I just finished a little test to jump a niche Instagram account from a meager ~20 followers to over 400 inside of 7 days using a bot. I'm reluctant to admit it - it actually kind of works. As much as I despise fake follower services and as much as I hate seeing the serial follow-unfollowers on IG, I have to say this really can work when done correctly.
Does all social media growth need to be organic?
There's a falsehood that's often perpetuated in online marketing, that if it's not organic, it's not valuable. In my experience, this is true to an extent, but it doesn't mean that all growth needs to be organic for your sales to mean something. A dollar counts the same no matter where that lead was sourced. Nor should marketing for leads have to be entirely organic given all the amazing tools we have at our disposal today.
Some people chase after better organic search metrics because they think it's going to have a better long-term pay off than using ads. Organic SEO can take a lot of time, and the reality is that if you want to generate leads and awareness in a short period of time - assuming you've got some money - paid advertisements are invariably more effective.
Paying for ads isn't anything abnormal, though using bots is. I think we can agree it would be abnormal if advertising was NOT a part of your marketing mix today. What's strange is the way some people perceive it to be unethical to apply the same fundamental shortcuts to growth in other channels. International election fraud hasn't been enough to deter anyone from using Facebook ads and many can take a strong stance that kind of manipulation, consequences aside, is only proof of how effective a platform like that can be.
Before I go any further, let's be clear, I'm not advocating that you use bots and fake followers to grow your presence online. What I am pointing out is that you have the ability for automation to generate a solid foundation and to kickstart growth to an extent that organic-only strategies rarely accomplish inside such a small window of time.
Separating the Good from the Bad
A friend scoffed when I told him I could give his account a good jump start for his new ecommerce venture with 15 minutes of setup. She couldn't shake the sense that they'd equate only to worthless numbers and no valuable interaction or sales.
Certainly, there are many services in the "grey hat" SEO arena who you can employ and who will do a good job at inflating your numbers and that's it. Unfortunately, it's that set of services that's defined automated growth in social channels, namely Twitter and Instagram. Almost everyone can think of one person who exposed in the media for buying their fake following and social influence.
There's an equal number of apps, browser extensions, and algorithm-driven services who are more "white hat", that can foster organic engagement and growth in your audience segment who are more than willing to respond with you.
For my experiment, I used AutoInsta.me, a Chrome extension you set up and keep open in a background browser window along with your logged-in IG account in another tab. Sparing you the details of the setup - I can't give you my secret sauce recipe - I effectively used Instagram as I normally would in the browser. The extension gives you some extra buttons to select specific accounts, hashtags, and photos to be used as a jumping off point for the bot to collect users, hashtags, and related content from. Simply leave your computer and browser open and it does its work following and unfollowing accounts, liking pictures, and feigning engagement on your part to get someone else to respond.
I didn't expect it to really work at all. It does work and it works really well.
With the bot up and running, I had a few other things I committed to doing to bolster what I did't want to automate:
- Spent 15 minutes per day choosing two photos to schedule to post to the account. These often came from the feeds of existing accounts. I would repost (with credit) and pack full of hashtags.
- Spent 15 minutes per day leaving comments, replying back to DMs, and liking the comments people were leaving on my stuff.
- In every post, tag my friend's IG account, linked to his ecommerce store which covers the same niche my IG account does.
It's no hockey stick, but considering the very minimal time investment, these results are impressive. When I dig further into the followers, I can see they're real people who are following the same brands our store sells, who are responding right back to my comments, and who are reposting my stuff to their followers, no matter how big or small that may be.
You're smart enough to know that this isn't a strategy by itself, but gracefully incorporating it into your existing strategy can give some social media managers a good part of their day back to focus on more important things. Take a second to install the free trial of AutoInsta.me, play around with it for a couple of days, and see if it's something that could potentially work for you. You could be surprised.