Background: Recent Drams
So unless you surrendered the interwebs and have been living under a rock for a the past few weeks, you couldn’t have failed to notice the drams going on around Instagram bots – the drams specifically being, that some people found a way to find out if people are using them and were shocked to find that some popular bloggers & instagrammers were among the offenders (please note the sarcasm).
So what’s all the fuss about? What exactly are Instagram bots? What do they do? And why are they so bad anyway? Questions, my friends, that I will attempt to answer in this blog post!
When I saw all of this drams going on on Twitter and in various blogger Facebook groups, I didn’t really know what all the fuss was about or what these bots did, so I decided to do some research and found that some of the most popular Instagram bot services offer free trials. This is obviously the point when the devil on my shoulder was poking me with his fork whispering sweet nothings in my ear about the wonders new followers could bring. So I caved, and signed up, rationalising that, naturally, this was all good research for a hard-hitting blog post exposing the truths about Instagram bots.
Anyway, so here goes, I’ve tried to helpfully split this up into:
- So what the hell are Instagram bots anyway?
- Bot Reviews
- Results (aka all the new followers & engagement)
- Thoughts & opinions
So what the hell are Instagram bots anyway?
Essentially, they act as your Instagram personal assistant, who’s job it is to like, comment and follow on your behalf, based on targeting around hashtags, users you like and locations, that you set.
Generally speaking, the services on offer are split into two categories:
1) Like & comment only services – these providers offer bots that will unsurprisingly, only like and comment on your behalf. These bots don’t follow accounts or unfollow for you.
2) Like, comment, follow & unfollow services – with these providers, as well as liking and commenting on your behalf, their bots will follow and apparently unfollow (although in my trials, none of them seemed to actually do this) accounts for you. I only trialled these services – this is because all of the providers I tried allow you to select which functionality you want, so effectively you can just turn off the follow/unfollow function if you don’t want it.
All the bots I tried also allowed you to send direct messages too but I didn’t try this feature because, honey, there’s only so much spamming I’m willing to do for the sake of
new followers journalism.
Over the last few days I’ve been trialling 3 different services; Instazood, Gramista and Turbogram – the popular Instagress service had been shut down by the time I signed up to these on Thursday evening. Each of them offers essentially the same service allowing users varying amounts of control over what kind of accounts the bot targets with likes, comments & follows.
*Disclaimer: Before you read on I just want to point out that through work, I have a lot of hands-on experience with social advertising and creating very complicated and successful campaigns – and while this isn’t a form of advertising, it’s heavily reliant on how you tell the bot to target and I’m pretty au fait with targeting to generate the best results.*
The sign-up process is the same across all providers, 1) sign up with your email address, 2) log in with your Instagram account, 3) verify on Instagram that is was you logging in through a 3rd party service and away you go.
1. Instazood – 3-day trial
This was the first bot service I tried because, after a bit of initial googling, it was the one most recommended. Interestingly though, it’s actually the least slick looking tool and on reflection the most difficult to use. BUT having said that, I think it’s actually the one I prefer.
After setting up your account and verifying on Instagram, it’s time to configure settings to tell the Instazood bot what to do. On Instazood, you can target users who use or like specific hashtags, uploads are usually in certain locations or, most helpfully, the followers of other users.
Annoyingly, you can’t mix the targeting, so you can’t tell the bot to target followers of ‘X user’ who are based in London (that would be the dream). Because of this, I found location and hashtag targeting to be redundant and got the best results, by a long way, from just targeting users of accounts I liked.
While Instazood can be fairly complicated to use at first, I think it gives you the most in return. The users the bot was finding and engaging with seemed pretty relevant to me and it gives you the most flexibility in terms of targetting of all the services I trialled. As well as this,
As well as this, Instazood also gives you really useful data about how the bot is performing. So for example, I could see the conversion rate (the % of users I was following/engaging with that followed/engaged back) for each campaign – this meant that I could see which were performing the best (i.e. which users followers were responding best to me liking, commenting & following) and switch off the others.
It’s also a relatively cheap service to use if paying, at just $9.99/month.
2. Gramista – 12-hour trial
Gramista is the simplest of the three services I tried and by far, the nicest and easier to use. In terms of telling it who to target, you can only do this by entering hashtags and location. The bot then finds users that like these hashtags regularly and whose uploads are in the locations you’ve chosen.
It gets to work really fast. When I enabled Gramista I saw the biggest increases in the number of people I was following and engaging with – and I guess in return the number of follows and the amount of engagement I was getting.
However, they didn’t feel like they were very relevant users – I don’t know if Gramista is just too simple or if I just didn’t get the hang of the targeting options correctly but the bot followed A LOT of random accounts that weren’t really relevant to me or what I post about.
I think this is the limitation of a service that only offers to target via hashtags and location – these can be so broad that really, the chances of the bot finding and engaging with users that are relevant to you, are actually, super slim.
Apparently, Gramista is introducing the ability to target the followers of other users, similar to the other two services I trialled, and if this is the case, I’d be interested in trialling it again to see if the relevancy of users the bot finds dramatically improves or not.
When paid for, Gramista is the most expensive service I trialled, at $39.99/30 days.
3. Turbogram – 7-day trial
Turbogram was the final service I trialled and the one that’s still running because, hello 7-day free trial! – by far the most generous of all the services I looked at trialling.
Like Instazood, Turbogram offers to target the followers of users you like, so this is the feature I’m using currently. Kind of annoyingly though, it also insists you enter some hashtags to target, (you can’t separate them out like you can with Instazood) – I tried to keep this quite niche to prevent the issues I had with Gramista.
Again, like Instazood, the targeting seems to be alright, the accounts I’m following aren’t super random. I also like the reporting dashboard you get with Turbogram, you can see everything the bot is doing and track the changes in your follower/following numbers.
However, it just feels so slow! Compared to the other bots I trialled, it moves slower. Maybe this is a good thing, you’re less likely to be penalised by Instagram but it just feels like it lack oomph. I don’t know, maybe I’m being harsh on this one and maybe I need to give it longer but considering it’s functionality is very similar to Instazood it just doesn’t stack up.
When out of trial, it’s a very competitively priced £10/month.
So what happened? Did I gain like eleventy-billion new followers and thousands of likes on every post?!!
But I did get some new followers, honestly, about 100 per day – which is no insignificant number. I also saw engagement on posts go up, recent posts with about 50-70 likes before have around 100-140 likes now so that’s a 100% increase in engagement.
Where did the followers & engagers come from? Well, I think this is a mixture of people following me back and people following me because I liked their posts and left comments. Not everyone who followed me was someone I had already followed.
The bots also followed a couple thousand people on my behalf. The most annoying part of this experiment was having my feed of beautiful accounts I follow ruined. None of the services I trialled seemed to actually unfollow accounts that didn’t follow back. This meant that I had to use one of those unfollow apps to clean up my feed. Maybe I didn’t let any of them run for long enough but I don’t know if I’m okay with sacrificing my perfectly crafted newsfeed.
- Do not use more than one bot at a time – Instagram can and does recognise this kind of activity – I got a warning that I was following too many accounts and ‘misusing’ this feature when I had enabled both Gramista and Instazood at the same time. I did a bit of research about this and Instagram does ban people that they think are really abusing the follow/unfollow features and spamming.
- The number of people you follow will go up dramatically (if you enable the follow/unfollow feature) – so be prepared to see the quality of your newsfeed go down or spend time using apps like Cleaner for Instagram to unfollow accounts you’re not interested in.
- If relevancy is important to you (which it should be), targeting the followers of users you like is the best way to do this. Hashtag/location targeting will get spammy.
Thoughts & Opinions
So when all is said and done, what do I really think about Instagram bots?
Morally, I get the arguments that you’re one step away from buying followers and engagement but I don’t know if I agree. You’re not forcing people to follow you or like and comment on your pictures, they’re doing it of their own free will. And they’re not fake accounts either, they’re real people.
What does make me feel slightly uneasy is that the generic comments you’re leaving like ‘I love this!’ and ‘you have a lovely feed!’ aren’t genuine. I got a lot of lovely replies from people saying thank you for my comments and I felt like I was manipulating them.
Likewise, the follow/unfollow thing feels a bit wrong. But then part of me is like, if the reason you’re following me is that I followed you, then you’re part of the problem too right? You’re also playing the game!
And I think that’s the problem with Instagram, it is a game, it’s so tough to build a following on Instagram, that’s why these bots exist (and Instagram ads). Think about it, when would Joe Bloggs down the street get to see your profile, organically, without ads?
- If they happen to search for a hashtag you use and you come up
- You’re tagged in a picture of someone they follow (but how likely is that to happen?)
- If you like or follow them (but the same problem right? Why would you do that if you didn’t know who they were?)
- Or like I’ve just said if you actively search for someone because you know them – either in real life or they’re famous (bloggers/vloggers included)
When I was going through all of the accounts the bots followed to unfollow, I found some really good new people that decided to keep following because their pictures are amazing (!) – but they only have like 100 followers. If you want to succeed on Instagram, it’s not enough to be talented and have good content, you have to play the game or have some serious contacts up your sleeve.
All of the bot services talk about that they help you increase exposure, getting more eyes on your profile and if those eyes like what they see, they’ll follow/engage. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Having said that, as I said, some of the features have made me feel a bit uneasy so if I continue using bots like this, I’ll probably forego the follow/unfollow functionalities and maybe the commenting too – in favour of a less deceiving ‘liking’ bot.
One final thought – I can’t help but think that those who have protested the most about Instagram bots over the last few weeks are those who are already rocking the Instagram game, with big followings and sponsorship deals. It might seem cynical but it’s clearly in their interest to strike fear into the hearts of those using these bots to grow their following. Because they might catch up and you can build a genuine following using them if you target correctly.
So there you have it, what it’s really like to use an Instagram bot. What do you think about them? Have you tried one? Do you think you will now?