The Negative Side of Instagram Automation

Instagram automation is a hot button issue among bloggers. If you’re unsure what Instagram automation is let’s put it this way – it is hiring a robot to follow accounts, like photos based on a hashtag and even leave comments for you when you’re not around.

I mean who doesn’t want more followers? It helps you sell your blog to brands and your content reaches more people. And liking photos is just that little pat on the back for other bloggers and influencers who are hustling too! And there’s a software that can do this stuff for me?

Sounds great right? People love Instagram but it can be a major time suck on productivity. And for bloggers whose time is stretched between the rest of your life and your site this kind of automation is very tempting.

But you shouldn’t do it.

No, really, you shouldn’t.

There are serious downsides to these Instagram automation softwares.

First, if you have hired one to get you more followers, you risk Instagram closing your account. It is against Instagram’s Terms of Use. And even though there are thousands of spam accounts on the platform, Instagram does an occasional clean sweep and wouldn’t you be embarrassed if your following of 15k suddenly became 5k? Not to mention you’d lose all credibility as an influencer on the platform.

These programs typically follow new accounts on your behalf and the hope is that those accounts will follow you back. (This is the same principle I use for growing my personal Instagram following but I actually find it fun to discover new accounts to follow!) The problem is these robots will follow as few as 1 account to as many as 5 accounts… per minute! (quick math… thats 1440 to 7200 accounts per day) One of the metrics that brands should be looking at is your Following-to-Follower ratio. Instagram actually limits the number of accounts you can follow to 7,500 so these robots can also build a follow-unfollow cycle for you.

If you’ve ever entered one of those Loop Giveaways on Instagram and then found your feed to be full of stuff you don’t really care about, imagine what your feed would be if there was a robot following a thousand new accounts a day for you?

No Thanks.

Lets move on to another common reason for automation, robots can be programed to leave comments on photos. Comments are the key factor when calculating “engagement” so by commenting on other people’s photos it is highly likely that you’ll get some followers back and they’ll probably comment too! And, yes most of my comments on insta follow the same “omg I love it (cat-heart-eye-emoji)” I don’t want that comment on every single photo tagged with, say, #chicago.

Given recent events, could you imagine if you had something like that set up to comment on all photos tagged with #Paris?

And what do you do if your comment is creepy given the use of the hashtag? Evan LePage of Hootsuite has tales of his trial of Instagram Automation and the disasters that occurred with the auto commenting.

No Good.

Finally let’s talk about using robots to like photos. This is the most basic of functions provided by these services. Usually the liking criteria is certain hashtags (#OOTD or #FoodPorn for example). If you are searching Instagram based on those hashtags and liking photos personally there is very little risk that you’ll like content that is, umm, Not Safe For Work. But a robot doesn’t have pornographic filters so you could end up liking some pretty graphic stuff and not even knowing it. There isn’t a way on Instagram to see the posts that you’ve liked but with just a quick swipe to the right on my notifications tab I can see all the photos that people I follow are liking. Kit and I have been monitoring this for a few weeks now and we have seen several of our colleagues and our members like graphic images.

No Bueno.

So yes, these softwares can grow your number of followers, increase your engagement and take some of the work off your plate. But, they can be very very damaging to your brand. At the end of the day, brands are going to want your smaller number of real followers than an inflated number of spam accounts.

This might be the blogger equivalent of the MLB steroid era. Maybe Instagram should require asterisks next to our accounts if we are using robots to beef up our numbers?

At the end of the day, growing your presence with out resorting to Instagram automation boils down to three things:

  1. Post well lit, well composed and appealing images.
  2. Post consistently and fairly often (we recommend 2-3 times a day).
  3. Be Social! Get in there and follow, like and comment on real accounts and watch your following grow naturally.

image via Oubly

  • It is so so tempting to sign up for the bots. I’ve received several emails from a few different companies recently, trying to get me to sign up. So glad to see you break it down this way (I’ve also recently have seen the NSFW likes and had a little giggle.)

    • It is funny to see those likes right? And it makes it crystal clear who has a “real” presence on Instagram. Stay strong against the email pitches! You’ve got an amazing profile that deserves to be seen by real people.

  • This is great advice!

  • I love Instagram, but the buy more follower accounts are so frustrating! Thank you for the great advice.

    • You’re welcome Kristen!

  • Thank you for writing this post! I have recently had to unfollow quality feeds because their automated likes have many Not Safe for Work posts that have made my “explore posts” feed highly inappropriate and non applicable to my interests.

    • That stinks! Well you can rest assured that the @WindyCityBlogCo feed on Instagram will NEVER use bots so keep us on your feed!

  • Cecilia C. Cannon

    I knew people could buy “followers” but I didn’t know it was this crazy with likes/comments etc. ugh. There was a recent article lately about some BIG name bloggers who have been caught doing this bot thing and were called out in the article. I was a little peeved because 4 of the 5 in the article were “expert” digital influencers at the Create & Cultivate conference back in August.

    • Interesting, well they are definitely building a following but it is the quality of that following that is in question. It is tempting to play the numbers game so I can see how people get caught up in it. But maybe I [Erin] just never tried to be cool in high school because I’d rather have a few good friends than a bunch of phony ones!

  • joe

    Thanks for the comments, I do it the old fashion way, I follow people I want to follow. Joe @

    • That’s the best way to do it Joe! And it makes the experience the most enjoyable.

  • Great piece and great advice, Erin! So true. Instagram has only been around for a few years. So, seeing a tremendous number of users all with 30,000+ followers and virtualy no engagement makes my eyes roll. Growing a following the old fashioned way, through actual work, should be a point of pride. Why would you want to cheat yourself?

    • Thanks Melissa and we couldn’t agree more! Rome wasn’t built in a day and an engaged community on Instagram doesn’t come easily.

  • I would imagine this is the same with Pinterest?

    • Yes and no. There are certainly spam accounts on Pinterest (they’ll have strange names, no URL in their profile, they follow a ton of accounts but have very few followers in return and the majority of their boards are group boards) but there are also very upstanding Pinterest Automation/Scheduling tools that can make things much easier for bloggers and brands. These scheduling tools do have like and follow features but you would create a campaign and provide specific paramaters for what the software will do on your behalf. There’s a higher level of control with Pinterest Automation softwares like PinBot and Ahalogy.

      It boils down to this: For every social media platform there are ways to help you save time and automate things but these services should never totally replace a human!

  • Great post! I often wonder how somebody manages to get 10K+ followers, but less than 50 likes or something on their pictures. Yes, I want followers, but I want a community to be part – people inspiring and supporting me, people I can connect with. It’s impossible to connect with bots 🙂

  • This post is so apropos. I can’t thank you all enough for writing it. It can be so frustrating to try and build an honest platform for your personal brand when you’re competing with robots on Instagram. And it needs to stop. I almost feel like more bloggers who DON’T use bots should have a way to take a stand and make it known that — at the very least — anytime you seem them interacting with you on Instagram, you KNOW it’s them and not a robot, OR an Instagram husband, OR an intern, etc…

    Hopefully Instagram will start prosecuting those violating their terms so abusively soon.


    Ashley || Sed Bona

  • Kev Shepard

    I agree in general, that automation violates terms, and that it can get you in an awkward situation, but it depends on what and how you use. Services like – idk who would use it, i had to test it and got 3 accounts banned in a week. But more recent and decent services like use more sophisticated algorithms with higher safety. And, what is the most important, you have to have a promotion strategy, when you know your geography, hashtags and potential competitors – these automators can perform miracles.

    • How is Zengram any different from all the other automation services?? I see 0 difference, it’s still automated spam

      • Eliran Kupfer

        thanks my favorite cloud service is PinPinterest com it just automates everything for me

  • Julia Corot

    Hi Windy, Thank you for your post! I am just wondering: I got more than 300 likes per photos and I like to like back the pictures of my followers: because most of them are very good and because I think is good to connect and like back and encourage the community. But it takes me a lot of time just to like back. I would prefer to focus on the feeds. Do you have any insights? How do you do or how other users are doing? Is there a bot that will just like back the pictures? I thank you for your feedback. Julia

    • Ashley Davidson-Fisher

      Hi Julia- I was wondering if you found an answer to your question, because I have the same question and I can’t seem to find the answer anywhere. I get 300, 400 likes on my photos and I spend hours liking back! I can’t keep doing this because it’s consuming a ton of time that I should be doing other things. I would really just like to see a “like back bot”. If you found the answer, please let me know! Ashley

  • Bernie Sanders

    Thanks for these tips thst really work. As for me, it would be rather helpful to follow your advices and combine it with making money on twitch and 777spinslot (SIC!)

  • I definitely see where you are coming from – wanting to create your brand with highly engaged followers who truly like your content organically.

    I do however disagree that it is a bad thing. All it is a marketing – instagram optimization tool, when you use it strategically. By using it very strategically you can reach your targeted audience at a much faster rate and create brand awareness, which isnt considered cheating… just marketing. Some tools are highly customizable, which let you add very specific hashtags, locations, accounts, etc. If you focus on getting follows and likes by searching hashtags like #f4f or #follow4follow, you are bound to attract spam, non-engaged accounts.

    I’m sure you use industry specific hashtags now, and also like and search images posted with those tags. The automation is just doing some of the searching for you. You also don’t have to use it “full throttle” having it like pictures every second. Yes, this is will get your account blocked. If you set it at reasonable hours, at a “normal” rate, this tool can help promote your brand at a slow consistent rate – while you can still engage within your community.

    It’s all about controling the tools, but not letting them control you 😉