Instagram Bots Are Huge On Instagram — But Advertisers Beware
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Instagram Bots: What Marketers Need To Know—A Quick Guide
Instagram is huge. With over 700 million users (200 million of which are using Instagram Stories every day, just 10 months after release), Instagram is home to some of the most engaged fans and influential creators on social media. Instagram presents a massive opportunity for marketers to reach and interact with key audiences. Influencer marketing is a $1 billion industry on Instagram, and as Instagram’s user base grows, so, too, does the size and efficacy of the influencer marketing industry on the platform.
Instagram (and marketing on its platform) isn’t entirely without problems, though. Fake followers and bots are not only present on the platform, but common. Used by Instagrammers (and, in some cases, even brands and marketers) to boost follower counts and engagement on Instagram accounts, these bots are a deceptive and questionable presence on Instagram.
Instagram has previously taken steps to eradicate bots (remember Instapurge?) and is presently taking some steps to stop bots by weeding out fake follower accounts and effectively shutting down bot services like Instagress, but it's unlikely that bots will ever leave Instagram entirely. Here's what marketers should know about bots on Instagram.
Some Influencers Use Instagram Bots To Inflate Follower Counts
In 2014, Instagram did a major cleanup on the platform, weeding out millions of fake accounts and bots that were inflating follower accounts. In what many called The Great Instagram Purge and the Instagram Rapture, plenty of Instagram users took a hit. The most notable accounts took the biggest hits, like Justin Bieber, who lost 3.5 million followers, and Ariana Grande and Kim Kardashian, who lost 1.5 and 1.3 million followers respectively.
Influencers on Instagram, as well as every other social network, are valued largely by how many people they’re able to reach through social media. Those who reach hundreds of thousands or millions of people and garner significant engagement on posts have higher rates than those who reach tens of thousands of people or who post to audiences that aren’t active in engaging with the content.
Fake followers have a pretty clear effect, making accounts look more popular and more impactful than they actually are, but bot services don’t just deal in fake followers.
They help create fake engagement, too.
Instagram users can buy followers, likes, and even comments that make modest accounts look impressive and can make entirely fake accounts look legitimate. When partnering with influencers running accounts that have a high number of fake followers, brands and marketers pay to reach audiences that are, at least in part, just bots or at best, disinterested followers.
It’s the social media equivalent of delivering a speech to a room full of empty chairs.
Though not all influencers who use bots have totally illegitimate accounts or followings, a high number of fake followers does undermine the effectiveness of a campaign run through these accounts. In analyzing the followings of 20 million Instagram accounts, Fohr Card found that on average, 7.8% of an account's following was made up of fake followers and that for some influencer accounts, that number climbed to 20%.
Some Brands Use Instagram Bots To Legitimize Their Accounts
Brands use bots, too. Whether it’s because they want to lend a degree of legitimacy to young accounts with few followers or jumpstart activity on the account by faking engagement (the social media equivalent of throwing a party with a bunch of cardboard cutouts), brands sometimes turn to bots as part of their social media strategy.
While using Instagram bots on a brand account doesn’t have the same financial impact as paying influencers who use bots, it’s still a financial decision. Buying fake followers and fake engagement isn’t necessarily expensive (depending on the service that one uses), but there are also dozens of different services, ranging from roughly $10 per month to up to $10 per 3-day period. For some accounts, this might not be a temporary thing, either.
A major motivation for a brand using bots is likely to pick up some momentum in the likes-and-followers department. Given the way that we often evaluate the quality of an account based on followers on social (for better or worse), it stands to reason that brands would want to make their accounts look more impressive and more valuable however they could. Perhaps some of this thinking ties into the idea that once there are a certain number of followers on the account, ostensibly liking and commenting, real followers will follow suit.
The Risks Of Using Instagram Bots
They’re a seemingly easy fix for an account that’s in need of a boost in followers and engagement, but Instagram bots come with a number of different risks for brands and influencers using them.
Perhaps first and foremost is that using fake followers and buying engagement on social media to add some degree of legitimacy to an account is deceptive and it may ultimately turn Instagram users away.
If an account is obviously fake, followed largely by bots and filled with non-valuable engagement, it’s going to come off as phony. Whether it’s an influencer account or a brand account, accounts built on fake followers aren’t going to be attractive to genuine followers.
For influencers, building accounts and engagement with Instagram bots then running influencer campaigns on that account poses a major risk because it is, in essence, a type of ad fraud.
Campaign results will likely underwhelm, creating the potential for torpedoed relationships with brands and influencer marketing agencies. Influencer marketing is an effective way to reach and communicate with audiences, and when campaigns don’t draw the engagement and results that brands have come to expect from legitimate followings, it threatens an influencer’s reputation in the community and all but ensures that a brand won’t work with that influencer again.
For both brands and influencers, Instagram bots come with the risk of suspended or flagged accounts. Because both parties spend a lot of time, effort, and resources to build accounts and develop a strategy behind the account, endangering it with excessive bot activity is likely a risk that outweighs the potential rewards.
Furthermore, should Instagram choose to weed out fake accounts like it did in 2014 (Instapurge 2017?), brands and influencers risk sudden drop-offs in follower counts and engagement that leave them back at square one and expose their botting practices.
Alternatives To Using Instagram Bots
Though building a large, engaged, and legitimate following on social media is a challenge, the best way to go about building a robust social following is to do it authentically.
Following and engaging with other accounts, audiences, and peers in your space is key in social media, but influencer marketing can also be used to help brands build or increase the follower counts on their accounts.
Though we may often think of influencer marketing taking the form of product placements or product reviews, social following and engagement goals can be a big part of influencer marketing, too. Brands can partner with influencers who reach and interact with their core demographics and audiences to drive traffic and engagement to their social media accounts.
No matter how they choose to build their followings on social media, brands and marketers should be aware of the presence, function, and risks of Instagram bots on both sides of their business. They should be vigilant in evaluating the quality of Instagram accounts and determining which influencers they’re going to partner with, and should also carefully consider the potential drawbacks that come with using Instagram bots on their own accounts.
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May 8, 2017 By Mediakix Team