You know how when someone say don’t do something because it’s bad but you have to do it to see for yourself? Well, that’s me. Every successful blogger/Instagrammer will tell you that Instagram bots do not work. But I really had to see it for myself from those that do promote it and owe their growth to bots.
My Instagram Bot Experience
For my last blog, Method To My Atlas (if you missed my first post in The Blogging Diaries series, I recapped all my failed blogs including MTMA), I wanted to really concentrate on growing my following on Instagram. So I joined a Facebook Group called Instagram Master Minds to try to figure out and learn how other people gained a following. I always knew there were bots on Instagram; I think we’ve all gotten those random likes from strangers 2 seconds after a post and comments that are an emoji or generic word that doesn’t really fit with the picture.
Most people are against bots on the surface, but a surprising number of people do you use them. I struggled a lot with creating an Instagram following. I didn’t know how difficult it was until I started from the ground up. I think most people start with adding their friends on Instagram, but when I first started, I wasn’t ready to share it yet because I didn’t really know where I was going with it, so I didn’t tell anyone. Actually because my accounts were linked, people started finding me by themselves. Nevertheless, I was struggling and wanted to see how everyone else was using it.
Using A Bot
So I signed up for Instagress. Instagress (now shut down by Instagram) allowed for a free trial so I thought, what was the harm? Even if I used it for only a bit, it couldn’t hurt. So I signed up for the free trial.
Because it’s no longer around, I can’t provide a screenshot of what the dashboard looked like but it was pretty straightforward. Instagress allowed users to automatically like a photo with a certain tag or by certain users. It was actually pretty refined, you could choose users with a certain amount of followers, etc. and choose the interval of time in between likes (i.e. liking 10 photos every hour) so that Instagram doesn’t mark your account as spam. Similar to the first option, there was also an option to write a comment for certain hashtags.
Now this was a large debate between many Instagrammers. The follow/unfollow method is basically when you follow someone, and then after a set amount of time, you unfollow them. I’m embarrassed to say that I also tried this method as well as it was an option on Instagress. Sometimes you could choose to keep following the person (follow only, no unfollow) but then slowly my feed would fill with random pictures from people I didn’t know or had no interesting in following. I think this is probably on my part as well as I chose tags that were very generic (#travelinspo, #instatravel, etc.) as I was looking for travel bloggers but really, everyone uses those travel hashtags, not only travel bloggers. But I also wanted to appeal to people who were interested in travel, so it was a hard balance to find.
This was not a part of Instagram, but it was a part of the Facebook group that I mentioned earlier. What is an Instagram Pod? A pod is basically a group of Instagrammers that are added into group chat on Instagram and agree to like and comment on each other’s Instagram post.
What is the point of a pod? Simple, to boost engagement.
Upon a lot of Instagram research, it’s theorized in the community that Instagram favors posts with initially high engagement. After Instagram changed their algorithm to show photos based on what it thinks you want to see (as opposed to when it was uploaded in chronological order), people have been trying to find ways to counter the algorithm. The theory is that Instagram will show your photos to a select amount of people when it is initially posted, then depending on how it is received; it will distribute it to the rest of your followers. So, Instagram Pods were created to boost initial engagement, not only for your current followers, but also to show up into the “Explore” feed of Instagram’s search feature – which will ideally get you more likes/followers.
A pod is simple, whenever you post a photo, you Direct Message (DM) it into your pod and ask them to like and comment on it. Then, when you receive a notification as well, you do the same. Pods do come with a lot of challenges though. I was a part of a couple and the best pods were also people in my niche (travel). I was in a pod for women but because people would post about anything from fashion to travel, it didn’t really provide any benefit because a part of liking/commenting is that their followers would also notice you. Additional problems were the logistics of pods – there was no accountability and it was really difficult if you lived in a different time zone than everyone else. The goal of a pod is to gain a high engagement as soon as the photo is posted, but if you’re in a pod with people all over the world, it proves to be quite difficult. Another problem was there was no accountability. I noticed that I would constantly be liking/commenting on other people’s photos, but they weren’t reciprocating even though that was the agreement.
However, I will say that not all pods are bad. I actually did make friends through Instagram pods. Like truly, kind, thoughtful, talented people. But I’ve learned they are not really for me. It’s honestly a lot of time and energy that I found can be instead focused on engaging with your followers, posting really high quality content, or creating captivating and thoughtful captions. So while I do see the appeal in pods, it’s not where I want to be spending my time and energy.
What I learned
Instagram bots and pods have been an interesting journey. I actually stayed with Instagress for a month or so because after the free trial was over, I forgot to cancel my subscription and ended up paying for another month of it. It wasn’t that bad, I think it was around $10 but this has happened to me more than once where I forget to cancel something after the free trial.
Side note: That’s also how I got roped into Amazon Prime, but that’s 100% worth it to me and I’m never going back to regular shipping.
After everything, this is what I learned:
1 Bots will get you numbers but that’s all they are.
While I did get more followers/likes on my photos with Instagress, I learned that really, that’s all they were. The likes and followers didn’t mean anything because they were also just using the follow/unfollow method or liking for likes so the engagement meant nothing.
2. It’s a lot of work.
I used to think that creating a large following was relatively easy in the sense that people who had large followings were largely famous in some sense (blogger, Youtuber, celebrity) or good looking (Instagram models). But once I started to dive into this rabbit hole of algorithms and theory, I learned that most people work really hard to have a large Instagram following. Of course there are people who are featured or re-posted on a large account, may get a sudden influx of followers, but people work really hard to find the right hashtags, be engaged on the platform so Instagram distributes their photos, and work really hard editing and curating their photos.
3. People with large, engaged, followings (for the most part) really earned them.
I definitely have a new found respect for people who have large, engaged followers on Instagram that grew organically. I now look at Instagram totally different knowing how much work put into it. And that’s not even counting taking or editing photos. This is purely the strategy of it. Although, that is something addressed in the Instagram community as well. There is a lot of talk, worry, and stress around the style and filters of feeds. I’m definitely guilty of this too so I know in fact that it’s a lot of work. Everyone on Instagram wants to make it look easy and effortless, but really it’s a lot of work. Especially now, Instagram is saturated with similar accounts and there is really no barrier to entry.
4. It’s not for me
It’s embarrassing how I don’t know why I feel this, but I’m actually slightly embarrassed by how much Instagram followers I really have. I’m not someone with tens of thousands of followers; actually I just passed the 50 follower mark on @millenniallifeadmin (and I’m ecstatic!). Which to some people would seem pathetic (which in comparison it probably is), but I’ve chosen to truly grow organically this time. I haven’t told my friends or anyone in real life so this is me really growing from the bottom up.
Finally, I’ve also chosen to not focus all my time and energy on Instagram this time around. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy using the platform, but like all social media platforms, you don’t own your following. Jenna Kutcher from the Goal Digger Podcast and Sam Brown from Smart Twenties are two people I follow that really emphasize this, because it’s true. Instagram could disappear tomorrow. Or as Jenna experienced, your Instagram could just be hacked. A few years ago, Facebook was the hot platform, then Vine (which died), then Snapchat (which is also on the decline). Social media is fickle and while I think Instagram is definitely not going anywhere soon, it’s also important to remember that new platforms and technology will always be on the rise. And for right now I’d rather focus on my blog which is something I own.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love Instagram and have recently tried micro-blogging on the platform and gaining far more engagement than when I was just putting in a single caption and bunch of tags because I had to make time for pods. Most of all, I’m trying not to care what other people think as much. My goal will be to create an account that is helpful to the people I want to serve, but what random strangers or numbers mean – I’ll let that go. Well that’s it – I’ll report how it goes.
Here’s to figuring out ourselves in the Social Media Era,