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The Instagram Bots Are Dead, So What Now?

The Instagram Bots Are Dead, So What Now?

Nik Speller

Nik Speller

April 10, 2018

Socialyse's Nik Speller on why the industry is going to have to stay on its toes

"This is a great, positive move for the network and something Instagram should have done a long, long time ago."

Sometimes, you have to write an article at such pace—fat thumbs flying over the keyboard with that wild, slightly unhinged look in your eye—that it’s bound to be riddled with spelling mistakes and you’re left doubting if there’s any logic to its structure at all.

But as someone who has become slightly more involved with the fight against (and education on) Instagram bots than perhaps is healthy, I felt that today’s news needed an article—no matter how much it hurt my cold, chapped thumbs to write on the station platform.

So, Instagram has announced that as of today, bots (those annoying programs that comment, like, follow, and unfollow, and artificially inflate an account’s audience) are to be switched off.

No more access to the Instagram API for them!

For all of us who’ve rallied against bots and for Instagram users in general, this is a great, positive move for the network and something Instagram should have done a long, long time ago.

It’s a real shame, though, that this closure of the API has meant the death of SocialBlade too—or, at least, that part of SocialBlade we all used to see if bots were active on an account. I’m not sure why Facebook has decided to tar every service provider with the same brush; but, I guess, in their panic to tighten up their own data (after the whole Cambridge Analytica thing), they’re opting for the second half of an all-or-nothing approach.

Of course, popping the corks over the death of bots might be slightly premature. Already, people are sending me links to services that still claim (or show) that they have some other form of access to the Instagram API. And even if every bot service dies, the high demand for these cheat services is bound to see new methods being explored, offered, and—possibly—successful. Instagram is going to have to stay on its toes to make sure this isn’t just another ‘Instagress moment’—where they make a big fanfare about shutting down one service, only for 17 more to take its place.

And, to be honest, everyone in this industry is going to have to stay on their toes, too. The death of bots does not mean the death of due diligence. That still remains (and will remain forever) the most important part of influencer marketing, even if every single ‘game playing’ and cheat service is destroyed. I know, I know. Maybe I just have a vested interest in saying this, ’cause it’s my job; but I do firmly believe that shutting your eyes and picking an influencer to work with based purely on their follower numbers is complete folly.

"Relevance is the absolutely, 100% giant, golden, diamond-studded key to influencer marketing."

And here’s why…

1. Relevance isn’t dictated by follower numbers.

If brands, marketing agencies, and anyone else who work in this industry can learn just one thing from anything I’ve ever written, it’s this: Relevance is the absolutely, 100% giant, golden, diamond-studded key to influencer marketing.

Brands should only ever be looking to work with people who are relevant to their brand and who have a relevant audience. It’s really that simple! (Well, actually, establishing this relevance is hugely complicated, but the idea is simple). And relevance isn’t dictated by follower numbers. The number one influencer for a small coffee shop in Dalston to work with is not the pouting girl from Kensington with 1.2 million followers—not unless a large proportion of those 1.2 million followers are East London coffee aficionados.

2. ‘Influencers’ still used bots.

Bots might be dead, but they were still a massive problem in this industry up until today. Many ‘influencers’ used them to build their following—a following that has relatively little interest in these people, the content they create, and the message they deliver—and it’s these people you still want to avoid.

Thankfully SocialBlade still has archive data, so you can still see which people cheated the system. If you don’t know how to use SocialBlade, check out my video here—or drop me a line and ask me about specific ‘influencers’ (I have a fairly large set of screenshots I’ve collected over the years).

Without bots, these ‘influencers’ who cheated the system are going to start to see their audience drop, like a stone. We saw this back when Instagress was shut down; those bot users who didn’t switch to another service started to lose followers by the thousands.

Of course…

3. People can still buy followers.

Urgh. The next thing to target and I’ve really no idea how Instagram will tackle this one. Follower farms are abundant and for a few quid, people can buy all the followers and likes they want.

It’s a sad, sad state of affairs that this kind of thing exists; but clearly, people’s need for a large number to validate their existence transcends even their own knowledge that the large number is 100% fake.

To tackle this, we have to start looking at a deeper level of influencer data. There are services out there that show stats on an influencer’s true influence—which reveal where people have likely begged, borrowed, bought, or stolen their following. You have to pay for these, but then, if you’re not prepared to pay to understand the true nature of the accounts you’re working with, why would you consider paying those account, for work at all?

An easier way of understanding an influencer’s data and sense, if, perhaps they’ve bought their audience, is to ask for their insights. If they want to work with you, why would they not be happy to provide this? And if they’re not happy to, run away, now.

"Those influencers who drove the highest sales weren’t those with the largest numbers."

4. Follower numbers don’t equal influence.

Finally, finally, finally, in the long list of influencer due diligence—why you should do it, how you should do it, and why it’s so important—comes this gem. For all the beautiful ease that would come with being able to represent influence in a single, publicly accessible figure, it’s just not true—and never can be—that follower numbers equal influence.

This is a subject that could be covered in a separate article or three; but for now, it’s enough to plead with anyone and everyone in this industry to ditch the follower numbers and go back to point number one in this list: relevance. It’s no surprise to me that in a conversation last week about driving sales from influencers, one brand told me that (shock, horror!) those influencers who drove the highest sales weren’t those with the largest numbers.

Turns out that the pouting girl from Kensington can’t shift as many lawnmowers to her 1.2m followers as @GardeningGadgetsReview can to his 12,000. Who’d have thought it?!

All in all, the move by Instagram to tackle the bots is broadly positive and hugely welcome. It shows (fingers crossed) that Instagram is starting to show some concern over the quality and validity of their social network and the influencers they have. This doesn’t mean, however, that brands, agencies, and whoever else can screw their eyes up tight and block out anything and everything that isn’t just a follower number and/or engagement rate when choosing influencers to work with. The complexity of influence, what it means, how it works, and how it can be harnessed will always make both data and a strong dose of due diligence necessary—and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

"This is a great, positive move for the network and something Instagram should have done a long, long time ago."

Sometimes, you have to write an article at such pace—fat thumbs flying over the keyboard with that wild, slightly unhinged look in your eye—that it’s bound to be riddled with spelling mistakes and you’re left doubting if there’s any logic to its structure at all.

But as someone who has become slightly more involved with the fight against (and education on) Instagram bots than perhaps is healthy, I felt that today’s news needed an article—no matter how much it hurt my cold, chapped thumbs to write on the station platform.

So, Instagram has announced that as of today, bots (those annoying programs that comment, like, follow, and unfollow, and artificially inflate an account’s audience) are to be switched off.

No more access to the Instagram API for them!

For all of us who’ve rallied against bots and for Instagram users in general, this is a great, positive move for the network and something Instagram should have done a long, long time ago.

It’s a real shame, though, that this closure of the API has meant the death of SocialBlade too—or, at least, that part of SocialBlade we all used to see if bots were active on an account. I’m not sure why Facebook has decided to tar every service provider with the same brush; but, I guess, in their panic to tighten up their own data (after the whole Cambridge Analytica thing), they’re opting for the second half of an all-or-nothing approach.

Of course, popping the corks over the death of bots might be slightly premature. Already, people are sending me links to services that still claim (or show) that they have some other form of access to the Instagram API. And even if every bot service dies, the high demand for these cheat services is bound to see new methods being explored, offered, and—possibly—successful. Instagram is going to have to stay on its toes to make sure this isn’t just another ‘Instagress moment’—where they make a big fanfare about shutting down one service, only for 17 more to take its place.

And, to be honest, everyone in this industry is going to have to stay on their toes, too. The death of bots does not mean the death of due diligence. That still remains (and will remain forever) the most important part of influencer marketing, even if every single ‘game playing’ and cheat service is destroyed. I know, I know. Maybe I just have a vested interest in saying this, ’cause it’s my job; but I do firmly believe that shutting your eyes and picking an influencer to work with based purely on their follower numbers is complete folly.

"Relevance is the absolutely, 100% giant, golden, diamond-studded key to influencer marketing."

And here’s why…

1. Relevance isn’t dictated by follower numbers.

If brands, marketing agencies, and anyone else who work in this industry can learn just one thing from anything I’ve ever written, it’s this: Relevance is the absolutely, 100% giant, golden, diamond-studded key to influencer marketing.

Brands should only ever be looking to work with people who are relevant to their brand and who have a relevant audience. It’s really that simple! (Well, actually, establishing this relevance is hugely complicated, but the idea is simple). And relevance isn’t dictated by follower numbers. The number one influencer for a small coffee shop in Dalston to work with is not the pouting girl from Kensington with 1.2 million followers—not unless a large proportion of those 1.2 million followers are East London coffee aficionados.

2. ‘Influencers’ still used bots.

Bots might be dead, but they were still a massive problem in this industry up until today. Many ‘influencers’ used them to build their following—a following that has relatively little interest in these people, the content they create, and the message they deliver—and it’s these people you still want to avoid.

Thankfully SocialBlade still has archive data, so you can still see which people cheated the system. If you don’t know how to use SocialBlade, check out my video here—or drop me a line and ask me about specific ‘influencers’ (I have a fairly large set of screenshots I’ve collected over the years).

Without bots, these ‘influencers’ who cheated the system are going to start to see their audience drop, like a stone. We saw this back when Instagress was shut down; those bot users who didn’t switch to another service started to lose followers by the thousands.

Of course…

3. People can still buy followers.

Urgh. The next thing to target and I’ve really no idea how Instagram will tackle this one. Follower farms are abundant and for a few quid, people can buy all the followers and likes they want.

It’s a sad, sad state of affairs that this kind of thing exists; but clearly, people’s need for a large number to validate their existence transcends even their own knowledge that the large number is 100% fake.

To tackle this, we have to start looking at a deeper level of influencer data. There are services out there that show stats on an influencer’s true influence—which reveal where people have likely begged, borrowed, bought, or stolen their following. You have to pay for these, but then, if you’re not prepared to pay to understand the true nature of the accounts you’re working with, why would you consider paying those account, for work at all?

An easier way of understanding an influencer’s data and sense, if, perhaps they’ve bought their audience, is to ask for their insights. If they want to work with you, why would they not be happy to provide this? And if they’re not happy to, run away, now.

"Those influencers who drove the highest sales weren’t those with the largest numbers."

4. Follower numbers don’t equal influence.

Finally, finally, finally, in the long list of influencer due diligence—why you should do it, how you should do it, and why it’s so important—comes this gem. For all the beautiful ease that would come with being able to represent influence in a single, publicly accessible figure, it’s just not true—and never can be—that follower numbers equal influence.

This is a subject that could be covered in a separate article or three; but for now, it’s enough to plead with anyone and everyone in this industry to ditch the follower numbers and go back to point number one in this list: relevance. It’s no surprise to me that in a conversation last week about driving sales from influencers, one brand told me that (shock, horror!) those influencers who drove the highest sales weren’t those with the largest numbers.

Turns out that the pouting girl from Kensington can’t shift as many lawnmowers to her 1.2m followers as @GardeningGadgetsReview can to his 12,000. Who’d have thought it?!

All in all, the move by Instagram to tackle the bots is broadly positive and hugely welcome. It shows (fingers crossed) that Instagram is starting to show some concern over the quality and validity of their social network and the influencers they have. This doesn’t mean, however, that brands, agencies, and whoever else can screw their eyes up tight and block out anything and everything that isn’t just a follower number and/or engagement rate when choosing influencers to work with. The complexity of influence, what it means, how it works, and how it can be harnessed will always make both data and a strong dose of due diligence necessary—and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

Nik is one of a dedicated team of influencer marketing specialists, based in the Havas London office.

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