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.