Let's Talk Numbers

Journalist Lucy Lucraft explores why influencers bot in the age of the digital algorithm.

On Instagram? What’s your growth like? Slow? But what about engagement? That’s the important number. Isn’t it? Hang on... But what about reach? What does that even mean? Let me just switch to a business account so I can see my stats and get back to you...

Instagram started as way to share snapshots of our daily lives peppered with snappy captions, and garish filters liberally applied for good measure. But now? Instagram is still that place for some but for many more it’s a marketing dream.

Brands flock in their droves to get their products into those perfectly curated little squares. Being an influencer is a viable full-time job and being ‘Instagrammable’ is a thing worthy of the highest accolades.

How do you grow your Instagram account?

Curate your feed, they say. Post your best, they say. Use great hashtags and engage, they say.

There must be an easier way...

How to gain followers and influence people

If you’ve been around the Instagram echo chamber for a while you’ll have heard about bots. You might have heard the word ‘shadow banning’ and perhaps heard about ‘follow/unfollow’ too.

They promise to grow your following while you sleep, engaging on your behalf and cutting out the hours you need to put in to achieve your first 10k, and get that coveted swipe up function.

Tempting, right?

Faking it to ‘make it’.

I’ll admit I’ve been tempted. I spent the past year trying hard to grow my I’m still at a mere 3000 followers. So, after another unsolicited email from a company promising me Instagram magic, I signed up for a free trial. Yep, cringe.

Within minutes the bot got to work; liking and following, admittedly real, accounts. The next time I checked into Instagram my feed was beyond recognition, filled with accounts I’d never seen before and images I wasn’t interested in.

Fast forward three days and my trial was up. I cancelled my account and got to work writing up my experiment.

And my follower number? It went up slightly. But it went down by the same amount as the weeks went on because that’s how it works – the bot follows people in the hope they will follow you back which, by and large, they do. Once you have their follow you can unfollow them……dizzy yet?!

Luke Hall, lead designer at a logo design studio, used bots to grow his company’s following: “I set up the bot to like lots of entrepreneur and startups.

However, it doesn't do much good for your image/reputation. Although you can take some precautions, I noticed my account was liking images containing nudity. I quickly got rid of this as I didn't want to damage my business.”

The day the bots died?

Instagram’s ethos of #communityovercompetition means bots have never been tolerated, although many feel not enough has been done to crack down on those using them.

But times are changing.

The New York Times reported on the detective work uncovering Instagram bots now demanded by many brands keen to ensure they are on the right side of bot-law.

The future for Instagram influencers…

So, what’s next? Well, brands are wising up to those using them and seeing the benefits of the ‘micro-influencer’ (those with 10k followers upwards) too.

Lawrie Jones, MD of a digital marketing agency warns: “I think we’ll see marketers becoming much more sophisticated in the way they deal with influencers and social media companies.

It's about building brand currency, and you need to associate yourself with influencers that fit your values. Choose the wrong one and your brand will take a long time to recover.”

You’ve been warned!

Words by Lucy Lucraft.

Image by @white_onerice.