To Bot or Not to Bot? Why You Should Think Twice when Automating Your Social Media

Young companies will often do everything they can to amp up their social media presence. But how far is too far? Is using a “bot” to help you gain social media traction going to put you at risk of being booted off the social media site altogether?

Instagram and bots: to bot or not to bot?

Instagram Terms of Use:

We reserve the right to modify or terminate the Service or your access to the Service for any reason, without notice, at any time, and without liability to you.

When Instagram detects a Terms of Use violation has occurred, it maintains sole discretion in deciding whether to suspend or delete an account, and how long a suspension can last.

As Instagram has proved an effective way of marketing your business, a cottage industry has developed around building robots and scripts to automatically help these businesses gain more traction on Instagram. These bots can do a variety of things, from automatically commenting or liking photos to following new users, often filtered by geography or hashtag. Letting a bot run on your account is a violation of the Instagram’s Terms of Use and if Instagram detects the bot, it can immediately suspend or shut down your account, at its own discretion. We’d ask you to think about the risks this can pose to your business. That said, there are steps you can take to minimize risk of detection. An account suspension can last anywhere from a few hours to 4 weeks.

First, if you’re using a bot to automatically like, follow, or post on other accounts, the service you’re using is in clear violation of Instagram’s Terms of Use and its Community Guidelines. If Instagram does discover you’re using this service, it can suspend or shut down your account immediately. (“We reserve the right to modify or terminate the Service or your access to the Service for any reason, without notice, at any time”). Even though you’re using a third-party bot, you’re responsible for what happens on your account (according to the Instagram Terms of Use). Users have means of appealing the suspension of their account, but it’s important to remember Instagram has sole discretion on whether or not to reinstate your account. We’d ask you to really evaluate the quality of the traffic being driven — if your Instagram traffic is up, is this translating to more website traffic, applications, etc., enough to justify the risk?

That said, there are many similar bots operating on Instagram that continue to be able to stay out of Instagram’s eye. If the service allows you to modify settings, please think about modifying these settings so that the bot is very slow and the accounts it follows are as relevant as possible to your business (e.g. specifying hashtags). For example, Instagress is one of the most popular bots, and it has a “Safety” section that provides recommendations for users to keep their accounts “safe.” Check it out here. One of the most important things you can do is NOT use Instagram while the bot is running.

Additionally, Instagram allows you to follow an additional 20 followers per hour, or one follow every 28–38 seconds (with a maximum of about 1,300 new follows in a day). The “like” rate is 350 photos per hour, or one like every 28–36 seconds (with a maximum of 28–36 seconds a day). Comment maximums are in the range of 350–400 a day. It’s best to make sure the bot is not close to approaching these numbers. Finally, stay away from topics and industries that are ripe for this type of hacking: fitness, health, tattoos, women in bikinis, etc. If using a service, be sure to filter by very specific hashtags that are closely related to your core business. Don’t use general tags (#Chicago, #tbt, #mesohungry). But besides — in an era where your social media and online presence define your brand, do you really want to be the brand that’s spamming others with impersonal, automated comments? Genuine social media traction is what you want.

It’s also important to note that these rates don’t apply to all accounts in the same way: Trusted accounts (those that have been on Instagram for years) will have rates in line with the numbers cited above. But new accounts with few followers or posts will be limited to as low as one-tenth of those rates.

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