Ever since Instagram was purchased by Facebook, the app has been moving towards a fee-based approach for selling your followers back to you, and expecting you to pay for your posts to be seen by new users. The introduction of algorithms that prioritize how content is viewed in feeds rewards users with high levels of engagement, rather than those who post frequently or time their posts well. Since Instagram does not treat all content equally and rewards those posts that immediately get the most likes and comments, it makes sense to try to get as much engagement on your posts as possible. One way to do this is to like and comment on other posts that are similar, in the hopes that people will check out your content and leave a like or a comment as well.
Yet, small business owners are busy and simply don’t have time to engage enough to grow their Instagram followings. One option, then, is to use a program to help you like and follow. These programs are referred to as bots.
Of course, Instagram doesn’t want you to use a bot because then it becomes harder to convince you to pay Instagram to promote your posts. If you’re using a bot to grow your following, rather than paying to promote your posts, Instagram makes less money. In addition, Instagram is eager to ensure that the platform retains an authentic feel, and bot accounts can jeopardize that atmosphere. These two factors have led Instagram to make the automated liking and commenting programs a violation of their terms of service.
To get around this, many Instagram users join “comment pods”. A comment pod is a group of Instagrammers who agree to like and comment on each other’s posts, beefing up engagement and thereby increasing the odds of getting their posts in front of more followers. Instagram comment pods have been very popular and, if you think about it, they’re essentially the human labor version of using a bot. The benefit of this approach is that it’s free, but it requires everyone involved to spend time – probably daily – liking and commenting on every group members’ posts.
There are many blog posts about how bots are terrible and don’t get you real engagement, but as a professional marketer, I have to say that I disagree with this attitude wholeheartedly. You don’t need to use a bot to like things, of course, but it can save you a considerable amount of time. And bots can also help get real eyes of potential customers on your Instagram account, showcasing your brand’s beautiful wares.
I realize that some readers will immediately say, “But it’s not real! It’s not authentic engagement, and the only followers you will get are bots!” But I have to ask – is batch writing blog posts to save time inauthentic? Is scheduling content to post automatically on your brand’s Facebook page or Twitter account fake? Is developing an editorial calendar of content scheduling somehow hoodwinking your audience from the real you? What about offering to send your products to bloggers in exchange for more exposure? It’s time we stopped pretending that social media accounts for small businesses are just for funsies. Your brand’s social media channels are advertising your products and services, plain and simple.
I also don’t think it’s fair to tell small business owners that there’s yet another thing they have to do on their own to get their feed, products, or services in front of the eyes of potential customers.
So let’s do a little automation mythbusting!
It’s time we stopped pretending that social media accounts for small businesses are just for funsies. Your brand’s social media channels are advertising your products and services, plain and simple.
Myth 1: Your new follows will be bots
Not true. If you stick to using unique hashtags–like #knittersunite instead of #knitting–you’ll reduce the odds of bot accounts following you. Stay away from using very popular or generic hashtags, like #lifestyle or #diy, which can increase your bot follows. You can read more about our team’s Instaplus experiment here. Although Instaplus has since been shut down by Instagram, it’s still worth checking out the range of experience you can expect.
Myth 2: Everyone will know you are using a bot
False. If your bot is automatically liking things with a relevant, specific hashtag, no one will know you’re using a bot. Most automated programs include speed settings and allow you to schedule the number of times a day when they run. They also typically include a threshold for the maximum number of likes they’ll allocate. Set this as low or as high as you’d like.
Myth 3: Bots are ruining the authentic Instagram experience!
I would say no, they aren’t. When Instagram introduced an algorithm to determine which of your followers see your content in their main feed without going to your account specifically, the authentic Instagram experience went out the window. Scheduling likes helps get potential customer eyes on your latest posts, which undoubtedly feature your brilliant products in a stunning photo with a well-written call to action.
Feeling like your craft business could use a little help in the Instagram department? Here are some tips for using automated programs authentically:
Tip 1: Set your automated program to like photos with very specific hashtags
Instead of #knitting, try #igknitters. Instead of #sewing, try #ilovesewing. Instead of #embroidery, try #embroiderersofinstagram (check your spelling on those long ones!). Use about 8-10 hashtags that have a very specific demographic and that align with your brand’s niche, and avoid using generic, one-word hashtags.
Tip 2: Autofollow people who use your brand’s hashtag
It makes sense to follow people who post about using your products and have used your brand hashtag–they are helping to spread the word about your wonderful business! Be sure to follow up with a genuine comment on their post as well. There is no need to autofollow other hashtags.
Tip 3: Don’t be afraid to block spam accounts
This is true no matter how the spam account found you. You can usually identify spam accounts because they have zero personal photos or information and are frequently populated with meme reposts or stock photography. The linked information in the bio on spam accounts usually looks suspicious as well. Just block them. You don’t need fake followers.
Tip 4: Don’t try to use an automation program to comment on people’s posts
We’ve all seen the generic “awesome!” with thumbs up emojis, or “great shot!” on a ho-hum photo that was more about something going on in your life than showing a stunning finished craft. Auto-commenting is rarely a good idea. Instead, use the bot in conjunction with authentic Instagram interactions: look at those who have commented on your photos and write something specific about their posts. That way you’re actually building real connections.
If you need the help of an automated service, you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. You are a small business owner who is juggling many tasks, and using an Instagram bot as part of your marketing strategy can be a smart choice.
Interested in getting started? Check out these Instagram bot programs:
Editor’s Note: For an alternate point of view on Instagram bots, read this recent article from the New York Times,“How Bots Are Inflating Instagram Egos.”
Leanne is the principal owner and multi-hat wearing fearless CEO of Stitchcraft Marketing. Leanne holds an M.A. in Sociology and a B.A. in English and has 20+ years of experience in sales and marketing. Prior to starting the agency, she owned a website design and hosting business for 10 years. She’s been a knitter since she was 18 and sews, spins, scrapbooks, and makes jewelry so she behaves like, and certainly thinks like, your customers.
It all depends on what your aim is, I guess. I may schedule blog posts and social media posts ahead of time, because it’s just content. But I still always personally reply to comments “in the moment”, and have the time for building those relationships because of the batch tasking. Part of my brand is that it’s a community, that I genuinely care for my followers’ and customers’ thoughts and posts and makes, and therefore will interact on social media as such. If your bigger aim is to grow in numbers in terms of a head count rather than relationships, then sure, maybe bots are for you.
Have you not heard about Instagram sending cease and desist letters to many bot developers, such as Instagress and MassPlanner?
While I love bots, I think it’s really a bad idea to use bots on Instagram right now because it’s against Instagram’s terms of service, which this writer does not mention at all, and they are coming after bot developers hard.
Plus you still have to do organic engagement to make the bot as effective and believable, such as commenting on all those accounts you’re following.
Also you’re skirting around the issue of unfollowing … you can only follow up to 7500 accounts on Instagram so at some point, to continue this strategy, you’ll need to unfollow people.
Please rethink this – it is a bad strategy that does not give people all of the information they need to make an educated decision about bots for Instagram and by posting it, you are endorsing it.
I just viewed the IG TOU’s and cannot find anything about using bots to like or follow.
Hi Jennifer! I have indeed been hearing about the cease and desist letters, but I strongly believe Instagram is not doing this to protect the authenticity of the community, but to make sure that as a brand, your only valid option to get your Instagram in front of more eyes is to pay Instagram directly to promote the post. It is against the terms of service for Instagram because Instagram is a business, and they want to make money. Instagram (like it’s owner, Facebook) makes its money from advertising. I couldn’t find hard data on Instagram’s income, but Facebook derived about 93% of its fourth-quarter revenue from ads. Ad revenue for the quarter was $3.59 billion. So absolutely, Instagram wants to make sure that you can’t use any 3rd party software to do what it wants you to pay it to do.
I don’t believe in doing the following or unfollow automatically at all- it isn’t so much much skirting around as I just don’t think it’s good to use it. I believe only in the liking things – not following, unfollowing, or commenting- automatically. Some have great success with autofollowing, but I also prefer to have my feed with only photos from those accounts that I truly want to see more of.
I do endorse bots for ‘liking’ highly targeted niche hashtags that are relevant to a small business, as it gets more exposure for your brand without requiring you to spend hours in Instagram each day. I also agree that comments and follows should be engagement you are consciously choosing to undertake, and not automate. But my main point is that I feel that small business owners are already so heavily burdened with so many tasks, and Instagram is one of the biggest drivers in social media marketing at the moment, some may want to know that they don’t have to do it all. I’ve even heard of some businesses farming out the exact same tasks of an automated program of liking, following, commenting, or unfollowing to virtual assistants in other countries. There is clearly a demand for outsourcing the enormity of social media, and not all small businesses can afford to hire someone in-house.
The IG TOS DOES address bots in section 10: “You must not access Instagram’s private API by means other than those permitted by Instagram. Use of Instagram’s API is subject to a separate set of terms available here: http://instagram.com/about/legal/terms/api/ (“API Terms”).”
The app creators are in violation. And also part 4: “You agree that you will not solicit, collect or use the login credentials of other Instagram users.” – many of the apps attempt to login as you since they are NOT using the API and this too is against Instagram TOS.
Also under GENERAL CONDITIONS 10: “We prohibit crawling, scraping, caching or otherwise accessing any content on the Service via automated means, including but not limited to, user profiles and photos (except as may be the result of standard search engine protocols or technologies used by a search engine with Instagram’s express consent).” – this describes bot behavior.
The IG API document states clearly right at the top of the page (https://www.instagram.com/developer/) that “Instagram API Platform can be used to build non-automated, authentic, high-quality apps and services…” …. key point being NON-AUTOMATED.
I’m ALL for bots and saving time but given the current attitude IG has displayed towards bots and that the behavior is mentioned several times as not allowed in the TOS, I still stand with my statement that giving advice to use tools on Instagram that are not API approved WITHOUT disclosing this current climate is not cool.
I found a few lines about automation in the IG TOUs:
You must not create accounts with the Service through unauthorized means, including but not limited to, by using an automated device, script, bot, spider, crawler or scraper.
And nothing in the API TOUs.
In other words Instagram doesn’t want bots to create accounts. There is nothing in there (that I could find) about using bots to like or follow.
It would be helpful to get a comment from IG…
Yeah, Instagram just shut down Robolike too, which was seen as a pretty “mild” version of all the bots available. They’re getting super aggressive about shutting down the bots, and from what I’m seeing in several IG Facebook groups I’m in, some of the accounts that were using them along with it. Yes, the idea of bots is great, but it’s really not worth losing your entire account over. Even comment pods, I was in one for over a year, until the reach got so bad that it was no different than posting a regular post. IG knows if you’re in a comment pod — they can “see” the posts being shared back and forth between the same group of people, and those same people commenting on the posts. So in the long run, they don’t seem to do much and are just using up a lot of time you could use to comment and like people’s photos who are potential customers.
This is a super interesting feed and I am enjoying following it. I read a really good post a few months back (I can’t remember where) and they discussed the reason that IG has let bots go on for so long unchallenged (and by unchallenged, we mean closed down, not hiding behind threatening language in the appearance of taking action).
And it is simply that the bots inflate numbers which is to IG’s benefit – if IG numbers were left to increase naturally and without outside influence, it would take a lot longer to see the numbers that bots create. The article pointed out that at one point – when the numbers were high enough based on the bots influence – IG WOULD shut the bots down so that IG could reap the rewards of the advertising revenue without having had to do the hard work of getting numbers up.
I think this is what we are seeing now but as IG haven’t shut down all of them, I think they are still biding their time.
There are not enough hours in the day to like enough and comment enough on other users to get anywhere on Instagram now without the assistance of a bot. I have used like bots in the past and I grew like crazy with it. I wish I had figured them out a year and a half ago, and I would have a respectable following now. It brought me real people because of the way I used it. I never did follow and unfollow, and targeted specific accounts where I knew potential customers would be. I still spend time every day replying to everyone and leaving real messages for the people I follow, (and on some stuff I go out and look for in yarn company accounts etc.) but that bot is the only thing that got me any sort of account growth. If we went back to the days of no algorithm, then it would be different. But now? It feels pointless to try and grow.
I have just about given up on my Instagram because I don’t think it’s worth the amount of time it takes to produce. I cut back to one update a day in my gallery feed and I do stories every day or two. I will allow myself no more than an hour on the platform in a day to check in with everyone and see what they are doing. The statistics regarding the traffic Instagram drives to your blog or shop or whatever are pretty grim. I’ve heard it’s as low as 1%, so unless you have a massive audience it’s pretty much a waste of time to get people from there to your blog post. My Google Analytics bears this out. One of my business coaches says the same thing. Plus, Instagram is like Facebook and it doesn’t want you to send people away. The point is to keep you on the app as long as possible. They make more money that way.
The better way to use Instagram is to utilize it as it’s own independent channel and to make sure the visuals you share align with your brand values. Share what you’re doing, of course. But don’t expect it to lead to any meaningful traffic or significant sales. Unless you are over 30K followers and at Influencer status, you are not going to drive any traffic or make any real money on your Instagram now. Too few people see what you are doing for it to make any difference. And honestly, if you don’t have the help of a bot at this point, you will never see numbers like that. I need to hire two or three teenagers to go out and like stuff for me all day so I can get my actual work done. I’m very put out with the whole thing right now.
You are right about the amount of traffic it actually drives elsewhere. I was working with a client who identified that she wanted to increase her IG numbers to help her with her Etsy sales. For the last 4 months, we have been very targeted and systematic on trying to increase her numbers without using a bot.
And the amount of sales that have come to her Etsy shop via IG? – none, zip, zero, nada. I think that she has now seen the light on using IG and is looking to formulate a Pinterest solution (which I think is perfect for what she makes).
You got to know your numbers folks…numbers don’t lie!
Yeah, it’s kind of disappointing to accept it. I think once you get your number up to a certain level and you have a good critical mass of followers, it does help. But….the stories are where it happens. And figuring out how to shoot stories so you stay at the front of the pack is the key. I haven’t figured out the formula for that as of yet!
I’m having some help with my google analytics and going through the numbers of where the traffic comes from in terms of the website is also very telling. I have to figure out how to convert those visitors to subscribers. As well as get the traffic numbers up again. I have dropped like a rock since April.
An interesting and thought-provoking post (as we have come to expect from CIA, bravo!). I have to say that, as a USER (taking off my small business owner hat and speaking just as a member of the general public), I will always shy away from anything that comes of as inauthentic. We are all savvy enough to know that we are getting the wonderful social platform Instagram for “free” in exchange for being subjected to advertising. PERSONALLY speaking, I am comfortable seeing ads in exchange for the ability to participate in what I like to think of as a community (mostly) of my peers, and of a few brands that I choose to follow. What I react badly to is when a brand tried to disguise themselves as a peer, (whether they are a small business or not). When I look at an IG ad, I want to know it’s an ad (and not an inauthentic post attempting to be a subversive ad). Sometimes, I even buy the products I see advertised. However, when I feel someone is trying to dupe me, I just unfollow them. This is something I think brands should also be considering when weighing up whether a “bot” is a good choice for them.
What a great perspective! Thank you for adding it here. And as a small business I’m also happy to pay for that advertising especially considering how highly targeted it can be on a platform owned by Facebook.
Wow! There are a lot of strong opinions here! After reading this well written article I was ready to start growing my account using bots but then the comments made me take a step back. I don’t known what I want to do now. I guess I’ll just watch, wait and see.
Thanks for the interesting article. I’m, personally, using the Bigbangram (https://bigbangram.com). I tried it’s free version and decided to use this bot further. Dunno if this bot is better than others, but I like it. In the blog on their site there are useful hints, for example how to automate mass unfollow. Also I like their hashtag generator, saves my time.
Today there is a big competition among different programs. everyone advises those he uses. I like https://ingramer.com. Approach to the choice you need consciously. Need to learn the settings and functions. You must clearly understand what you are going to achieve. What should be in the program for your report. I studied the proposed programs for a long time.