When it comes to automation, I’m a BIG fan.
Maybe it’s because I’m a type A list-maker who loves getting stuff done. (Bonus: Not having to physically do it all myself).
I especially love it when I can get everything accomplished in an extremely efficient manner.
“Automate It” might just be my new motto.
I have automatons set up to keep my Twitter account actively tweeting. I have Pinterest automated to post for me + keep my boards consistently filled.
I sell digital products because that entire process is passive + happens automatically. I schedule + automate email sequences, blog posts and the prompts that get posted to my Facebook group. Anything to save a few extra minutes here + there, amiright?! #timefreedom
I love automation so much, I even have my essentials auto-delivered to my front door every month. No need to get out to buy more toilet paper, just set it + forget it. (Another 2017 motto contender, perhaps?)
Because I love to automate as much as possible, I also employ automations for Instagram- to help both myself + my clients create ongoing engagement. These automations are also known as “bots”, and they’ve sort of gotten a bad wrap.
The use of any bot technique on Instagram is a bit of a grey area within the marketing community. And because it’s such a taboo topic, I figure that many of those who use these methods might not want to chat so openly about it.
But I’m here to shake things up + pull back the curtain on this underground strategy— because even though I love all things automation, I’m also a huge fan of authenticity.
Now you might be asking yourself, “How can someone use automated bots + still be authentic on Instagram?!”
In this post, I’m going to tell you exactly how I think that this can be accomplished, by sharing my own personal experience (+ missteps) on the sticky subject of these misunderstood little internet minions.
First things first:
WHAT NOT TO DO...
I’ve heard all of the groans + gripes from business owners over the last year or so, about the increasing number of auto-liking bots, emoji comments, and the dreaded “follow/unfollow” game that runs rampant on the Instagram streets today.
And I get it. It can be really annoying to decipher if the accounts that are engaging with you are “real” or not, and whether you should respond to that weird comment that doesn't even really make sense.
I probably understand more than most— because not only have I been on the receiving end of these completely out of context comments, but I’ve also spent time on the extremely awkward giving-end. (that sounds as bad as it is, actually)
ROBOTS IN DISGUISE
In theory, using auto-commenting bots seems like a great idea… right?
Engagement is necessary, but really time consuming. And if you’re like me, and you’re managing multiple accounts, keeping up with actively engaging on all of them can be a real time-suck.
Using a platform like Instagress, you can select a series of targeted hashtags, or a location, or even another account’s followers. You can get really detailed with your settings— electing to only interact on accounts with a certain number of posts, or followers, and so on.
There are a lot of options out there concerning who you’ll end up sending your bots to.
And after you’ve selected your target demographics, you create a list of generic comments— you know the ones…
“Best image I’ve seen all day”
Once you’ve got all of your parameters chosen, you flip the switch + let the robots do the rest.
These little worker bees buzz around Instagram, liking photos on your behalf + dropping your canned comments on the content that you’ve deemed worthy, based on your predetermined factors.
But here’s where the whole thing can get messy…
Since technology has not yet reached a level of consciousness that we as human beings have— there is no way that these bots can know what they’re actually saying + to whom they’re saying it to.
They’re programmed, by us, based on very specific commands, and can only use the information that we’ve given them.
They don’t understand context or practice tact. And they definitely don’t “see” that image you just posted— the one with the giant pile of poop your dog lovingly left in your hallway this morning.
They simply detect that you used a certain hashtag + say “beautiful”… because well, we told them to. 💩#beautiful
EPIC BOT FAIL
Over the last year and a half, as I’ve maneuvered through this automation landmine, I’ve tried to figure out how best to use these bots for myself + my clients. In order to continuously grow my business, I needed to figure out how to use Instagram more efficiently, while still maintaining a certain authenticity.
But throughout the process, I made some embarrassingly awful mistakes.
My most notable Insta-Shame moment was when one of my bots left a series of smiley face emojis on an image someone posted for her friend, who’d just passed away.
Everyone with a soul was leaving really empathetic, sweet comments like, “thinking about you”, and, “so sorry for your loss”.
Then my bot swooped in on my behalf, blissfully unaware, and SMILED LIKE AN IDIOT in front of a poor girl who was grieving over her dead friend.
The only reason I even knew the event had taken place was because the victim of my automation crime sent me a DM + asked me what I meant by my poorly timed comment.
And what could I even say at that point— that I’d simply meant to connect with a potential new customer? That it was essentially her fault, because one of the hashtags she used is what brought the bot to her account? Explain that this was all just an engagement technique for a busy business owner gone horribly wrong?!
MY BAD. My idiotic robot assistant doesn't have any concept of tragic loss. #facepalm
Nope, all I could do was put my tail between my legs + apologize for the misunderstanding. Mark the moment down as a really tough lesson learned.
And that wasn’t the only time something that like happened.
There were other cases previous to that incident, where comments were left on images that just did not line up. I’m actually 100% sure that at some point, you’ve also been the victim of an oddly placed comment. Perhaps had a similar “WTF?!” reaction.
None of those other moments were ever too terribly concerning. But it was this particular event that finally made me take a few steps back + a good hard look at my strategy for using commenting automation on Instagram.
I finally concluded that there was simply no way to control that sort of thing from happening again. And I decided that I didn’t want to risk the integrity of my business, or that of my clients for a few extra followers.
A NEW STRATEGY
Before “the awkward event”, I’d always set my bots to both like and comment on specific, targeted accounts.
Even though I still engaged as myself as well, using automation always felt like having a “team” helping me out— it felt like I was doing more with less. It felt efficient.
And if a bot left a comment + the account holder responded, I would always follow up as a human. I’d go back + reply as myself to really connect, and actually say something meaningful.
I tried to look at the entire process as if I was hiring someone to cast out the line for me. The bots were like lead generators.
When a potential client responded to the bot’s comment, I’d reel them in + go from there.
However, after “the awkward event”, I realized that these talking bots were capable of creating some really shitty situations. So I permanently turned the auto-commenting feature off, deciding to only use the auto-liking feature for future content.
WHY LIKES ONLY?!
While simply liking someone’s content is probably not as effective as also leaving a comment — in the long run, leaving a random or inappropriate comment and then looking like a weirdo isn’t helping either.
If my settings are working properly, I’m most likely getting a few more ideal customers eyes on my accounts by strategically liking content than I would without any automation at all. And it feels safer, for sure.
However, I also began employing the help of a 100% real, living, breathing person. So now, in addition to the using the bots to strategically like content, my VA helps to engage in tandem. So between and two of us, and the bots, there is a lot of engagement taking place on a weekly basis.
Based on my traumatic experience, I feel like this is the only way that you can authentically use automated bots. They simply work best as an accessory to the real engagement. Of course, it’s more time consuming to do it this way— but nothing beats real, honest engagement from real people.
One of these days, robots will most likely advance the point where they understand that adding happy face emojis to a post about the deceased is just not appropriate. But until that day comes, they probably shouldn’t be given the supremely large responsibility of creating honest relationships with our potential customers.