If you’ve been on Instagram over the past couple of days you may have noticed that things have got a teensy bit tense over Instagram likes. If you have better things to do with your time than notice Instagram drama this then firstly, congratulations and secondly, let me fill you in. On Sunday night one of my favourite bloggers Em Sheldon discovered that a lot of Instagrammers have been using ‘bots’. These bots are essentially paid for programmes that can take over your account, like hundreds of pictures each night and follow and then unfollow numerous accounts, all in a few hours work. So let’s start with the question we all want an answer to: why are people using these programmes?
They contribute to high engagement and a higher following
The logic goes that if a bot is consistently liking other people’s pictures then some of those people will give you Instagram likes in return. If you follow 100 people each day it is more than likely that some of those people will follow you back. It’s a quick way to gain followers and to keep your engagement high.
Why do I have a problem with this?
I personally take two issues with the use of these programmes.
On a personal level I see this as dishonest. Of course we all want to grow our following and engagement, I won’t sit here and pretend that it isn’t satisfying to see that number go up. However, Instagram likes should not be the primary purpose for having an Instagram account. I started my Instagram account to motivate myself, connect with like minded individuals and hear about people’s tips and tricks for staying healthy. As my Instagram grew I was able to share my love of health and fitness with more of you. That’s great because I want to encourage as many people as possible to get fit and healthy and do this in a sustainable way.
I believe that the focus of an Instagram account should always be on the content you produce. If the content that I am creating is going down badly, then I believe that it is important that I assess my content objectively and work out if there is something that can be improved. It is important to me that I am producing insightful and engaging content and that is because I see myself as a content creator rather than an ‘influencer’. Buying Instagram likes and followers is an easy way to get away with producing bad content and force it on people that don’t truly want to see it. I have no interest in having followers who feel forced to like my content and follow me because I (the like bot) regularly likes their content or has followed them under a false pretence.
It saddens me that the use of like bots creates an Instagram community obsessed with follower count and engagement figures. It creates a competitive and unsupportive environment. There has been a bit of a backlash against those of us who have spoken out against these practices. Those who are criticising people like me have argued that women should be supporting other women rather than criticising them. The huge irony, of course, is that it is the very people who use these bots who are undermining Instagram’s supportive culture. If women want to support women, they shouldn’t be creating a competitive environment based on follower count. They shouldn’t be following and unfollowing other women (or men!) to artificially inflate their own follower count. If women want to support women they shouldn’t undermine the hard work that others put into their content by devaluing genuine engagement and follower count.
Why Should Brands Have A Problem With This?
At face value it may seem unfair to say that brands are being deceived. People using like bots aren’t buying fake followers; any likes or followers they are getting are real. They’re manipulating the system to gain followers but surely that doesn’t mean brands should be worried, right? Wrong! Instagram is an unregulated platform, free from the regulation surrounding conventional advertising but this does not mean that brands should be abused. Let me elaborate with an example:
Imagine that a women’s magazine told brands that they sold 10,000 copies of their magazine each month. A brand might agree to place an advert in their magazine for X amount of money based on that figure.
Imagine that it was then uncovered that although 10,000 copies of the magazine were being sold each month, the magazine itself was in fact buying 5,000 of these in order to inflate their statistics.
Is the brand going to be happy when they find out about this? Of course not! Although the magazine may not have lied when they told the brand that 10,000 copies of the magazine were being sold, it’s a misrepresentation and it’s deceptive. When Instagrammers use bots they do the same thing. I’m focusing on the issue of followers but the case is the same for Instagram likes. If you follow 100 people every night, half of those people may follow you back. You will keep some followers who are actually interested in your content and the ones you lose will be replaced the next evening when your bot starts the cycle of follow, unfollow again. But, as long as you keep using a bot, your follower count will keep growing.
Additionally, these followers won’t necessarily be the people in your ‘target market’. People may follow you back who have no real interest in your niche, be it fitness, food, fashion etc. These followers won’t be truly engaged with your content and so offer little value to brands. Brands assume that if you are a fitness account, your followers will have an interest in fitness. Due to these bots, this may not be the case.