Has the elusive unicorn of Instagram automation ever tempted you?
We can’t blame you. Instagram automation software sites paint a pretty picture of your phone blowing up organically with likes and comments. Your social media scales effortlessly while you sit back and relax.
Brands like Nike, NASA, and whoever runs Obama’s social networks are begging you to consult.
And, oh, who’s that in your DMs? Taika Waititi and Doja Cat both asking for a follow back? Wow, this is everything you dreamed of, right?
I tried it out, and not only did Doja Cat not return any of my messages, but I also lost time, money, and a bit of dignity.
All is not lost; there are legitimately helpful Instagram automation tools. We’ll get to them at the end of this article. But first, here’s what happened when I tried Instagram automation.
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What is Instagram automation?
To be clear, the kind of Instagram automation we’re discussing are bots that like posts, follow accounts, and comment on your behalf.
Ideally, you train your bots to sound and act like you. Then, those bots go out and find accounts they think you’ll like. They interact with them using parameters you’ve set beforehand in a hopefully natural way.
The idea is that by engaging with other accounts, those accounts will turn around and engage with you. This way, you’ll be building a following with real people by using a bot to do the work.
But, much like friends in real life, you can’t use a robot to foster relationships for you. Wall-E types excluded, of course. It’s impersonal, and people tend to know when a bot is pretending to be a person, and people hate it.
And when people on Instagram hate something, Instagram tends to hate it too and bans quickly follow. They want their real users to happily spend as much time as possible on the app, so they take black-hat social media tricks pretty seriously.
Instagram automation is one of those pesky black-hat techniques, like engagement pods, which we tried and, spoiler alert, they failed. It’s in line with buying Instagram followers. We tried that too, and it left us with an inflated follower count, zero engagement, and a long list of obviously fake followers.
What is NOT Instagram automation?
Let me be crystal clear: There are excellent, legitimate Instagram automation tools and software out there. They do the groundwork for you, letting you focus on tactics that can authentically scale your social efforts, like creating content your followers want to see.
In the context of this article, we’re discussing Instagram automation practices that are black-hat tactics. The legitimate tools we know and love don’t fall under this umbrella. We’ve listed a few of our favorite tools and software at the end of this piece.
What happened when I tried Instagram automation
Now that we’re on the same page with what “Instagram automation” means, we can get into the nitty-gritty.
I started off by doing what you probably did to get here — I Googled “Instagram automation.” I landed on Plixi, one of the first advertised Instagram automation offerings on Google. It seemed like a good place to start.
Step 1: Sign up
Sign up was quick and easy. I linked my Instagram account and put in my credit card information. I used an old account that only had 51 Followers, so the only way to go was up!
Plixi’s home page bragged about having a “patent-pending” model. Essentially, they’re crawling Instagram and using machine learning to find and interact with like-minded accounts, engaging with them, and encouraging followers.
Step 2: Growth Settings
After signing up, Plixi asked me to set my growth settings. The free (for 24 hours before you have to pay for a month at $49) version allows you to choose “slow” for your follower growth. Slow it is.
I added in “accounts like mine” so Plixi could target their followers, assumedly. This was a bit tough as the account I was using — Scholar Collars — was a silly fashion line I launched at the beginning of the pandemic.
What’s Scholar Collars, you ask? I created collared dickies for those last-minute oh-my-God-I’m-still-wearing-pajamas Zoom meetings.
You can keep one in your desk drawer, then slap it on under your t-shirt or sweater for an instant professional upgrade. On Zoom, you can only see your neck and shoulders, so the other meeting attendees think you’re in chic business casual wear.
As you can see, it wasn’t exactly easy to find similar accounts, so I added @Zoom.
There were a few other options to set up my account for success, but they were all gated behind a Pro account.
Step 3: Start
I slapped the Start Growth button, and Plixi started finding me new followers. I had one within the first 2 minutes — a crypto app account.
Plixi also told me in my activity dashboard that they had “Reached 9 users based on @zoom” though it’s unclear what that actually means. They hadn’t reached out to nine users as far as I could tell.
Step 4: Watch my followers grow
After 24 hours, I had eight more followers, taking me from 51 to 59. The next day my follower count grew to 100. Over a week, my follower count grew to 245, which is pretty okay — it wasn’t as cheap and easy as other ways to buy followers. But, the accounts appeared legit, and the growth was slow enough that Instagram didn’t seem keen to flag my account.
But, I now had 245 followers and still only seven likes on one of my photos. And no activity from my own account. I had been under the impression that Plixi would also like and comment from my account. It did not.
The growth was fine and all, but what’s really the point? For $50, I had no engagement besides an increase in follower count. And because Plixi hadn’t interacted with other accounts, I couldn’t be sure where the followers were coming from, but it wasn’t from organic engagement.
So, Plixi was a letdown. But, like any good researcher, I tried a second experiment.
Step 1: Find an Instagram comment bot
After Plixi, I wanted to focus my efforts on automating engagement. Naturally, I Googled “Instagram comment bot and automatic Instagram likes”
I found one that automatically sends out DMs. Yikes. That seemed too personal somehow. And another that promised me it was a real person, which, if you’ve read our chatbot do’s and don’ts, you’ll know is a chatbot-don’t.
Instaswift seemed to be more what I was after — and they advertised a free Instagram-like-bot trial. Sold.
Step 2: Try the Instagram bot for free
The free Instagram bot turned out to be 10 to 15 free likes on your last three uploaded pictures. When I tried it, I was met with an error message. Off to a rocky start with Instaswift.
Step 3: Pay for it
A week of Instaswift with 3-4 comments is $15, so despite the disappointment from the free trial, we’re still going ahead. Maybe they treat paying customers a little better.
Step 4: Post a photo
You have to post a new photo for it to start working, and the one I chose of my friend’s cat Gus got 110 likes and four comments. The surge in likes would have looked fake if I hadn’t done the follower campaign first. Now, it only looks fake if you look closely.
I opted to cancel my subscription as it automatically renews from week to week.
Now, I just had to find a bot to comment from my account.
Step 1: Find a comment bot
For the third experiment, I tried PhantomBuster. It promised to post comments from my account automatically.
Plus, it had promised Instagram automation for free with a 14-day trial. Sold.
Step 2: Sign up and get started
Then, I sent Phantom Buster to ‘go’ and sat back.
Growth = hacked.
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Step 3: Check your results
The bot automatically commented on three posts. But, they were the three account URLs and comments I had added to the spreadsheet. It would have taken me less time to comment on the posts myself.
If this wasn’t a free trial, I would be upset that PhantomBuster billed me for doing something I could have done myself.
Lessons from Instagram automation
Instagram automation is no secret path to instafame or even more engagement. It turned out to be a waste of time and money for me.
There’s no such thing as a legitimate, risk-free Instagram automation service
As Hootsuite writers Paige Cooper and Evan LePage each discovered when they ran this experiment, automating Instagram marketing and engagement ain’t it.
Paige Cooper tried three different sites: InstaRocket, Instamber, and Ektor.io. She described her experiment as “shockingly ineffective” after gaining and losing less than ten followers. Though, Paige did wind up with some comments — notably, “Why did u buy followers” and “U have small likes.”
Evan LePage used the now-defunct Instagress to get 250 followers in 3 days. He reported:
“I [automatically] commented “your pics > my pics” on a selfie of a boy who was clearly in middle school. In fact, his account was composed of only four pictures, three of them selfies. I felt uncomfortable. The teenage boy told me I was being modest.”
And as for myself, the experience was a lunch bag letdown. Yes, I got a few new followers and some comments. But, ultimately, the followers weren’t aligned with my brand and the comments
There is no way to automate Instagram legitimately, effectively, and without risk.
It’s not worth the time searching and setting up
One of the biggest frustrations I found was that searching for “legitimate” (AKA apps that didn’t look too sketchy) automation brands took time and effort. Then, setting up each of them to work with my Instagram account and checking in on them took time and effort, too.
If I had spent the same amount of time just working on a social media strategy, I would be in a much better place right now.
Legitimately helpful Instagram automation tools
Now for the good part. All hope is not lost when it comes to helpful Instagram automation tools. Like most things in life, there’s no magic wand you can wave to get what you want. But, there are magic wands that can make your workday a bit easier.
Hootsuite’s Scheduling Software
Scheduling software allows you to plan your Instagram posts ahead, so you don’t have to scramble the day of. Hootsuite’s scheduling features are a dream for busy content creators and marketers — and key to saving you time on your social media marketing efforts.
Tools for Instagram analytics and metrics can automate reports for you, so you can see what’s working and what’s not and pull reports easily for clients or managers that show results across all your social media platforms. We’re clearly a little biased, but we do love Hootsuite Analytics, and social media managers do too.
Chatbots for Instagram can alleviate the drudgery of FAQs, customer support, and sales — you just have to find one you can trust. We love Heyday — so much so that we partnered with them.
Heyday lets you manage all of your customer’s queries from a single dashboard, so your Instagram DMs are easy to check. And, it automates messages for you, like frequently asked questions.
Hootsuite’s social listening tools
Social listening and hashtag monitoring tools can crawl for keywords important to your brand. You can set up a search for relevant topics, see who’s saying what out there, then comment back.
Start building your Instagram presence the real way using Hootsuite. Schedule and publish posts directly to Instagram, engage your audience, measure performance, and run all your other social media profiles — all from one simple dashboard. Try it free today.
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