I used a bot to grow my partner’s Instagram account

After experimenting for 24 hours with a bot that would guarantee a boost in her partner's follower count, marketer Elysia Raphael realised Instagram's algorithms now ensure there's no such thing as free #instafame.

I did the unthinkable – I used a bot service to grow my partner’s Instagram account.

Most social platforms are now saturated, and with more competition between savvy users, it’s near impossible to organically grow an engaged audience from scratch these days.

So I was against setting up an Instagram account for my partner’s natural store restoration business. I was already project manager, copywriter, web developer, admin, content producer, and marketer for his business.

With no budget, no following and little to no time, it was going to be more effort than it was worth. We needed leads, not vanity metrics.

However, the strategist in me wanted to dive deep into the platform, exploring different strategies and tactics that could be useful with my other clients. After all, this was a fresh account and my ‘client’ let me have free rein.

Maybe there were fewer bots, maybe there were meaningful conversations happening on the platform, maybe Facebook had learnt from their own platform and implemented better algorithms since acquiring Instagram back in 2012?! Wishful thinking.

Users have matured in the way we use hashtags, but the bot craze lives on. If anything, it’s now worse.

I began with some research on free programs and apps that let you mass follow and mass unfollow. Some let you follow a hashtag and some let you follow another account’s entire list.

I also didn’t want to get banned from the platform or locked out by Instagram’s API, so Growbot automation seemed like the best choice. It offered a 14 day free trial and seemed to have figured out Instagram’s algorithm in detecting bots – with pauses in its auto-following efforts, a soft limit and a hard limit.

As a business, my partner affiliates with real estate agents, so I searched Ray White Group, pulled up their following list, tweaked my queued hit list and pressed ‘go’. I watched the account grow from 30 genuine followers to 160 within 24 hours. While I thought perhaps I’d get follow backs from Ray White’s audience, other bots started targeting me.

Many bot apps and programs offer filter options, you can target by how often the account posts, how many followers they have, like images with fewer than x amount of likes, comments, generic comments on hashtags you specify, and so much more. Every hour or so, when I logged into my partner’s Instagram account, I saw five to 10 new followers.

Follows from “orlando luxury homes”, “new york real estate”, “emaclawtonlighting” (19.6K followers). Why would an account with such a large amount of followers want to follow my partner’s small business?

I then thought about ‘dead weight’ on the page. This was a conversation I had with a friend the week before who wanted to start an Instagram account for her cat. “How can I make my cat Instafamous… and fast?”, she asked. I explained the notion dead weight to her and firmly told her not to venture down that road.

Let’s say I have 500 followers, but 80 – 90% are bots. They’re dead weight on my page. When I post, Instagram (and all social platforms) sample a size of my audience. Depending on how this sample size responds, Instagram will organically (unpaid) show the post to more and more of your audience.

If 80 – 90% of my audience isn’t active, and Instagram samples these ‘people’, of course, my content will be deemed by the algorithm as poor quality.

I hit a hard ‘stop’ on the Growbot and the bot-for-bot activity started to slow. So over the next month, I will be going through each one of the 160 followers to see where they’re based, how big their audience is, and whether they’re relevant to my partner’s business. I’m manually blocking the dead weight.

While Facebook allows you to block certain countries from discovering your page, Instagram (most likely for tactical reasons), does not. The more this behaviour continues, the more people on Instagram must pay to have their content seen.

It’s like the click farm saga that Facebook has never resolved or addressed.

NB: This was done in the name of research and is not best practice. I strongly advise against any social shortcuts.

Elysia Raphael is director of marketing and ideas at NYX Social. This post in a condensed version of one that appeared on the NYX Social blog.


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