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What Instagram Bots Can Teach Us About Building Better Brands — Two Valuable Lessons
Instagram bots are everywhere. They scurry around liking posts, scraping and vomiting back content, following and unfollowing unsuspecting people, and so on. They’re annoying as hell, bring nothing constructive to the table, and, on the whole, diminish the Internet experience.
But for those who take the time to observe this phenomenon a little more closely, especially how humans interact with them, the lessons can be rich, at scale, and highly transferable to ‘real’ accounts. Here are the two critical lessons I learned and how I applied them to my ‘real’ Twitter account with success.
What’s a Bot?
First, let’s figure out what these bots are, how they are built and what they want. They are trivial to acquire. You can buy them as chrome extensions or build them yourself as explained in the numerous Medium posts.
Most are based on Selenium, a programming library for testing and automating browsers all while acting as if controlled by a human being. A lot of social platforms and large web services have become very good at detecting robots. By using Selenium and programming the occasional random action and pauses, none can tell that there isn’t a human behind the helm. In a nutshell, you are programming the front-end use of web browsers just like real people do — thus undetectable. This is what makes it so attractive to bot makers. You will also find tons of these on GitHub if you want to roll up your sleeves and get dirty.
Facebook Removes Over 7 Million Fake Accounts a Day
According to an article on Gizmodo
“How Many Social Media Users Are Real People?”, experts estimate that half of all traffic on social networks could be bots. According to NYTimes’ “Does Facebook Really Know How Many Fake Accounts It Has?”, Facebook removed some 2.8 billion accounts over the year leading to September 30th, 2018; that’s some 7.7 million accounts a day! Crazy!
The reasons to build them are varied and few are of the Github weekend pet project variety but instead range from influencing public opinion, promoting products, stealing money, or attempting to look like an influencer to benefit from all the bells-and-whistles tied to such status.
Onto the lessons learned that have helped me build my Twitter brand. First and foremost, it will always be about quality content. Liking a post can be quality content if it is a good post relevant to you and your brand. Retweeting good content is content. Retweeting with a comment on why you are retweeting is even better content. And of course, posting useful and interesting content is, bar none the best way to build a community organically.
This is what bots attempt to do in clever ways but will always come off as hollow and plagiarized — oh wait, that is exactly what it is, scraped and soulless…
So, lesson number one, don’t regurgitate, take risks and make it useful. Actually, make it very useful or don’t bother.
Now, for the second lesson and the best one of them all. Bots attempt to follow users in hope for a follow-back. Yes, there is this unspoken contract for most of us normal people, if somebody follows you, you should follow them back. And it works. So start following people today! Find people within your circle of interest. Find people that are active but not overly active with an outsized number of followers. I am not advocating avoiding influencers, but if you are looking at building a community, those won’t follow you back. So make sure their content is worth the cost of one ‘follower’ spot. That is one of the caveats on Twitter, they will stop you at 5000 followers unless you have at least that many followers or more. So, in order to make this work, after a few weeks or months of following people, check out your following list and start pruning.
When you click on your ‘Following’ list, they appear in reverse chronological order, meaning that your new friends will be listed on the top of the list and your old ones at the bottom. Check for those that follow you (it will be written under their image in gray font). And, for those at the bottom of the list that aren’t following you or providing you with enriching content, unfollow them and free up a slot.
That’s it! Two lessons that may be obvious to some but once you look at them at scale (i.e. robot scale), they are non-circumventable and essential ingredients in building a successful and vibrant social media community organically.
If you are looking for help to build your Twitter or Instagram presence reach out, you can find me on Twitter at amunategui or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading!
Manuel Amunategui, ViralML.com