How to tell when someone is using bots on Instagram

How to tell when someone is using bots on Instagram
02/08/2018 Aime Cox-Tennant

EUGH. I ruddy hate Instagram bots. These little widgets are semi-automated engagement fakers, throwing out meaningless interactions in an attempt to get your attention. Unfortunately, these Instagram bots *kinda* work, so well-meaning- and not-so-well-meaning brands, individuals and influencers continue to use them to spam your good work.

I get heaps of questions about Instagram bots, and have touched on them recently in our Summer 2018 Instagram Tips post (spoiler alert, using bots was not a top tip), but here’s my deep dive on Instagram bots, how you can tell if someone is using them, and what to do when you encounter Instagram bots in the wild.

 

Instagram bots: the lazy way to a success of vanity

Instagram bots have been around for a couple of years now in different guises. These tools break the Instagram terms of service, and so tend to get shut down after a while with very little notice. You may have have heard of the defunct Instagress or the current Instazood, or countless iterations with the more generic ‘Social X’ nomenclature.

The Instagram bot providers allow Instagram account owners to automate different Instagram actions in order to be noticed but other Instagram users. You can send likes, leave comments and follow accounts in the hope of a follow back.

And yes, they kinda work when you also have a beautifully curated and valuable feed. The trick/skill is in the targeting, using these tools to narrow down an audience that absolutely should be following your brand. If you want to know more about being a better Instagram bot user, Eduardo Morales writes about audience targeting in his article, How To Automate an Effective Instagram Bot that isn’t Spammy.

I flitter between ruddy hating all Instagram bots and their users, to not really minding the well-used ones, to being mad at Instagram for not making it easier to achieve what the robots do through legitimate means.

I mean, you should be able to reach these highly targeted followers with Instagram’s paid advertising, right? Nope, not according to Facebook. Good luck reaching your own darn followers let alone new ones. So yeah, I can see the appeal of robots – but I still ruddy hate them. Most of the time.

 

Instagram bots like first

Ya know that rush when you get the first like on a new Instagram post? You can be fully aware that social media pulls on the same brain strings as addiction and dependency, and still get that warm & fuzzy rush. After all, we all just want to be seen and be liked.

When you first add a post on Instagram, it’s only going to be shown to your current followers – and probably just your most engaged followers too. If a stranger account likes the post, it’s going to be a bot.

If you’re running a business account on Instagram, you can see the cold hard numbers by checking your Post Insights. In the first 30 mins or so of posting to the Studio Cotton account, I can see that the number of people who have engaged with the post is always higher than the number of people who have seen it – ergo some of those people are evil/lazy robots in disguise.

 

Instagram bots comment last

When you get new comments on old posts out of the blue, it’s probably an Instagram robot. Most of these automated tools allow the user to restrict the age of the posts they want to engage with, but I’m guessing most Instagram bot users cast their nets out wide, especially when starting out, resulting in weird new comments on quite old posts.

 

Instagram bots comment inhumanly

It’s nearly impossible to compose an Instagram comment that makes sense on multiple posts, which is why a lot of these robot overlords don’t bother – instead using a string of generic hyperbole or a jumble of emojis.

“OMG great pic!”

“This is 💯💯💯”

“🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼”

It all makes me want to 🤮. Unmanaged, these comments are damaging the reputation of your Instagram account. After all, Instagram is a just a confused robot who can’t always tell the difference between robots and humans.

Every comment on your account left unanswered could be an overlooked human fan, a missed opportunity for genuine, non-robot conversation. Mark these comments as spam when you can, and get rid of the bad bot detritus.

 

The Instagram Followers-to-Following ratio is off

If a lovely local Instagram account with 3,000 followers has started Insta-flirting with your newbie brand, it can feel ever so flattering. Before you commit to any relationship with this Schrödinger’s Robot, check out the ratio of the number of people they are following compared to the number of people following them.

An imbalance towards the ‘following’ value is a big giveaway that the account is using the follow/unfollow tactic to get you to notice them. They’re not really interested in you, sorry girl.

 

They’re following more than 1,500 accounts

I’ve ooed and ahed over this value, as it’s easy to fall into the trap of following some accounts because you think you should, or following someone you met at an event that time, or following someone just in case one day you might meet at be best friends.

But in reality, nobody has more than 1,000 people they find geuinely interesting – especially on social media. I certainly don’t. If someone is following over 1,500 accounts, chances are they’re using the follow-for-follow attention grabbing tactic.

Instagram allows each account to follow up to 7,500 other accounts. Girl you cray. Facebook is always banging on about how social media is for promoting real relationships through Time Well Spent…

**Unnecessary maths interlude**

Ok ok, I reckon a 10-minute conversation, once a year, could constitute Time Well Spent maintaining a genuine relationship with an individual.

  • So that 75,000 minutes
  • Which is 1,250 hours
  • Or just over 52 full days

Babe, that’s every Sunday for a year. When am I going to nap and/or binge watch Queer Eye? Nobody is genuinely interested in maintaining relationships with that many people.

Even with 1,500 followings, you’d need to spend over 30 eight-hour days interacting to hit 10 mins per person. It ain’t right. Babe. Babe, wait. Babe.

 

**Back to the blog post**

Where was I? I must admit that I had a 2 day break after the above maths, mainly because I needed to take these sickening robot pics.

 

Instagram bots follow you when you’re clearly not their jam

I get followed by so many business coaches, marketing companies and entrepreneurs from the US, but why?! I ain’t their jam. Studio Cotton is not their target customer, and our content is so far removed from theirs that’s it’s definitely not for #instainspo.

It’s because they’re using lazy-ass targeting to get my attention, and ok – yes – they got it. But it made me hate them a little bit.

Don’t be fooled by the flattery, if someone follows you but is ridiculously far removed from your usual followers, it’s going to be someone using robots and using them badly.

 

A warning: your artificial flirtation can generate real-world rejection

“Hey Aime, do you know Janet Services Inc?”
“Not personally, but I’ve heard of Janet Services Inc, why?”
“Janet Services Inc keeps following and unfollowing me on Instagram”
“Janet Services Inc must be using a bot”
“It’s forking annoying”
“Yeah”
“I hate Janet Services Inc”

Sometimes I hate Janet too (especially this Janet, but never this Janet), and that’s the monumental risk that comes with automated engagement tactics on Instagram. For most small indie brands, you are your Instagram account – and letting a robot take the reigns is just dangerous.

Small mistakes and misconfigurations can lead to the wrong kind of attention. Once someone sees you’re faking your attention and using shortcuts – you’ll always be the person faked attention and used shortcuts.

 

I honestly didn’t know how to sign off this blog post. I do ruddy hate Instagram bots, but as the previous mentioned Eduardo Morales mentions, when they’re used ‘well’ – your followers shouldn’t be able to tell.

So maybe I don’t hate the bots, but I do hate the people and brands who are terrible at using bots.

I’m not sure that’s any better or any worse, but at least now you can spot bots too – and perhaps even join my Instagram spam/scam reporting army.

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