Many may remember the “Instagram Wrath of 2014”, a period of time when Instagram took a large step at removing fake and spam accounts from the platform. The repercussions of this “purge” included a major follower count decrease on both celebrity and influencer accounts. Since 2014, Instagram has taken further measures to reduce spam activity on the platform. “Spam” is considered to be “any service that allows people to create bots to gain inauthentic followers.” Third party apps including “Instagress” have been asked to shut down their operations by Instagram, as their ethos is in direct conflict with the guidelines of the app. Instagram’s guidelines prohibit users from “artificially collecting likes, followers, or shares, posting repetitive comments or content.” Instagram’s stance against bots is reflected in its mission statement, where the platform notes it is seeking to maintain an “authentic and safe” community and space for “inspiration and expression.”
Some small business and up-and-coming brands view bots as an effective tool to gain attention and drive traffic to their new profiles. On social media apps, numbers play a significant role when we first view a profile and assess its legitimacy and ultimately, whether or not we will follow the account. High numbers in terms of followers and engagement place heightened attention on the brand or person behind the account, as we are accustomed to believe that these high numbers ascribe more significance to the account, leading us to pay closer attention to the content. Additionally, some automation tools actually aid in driving traffic to new accounts by way of algorithms which target generic comments, likes, and follows. A positive aspect to Instagram bots is the potential to help an account reach new audiences, and potentially real followers and authentic engagement too.
However, when bots are involved, large engagement numbers lead to false impressions and a lack of authenticity behind the account. When automated activity is detectable, or in some cases obvious based on a high follower count compared to a much lower engagement, it also reflects poorly on the individual or brand behind the account by suggesting vanity is more important than the quality of content and brand building. Automated comments are typically short, incomplete sentences, for example “Nice shot!”, or even more simply, an emoji. These empty comments do not aid in building a following or fan base as there is no genuine interaction taking place. These “fake” comments are more visible and more easily detected than likes, which could be hidden amongst thousands. Bot visibility is unfavorable as it reflects poorly on the account, ultimately deterring potential followers from the profile.
In terms of marketing, it is imperative to decipher between authentic activity and paid-for bot account activity. Certain apps and websites exist for the sole reason to provide automated engagement for their clients that is disguised as “real accounts.” Savvy Instagram users know when their public accounts are receiving bot likes and comments, and may even experience a large follower increase followed by a sharp decrease. Whether Instagram will enact another “purge” or not remains unknown, however it is clear that the app is becoming more rigorous in terms of keeping the app spam-free.
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