Instagram: the hot commodity of social media channels in 2017. No platform has gone under such vast changes and developments in the past 18 months. What has Instagram added?
- shoppable posts
- Instagram stories
- Instagram live videos
- disappearing direct messages
Why has Instagram done this? Two reasons: to compete with Snapchat, and to open up more advertising opportunities. And, given Instagram’s growth, things seem to be going according to plan:
- It has 700 million users globally, as of April 26, 2017. That’s a gain of 100 million users in less than six months; Instagram announced the 600 million user milestone on December 15, 2016.
- More than 200 million people use Instagram Stories daily. That’s more than SnapChat’s daily user measurement.
But if you notice, what do most of these developments have in common? They have authenticity at their core. Good luck faking a live video!
What makes Instagram stand out from the other social media platforms is the high engagement rate. A recent digital marketing analytics report from Trackmaven found that companies from most industries see the highest social engagement on Instagram. And as has been previously established, when you try to automate engagement (or customer service) on most social media channels – it tends to sound robotic and fall flat. If that robotic feeling is true on Twitter, it’s just as bad on Instagram.
There’s a very good reason you might want to automate your Instagram activities. Instagram, like all social media platforms, can be time consuming. I personally find Instagram more time consuming than normal specifically because of the image-based nature of the platform. You have to work to keep your feed coherent and consistent — and that’s a lot more work than tweeting the same number of times per day.
There are three ways one can automate Instagram posting and engagement:
- Scheduling posts
- Auto-liking others’ posts
- Auto-commenting on others’ posts
Even scheduling Instagram posts can be handled two different ways, once the posts are prepared.
- The software posts for you, just like any other platform’s scheduling process.
- The scheduling software sends a push notification to your device, and you finish the posting process on your phone or tablet manually.
One process is against Instagram’s terms of service, which can get your account blocked, and one is not. If you’ve used Instagram for any extended period of time, you know which one is which. For Instagram newbies, here’s a hint: Instagram values in-the-moment content and authenticity – so they want you to post manually.
Automating Instagram Likes & Comments
If one wanted to automate likes and comments, one would need a third party bot service to do so. The most popular and well known of these was Instagress, which closed down at Instagram’s request in April of 2017. Another popular tool was MassPlanner, which shut down on May 12. If you can’t read between the lines, Instagram is coming after the bot services that allow for auto-commenting and auto-liking. They are against Instagram’s terms of service. Use at your own risk.
Despite Instagress’ and MassPlanner’s recent demise, there are still lots of other automation options available. A Google search will help you find them.
The strategy behind these tools was somewhat sound: the user would choose hashtags to target, and would also program in the comments the bot would leave behind. Those comments were positive-feeling emoji, or very generic comments like, “Great post!” or “Awesome!” or “I love your profile, let’s connect!” – you get the idea. The bot would also auto-like posts using the programmed hashtag, at random.
If the actions described above were performed manually, this would be a powerful strategy. Targeting hashtags is smart. Hyper-targeting hashtags, especially branded hashtags, to find your customers is very smart. The strategy falls apart when you add in the automated likes and comments, purely because those aren’t authentic.
How do you remain authentic with Instagram automation?
I can describe this in three words: don’t automate engagement.
Why not? The same reason it’s bad to have automated replies on Twitter: there’s a good chance you’ll get it wrong. Your reply (or comment, in Instagram’s case) will be completely tone deaf. I have seen some bad comments on my personal feed (like comments of “This is awesome!” and “Wow like it” on my post where I talked about unexpectedly divorcing), but the worst I’ve example I’ve ever heard of comes from Molly Marshall. “Someone I know posted a very heart wrenching story about their daughter that had attempted suicide (but, thankfully, survived), and there were tons of auto-bot comments below like, “Best pic I’ve seen today!” “Check out my profile, let’s connect!” and “Nice shot!” It was horrible.”
But more than that, Instagram is making a very clear statement about automation. Instagram expert Jenn Herman says, “With Instagram recently cracking down on 3rd party tools to restrict the data they share related to followers and followings, and even shutting down apps like Instagress, Instagram is showing that they want their platform to be based on true metrics and engagement, not the false and inflated numbers we see as a result of these automation tools.”
Auto-liking also falls under the inauthentic automation category, even though it’s not nearly as obvious as auto-commenting. Some might call this a grey area because it’s not transparently bot-driven behavior. Other than violating Instagram’s terms of service, auto-liking runs the risk of engaging on posts that you would never, ever engage with had you laid eyes on them – just because the hashtag you’re targeting was used.
These are missed opportunities to build a community – not to mention address customer service issues that may arise – around your brand and/or hashtags. The personal touch, and clearly human comments that fit the post and/or conversation, go miles towards building social relationships. Those relationships are the building blocks to sales and brand loyalty. Brittany Berger, head of Content & PR at Mention, says, “having a bot go out and interact with people is taking a shortcut to building relationships. Engagement needs to be personal, and it’s usually pretty obvious when it’s not.”
What is safe to automate?
Scheduling with the push notification is safe to automate. It’s completely reasonable to want to plan your content in advance. Especially if you want to ensure a cohesive feed. This can alleviate some of the pressure of posting in the moment. What makes this kind of automation different is that it’s not violating Instagram’s terms of service, and it’s not a bot engaging with people. Using a tool to help you search on your targeted hashtags – a form of social listening – is also a good idea, so long as you respond and/or comment manually.
Tools to help you manage your Instagram feed – plan, schedule, respond to authentically comments, and track metrics, abound these days. Tools like Buffer, Hootsuite, CoSchedule, Agora Pulse, Later, Iconosquare, Planoly, and Tailwind are great options. These tools all keep improving — adding new features like hashtag discovery, in-app hashtag groupings, and grid visualization. You can’t go wrong with any of them, so choosing one is really your preference of price point, workflow, and interface.
There is no substitute for the human touch with Instagram, or many other places in social media. Authentic engagement is an investment of time, and irreplaceable for building community. Using a bot for engagement just makes your brand sound, well, robotic.
Instagram marketers can all tell a story about their bot interactions — whether it was an inappropriate comment for the post, or when the marketer decided to have some fun at the bot’s expense (the social media community celebrated when Instagram shut the bots down). What’s your favorite Insta-bot story? Share it in the comments below.