unsplash-logoDominik Scythe

A question we’re often asked here is some form of Can I/Should I/How do I get an app (aka bot) to follow, like, and comment on Instagram for me?

The short answers: Can you? Yes. Should you? Probably not.

Over the past few years — especially as Instagram began to go bananas and become the “it” social media channel for brands — a number of apps have emerged with the purpose of automating the most “social” element the network: Engagement. We toss that word around pretty loosely, but what it means for our purposes is any time someone goes out of their way to like, comment, follow, share, etc. on any social media platform. We use those numbers to gauge the relative success of a piece of content. The reason that we care about building that engagement is that it’s about more than just a number; it’s about building a connection with people. That doesn’t have to be as altruistic as it sounds — it means that we’re talking about stuff that people care about. The problem that most people have found as Instagram continues to grow, is that growing a following of your own takes time and energy.

Enter: Robots

Like most things in today’s world, people looked to machines to make their lives easier. And, understandably so. Why should we be in there double-tapping photos for hours on end, commenting “Love it!”, and following accounts in the hope that they follow us back if a bot can do all of that for us in a fraction of the time? Like most things in today’s world, the answer is: It’s complicated.

For starters, let’s dig into why we’d want to do those things in the first place. When we like and comment on posts, or follow a particular account, it’s possible that the account (read: the human managing the account) will take an interest in who just engaged with their content. From there it’s possible, if not probable, that they’ll take a look at some of our posts, and like/comment/follow us as well.

Win-win, right?

Sure. The issue is that, as Instagram grows in popularity, it becomes more challenging to cut through the noise and get someone to see, much less engage with, our content. #thestruggleisreal. So some people have employed bots to do that work for them by setting some parameters around which posts and accounts should be lavished with some of those sweet, sweet hearts and comments. Others have used bots to go out and follow dozens, hundreds, or thousands of other Instagram accounts.

OK, so still win-win?

Well, not really. The result usually looks something like this:

Image: Calder Wilson

When we remove the human element, canned comments become obvious at best, and contemptible at worst (imagine someone adding “omg I love this!” to a post about a natural disaster or terror attack). We can also lose sight of the reason we’re on there in the first place: To build connections with our brands, which hopefully leads to people liking and sharing our messages, and ultimately becoming customers/users of our products and services.

When followers are gamed, or purchased, through these services we also lose the ability to vet them as people we wish to be associated with. Maybe they’re anti-polar bears and pro-The Big Bang Theory (the show — not, like, the probable birth of the universe). As brands with values and missions, we can’t afford to appear to be aligned with such monsters.

OK, so maybe you’re willing to throw caution to the wind in order to save some time and pad your stats. I don’t fault you for wanting to find efficiencies. But here’s the rub: Instagram just announced that over the coming months in 2018 they’re killing the part of their API (the technical thing that allows these third-party apps to plug into Instagram) that enables these services. They call it “deprecation“. I call it salvation. What that means is that everyone who set it and forgot it is in for a rude awakening when they realize they have to find a new way to grow their audience without bots. Those who have been doing it the old fashioned way all along probably won’t notice the difference.

So that leaves us in a position that’s both exciting and alarming to me. On the one hand, it’s going to force us all to start being “social” again. On the other, it could lead some to a paint-by-numbers/copy + paste engagement strategy that looks exactly the same as today, but costs a lot more. My hope — and challenge to you — is that everyone recognizes the value in doing this social media thing for real, and uses the time they devote to it to build an audience of truly connected and loyal fans.

Worried about the bot revolution? Excited about the new changes? Think The Big Bang Theory is a cosmically underrated TV show? Come @ me.

Flynn Lowry


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