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Turns out I've been living under a rock... an Instagram-shaped rock. 'Bloggers', 'influencers' and generally all sorts of people are frequently using bots on Instagram - automated tools developed to gain you followers and likes. Here's how I found out that some of the 'grammers I followed were using bots, and why this tactic makes me feel so uncomfortable.

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Disclaimer: I'm not out to upset anyone with post. I just want to give the issue some air time, enable anyone interested to understand insta bots and share my opinion. I think it's only fair that everyone understands this tactic and forms their own opinions about it. I'd love to hear your thoughts too.


What are Instagram bots?

I came across a post last weekend by Sam Squire. Lured in by a (very well written) tweet. It claimed he'd become an 'Instagram influencer' using bots. I was curious, so I read the post. I knew bots existed and had already decided that I would never use them - for reasons I'll explain later - but I was eager to understand a bit more about them. So here's what I found out from that post and an evening of frantic googling (we've all been there).

When you use a bot to 'boost' your account, it can automatically like and sometimes comment on posts across Instagram - in turn, increasing your prevalence across users' feeds. It can also follow and unfollow accounts rapidly on your behalf. You'll gain followers and likes in return from this automated activity. This can all be done quite intelligently and subtly, if you opt for premium tools, based on hashtags. So, for example, I might want to optimise on #fbloggers, because it's a more 'natural' choice for my content and the types of accounts I might want to follow me. Interesting... right? But also arguably risky...


Of course, this costs money. Seemingly, not alot a lot. But Insta users are paying for these third party tools (or even people) to use their accounts in this way. Unfortunately, it would seem that bots are far more effective than Instagram's own advertising tools. Which is insane.

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Why are people using this technique?

These automated tools are a way of combating the Instagram algorithm that so many of us love to hate... and tweet about! The algorithm isn't making life easy for a lot of us. You can read more about the changes made last year here. Growth and post engagement has, for many, been detrimented by the way Instagram now works. Very shit when you put so much hard work into your content.

From what I can see, bots are being used to help generate traction on posts and followers. This may be because they want to up their numbers, or it could have a more direct motive. Someone could be using bots to benefit their outlook for gaining access brands, marketers and PRs - even to earn money through 'delivering' ROI on campaigns (likes on photos).

Now, this reasoning for using bots isn't news to me at all. Working in marketing, I know you need to watch out for this kind of stuff. Of course people are out, in some instances, to seek big brand collabs and money through generating impressive (fake) stats.

The industry is heavily focused on follower numbers - as you may well have experienced. Campaigns with follower number requirements, where you won't even be considered if you're outside 20k.

Things are changing though, and a lot of agencies and brands are opting for bloggers with strong engagement rates (total likes and comments on a photo, as a percentage of your total Instagram following) rather than huge follower counts, to guarantee impact and maximum ROI. Bots can help to boost these rates. Although, this isn't guaranteed. And if you were to start using this tactic and then stopped, I'd anticipate your engagement would fall drastically. Naht good.

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How can I find out who is using bots?

After reading that bots are 'common', naturally, I wanted to try to suss out who was using them. Seeking real-life evidence, I felt like I was that nasal presenter from Cheaters. But in all seriousness, I really questioned the commonality of the tactic and didn't think I'd be able to spot it.

I went to check my own Instagram and it was confirmed. Yes. There were indeed people I followed quite clearly using bots.

If you were hoping I'd call out names here, I won't be. I'm not down with that. But I will tell you how I sussed out those Instagrammers blatantly using automated tools.

With bots liking a loads of supposedly 'relevant' pics automatically on behalf of an account, I thought checking out my much neglected 'following' toggle on the likes page was a good place to start. Although, I thought the bots were supposed to be pretty clever in the posts they were liking. So I shouldn't have been able to notice any weirdness, right? Well... erm, WRONG. I definitely saw clear evidence of bot-usage.

After scrolling for all of 15 seconds I found at least 4 accounts who were clearly using automated tools. I'm genuinely chuckling as I recall the photos they were apparently 'liking'. A sequence of seriously bizarre posts. I'm talking photos of babies dummies, from an account about babies dummies (erm, u ok hun?). To over-airbrushed head shots of people posted by (clearly) fake accounts, or even weird cartoons, that I can't even begin describe.

MAJOR #BOTFAIL

I would be horrified to see my account being used in that kind of way. And embarrassed, actually.

Some of the accounts that seemed to be using bots were bloggers / Instagrammers with sub 20k followers, trying prompt some growth. But aside from those 'smaller' accounts... there were also accounts with half a million followers doing this too. I was particularly weirded out by seeing that.

There are other ways of spotting people using bots. And, of course, there's a margin for error with my method. You could have been hacked, or you might just really like baby dummies...? But if you kept an eye on your 'following' likes feed, you'd soon spot patterns of weird post likes. The ones I'd found were blatantly obvious. But I'm sure there will be some bots that can go relatively undetected.

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Where do I stand on the use of bots?

I've tried to keep the information in this post opinion-free. I've failed at that, I know... but that's because, personally, I'm really against the use of bots. And according to the (tiny) twitter poll I ran last week, 64% of you felt the same.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, authenticity and honesty are massive reasons for my love for the blogging community. And I believe that any influencer / blogger should take authenticity seriously, or it will come back to bite you in the ass. I feel that this technique is disingenuous. And that people need to be cautious with it for several reasons.

The movement towards brands and PRs valuing engagement, rather than pure 'influence' is an interesting addition to the mix. I mentioned too that I'd expect if you were to stop using bots, your engagement would plummet. So I almost feel that by using them, your digging yourself a deeper and deeper hole as time goes on. You'd have to keep spending money and trusting these 'tools' to keep the facade going.

Needless to say, you're likely putting yourself at higher risk of being hacked. And your Instagram homepage feed will go to shit - completely going in the face of it's purpose to bring you the content you love most.

Aside from this, we don't know when the next Instagram algorithm change will be and I'd anticipate if their advertising is loosing out to bots, they'll revise the algorithm to kill off these techniques in the near future. Instagram want your money, they don't want it going to third parties. I'm convinced they will find a way to resolve that.

I'll admit, I've now unfollowed a few people on the basis of them noticeably using bots. Because it's made me feel pretty sad that numbers matter this much to people and a bit deceived. Did they really like my post? I'm no longer participating in comment pods for similar reasons too. Sure, it's nice to have more followers, but I'd like to know that I'd earned them. And as I've not personally seen anyone admit to using the bot tools, I'm guessing it is an underhand thing within the industry, whereas comment pods seem to be the norm.

So, what do you think about bots? Do you use them? Did you know about this before? I'm genuinely really interested to hear your opinions and experiences of bots so please leave a comment!

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3 comments

  1. Yes, yes and YES. You've really nailed this post. I tried the Instagram promotion, as you saw, but yeah it totally failed. It's so sad that this Instagram bot thing is probably a better way of getting engagement. I personally am totally against it. I HATE the idea of comments and likes going to accounts that I can't control. Don't you also hate it when you get a 'bot comment' on your own posts saying something crap like 'cool'???!? I'd hate to inflict that on somebody else and come across as fake!

    Robyn / www.phasesofrobyn.com

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    1. Thank you!! Yeah the lack of control is scary! I really hate bot comments too - you can always spot them! I've definitely deleted a couple because they were so random! x

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  2. Truly loved this post Robyn. You write SO wonderfully. After the weekends huge outing of influencer bots over on twitter it's turned me into a mini Miss Marple and it truly upsets me that some of my faves have dabbled with/continue to dabble with bots.
    Thanks for this blogpost lovely and for discussing it without picking on anyone. I agree that we need to tackle this problem as it's not cool, but I really don't agree with the online bullying that has taken place this weekend. Well done girlie x

    ALSO, your imagery and Instagram feed is one of my absolute faves right now so keep doing whatcha doing. Your style is reet up my street!!!!

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