway through my trial to follow to see how it changed the results. I found I received a higher rate of followers when I stopped unfollowing others – surprise surprise.
In terms of stats, overall the bot did over 6000 likes for me, nearly 2000 comments, nearly 2000 follows, and nearly 500 unfollows, all within a couple of weeks. This resulted in just over 1000 new followers plus plenty of comments and likes received (the bot didn’t give stats for these) I can’t even begin to imagine how much time this would have taken if I was doing all this manually.
To conclude, do I think Instagram bots are a good idea? The answer is no I don’t. To make new users discover you, your bot is acting as you, following, liking and commenting on random accounts, and this deceptiveness has definitely left a bad taste in my mouth. It feels wrong and dishonest. Bloggers treat themselves as businesses now – could you imagine if businesses used bots to leave generic comments on customers profiles? Its one thing having a real person work for you and represent your brand to follow and leave genuine comments on relevant users profiles, but bots completely remove the human element, they feel false, repetitive and deceptive, and after trying this one out I don’t think they can be used in a positive way at all.
So where does this leave things? Well my trial is now over, and even though my account technically did receive a boost, I’m now left waiting to see who unfollows me, when they realise that I won’t be liking or commenting on their posts anymore. As well as this, I also now need to go through my profile and unfollow all the accounts that I’m not actually interested in, so in the long run it’s actually made me more work.
In terms of Instagram as a whole though, I’ve learned that it’s pretty much a full time job to grow your account yourself. You need to be constantly on there posting new content, following, liking and commenting on new accounts that you’re interested in and that are relevant to you, as well a liking and commenting on the current accounts you already follow. Who has time for this? Definitely not me at the moment. But if you do, I applaud you and you definitely deserve success after putting in so much work. After this experience (and ending up feeling bad about the whole thing – I’m still receiving replies to my generic comment) I’m happy to just let my account sit there and not do much like it always has done.
I hope you enjoyed my post – please do let me know your thoughts xx