Sunday, 18 September 2016

Automated Posting Applications Are Ruining Instagram

Hashtagbot, Instasumo, Tweetfavy...the list of applications that promise to add to  your Instagram following has grown steadily in the last year. In the early days of Twitter, I remember being mildly surprised by Magpie's ability to post automatically to my feed, a series of sponsored tweets from categories I had selected. Things have progressed since then and you can now schedule likes and comments for both Twitter and Instagram that relate to hashtags or accounts you have selected. It doesn't take very long to set up, and there's a range of options that are designed to make the automated engagements seem as natural as possible.

I've been using TweetFavy for about three months now. It started with a 14 day trial, I set it up to like or retweet any tweet with certain hashtags. As I'm looking to grow my following to be able to reach bloggers and social media experts across the UK, I chose hashtags that relate to the major UK-based retweet accounts such as @ukbloggers1 @lovingblogs and @bblogRT. It keeps track of all the engagements that it produces and with a bit of adjustment of the ones that weren't converting into followers as much, I've gained 300 followers, an inbox full of automated messages and the occasional reply to a retweet that I've made from an actual person.

I paid to have TweetFavy on an ongoing basis - aside from the occasional retweet of something overly political that's been tagged for reach rather than relevancy, it's worked really well, so when I realised I wanted to grow my Instagram account too, I looked for a similar service. As soon as I did, I realised that a lot of the people that comment on and like my pictures are already using something like this. If I look at my three most recent pictures, I'm pretty certain that most of the comments are automated. They tend to be really generic, slightly out-of-context comments like "This is first rated!" on a picture of my son, or "Great shot!" when I've regrammed a meme. The more I looked into it, the creepier I found it. You can set it up to comment on people you follow and their content at random, as well as hashtags and people you have tagged.

I've come to the conclusion that actually, I'd rather my interactions on Instagram were real. I don't want a bunch of comments from people that haven't actually looked at my images, I want to be reaching out to people, growing an audience of engaged, interested followers and interacting with them in the comments section of my posts. If the person posting the comment hasn't even seen the  picture, I don't think they should be telling me it's "Superb!"

Growth comes from engagement - not everyone has the time or inclination to spend hours scrolling and making comments, but I truly believe that the top Instagrammers (by which I mean, everyday people and not celebrities or brands) have risen to the top because they have put time and effort into authentic interactions - in fact, not just interactions, but conversations.

While using a platform to post for you might seem like a time-saving plan, I'd like the average Instagram user to think twice. I believe these type of platforms are devaluing the engagement metrics that brands and Influencer agencies use to determine which social media stars would be right to employ as a promotional tool. Brands need to know that an Instagrammers following are actually interested in their content. Real people, posting real comments and questions are very valuable to brands, events and Influencers. As soon as there is a question as to whether the engagements an individual is receiving are real or automated, the value of a collaboration goes down for both parties.

This is an issue for everyone who hopes to use their Instagram stream as a source of revenue. From the major 'Inspiration' accounts resharing content from across the web to the average user who is posting purely for fun, likes and comments are the whole point. If you suddenly found out that most of them are coming from a bot, would they still be as important to you? They definitely aren't for me. I want to know that interactions are coming from someone who has seem my content and wants to interact with me about it, not because I've used a hashtag that one of these automated posting algorithms has picked up.

I'd love to know your thoughts and feelings on this. At the moment, these platforms are legal and allowed to link with your account on both Twitter and Instagram and you are not required to disclose if you are using one. I don't believe that Twitter is as important as it was five years for making money through social media, and because the interactions that are generated through Tweetfavy are primarily retweets, it doesn't feel as cheaty. Maybe I'm being naïve and other people out there feel the same way about these applications for Twitter. All I know is, I won't be looking for an automated engagement creation platform for my Instagram any time soon - I want to build a community of people who I can talk with, share ideas & brainstorm ways of making the best use of social media tools- this can't happen if every other comment is being posted by a robot.

There is already a serious lack of authenticity in so much of the content that I see on Instagram, from recent scandals involving celebrities not disclosing payment for positive reviews, whitening toothpaste being advertised by starlets with very obvious veneers, individuals suddenly claiming they have always, always, always used a certain brand then suddenly sharing content for a major competitor a week later. Instagram is an exciting and engaging platform that offers so many opportunities for brands to reach out to a new audience - I've recently got addicted to Boomerang (loops a very short video backwards and forwards for sharing on Instagram, it's really fun) - if the community isn't careful, it risks becoming a soulless, robotic arena full of automated programs exchanging platitudes. I don't want a future where my Instagram username is having conversations on my behalf, it's way too creepy.

What do you think about automated posting platforms, can it be a positive thing for social media as a whole or has it already gone too far?

Real people only: Follow me on Insta here.

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