Instafraud: Are Instagram Bots About To Get Terminated?

I’ve had a bee in my bonnet about automated Instagram bots for about a year now. The issue bubbled to the surface when Hootsuite published this post about why Instagram bots were a bad thing.

Since then, I’ve watched many influencers sign up to automated bot software platforms and grow their following through the roof. Even brands have asked us to look into automated bots over the last 18-months.

Then a few weeks ago this Petapixel article appeared on my radar, which showed 1) how easy it is to game the system, and 2) how botting could lead to fake success. It made me even more anti-bot.

But now the crackdown has begun.

Here’s all you need to know about #Instafraud, and why integrity, authenticity and great content will win the race.

What Is Instafraud?

Over Easter weekend a couple of people spoke quite vehemently about influencers growing large, fake followings on Instagram. The hashtag #instafraud broke out, and bloggers and influencers chipped in with their two pence on the subject.

Big, seemingly-popular influencers were called out for having fake followings, and the finger pointing began. A can of worms was opened, and the fraudulent practice of fake follower farming is now out in the open.

Instafraud also includes the practice of buying likes and/or followers in bulk.

How Are Users Generating Large Followings On Instagram?

There are many automated bot software platforms on the market. The most popular being Instagress. Using these platforms, influencers can pay a monthly fee that allows the bot to follow, unfollow, like, and comment 24/7, so the users can kick back and let the bot do the work. They mass follow, unfollow and comment on different profiles, based on hashtag discovery.

Searches for Instagress on Google Trends

Why Do Influencers Want A Large Number Of Follows On Instagram?

For me, this is one part of the core problem. When brands and PR agencies are looking for influencers to work with, they are naturally drawn to the number of followers a blogger or influencer has. The bigger the following, the more attractive they are to brands. Free trips, free products, sponsorships, ambassador programme invites and payment for posts then follow. The problem is that their new found following isn’t a real, authentic one.

Why The Uproar?

As a fellow travel blogger pointed out, there are a lot of honest and authentic bloggers out there, who have grown a genuine audience and want to protect the reputation that they’ve worked so hard to create. The Instafraud explosion demonstrated just how easy it is for bloggers to cheat the system and rapidly grow thousands of fake followers, and thus grabbing the opportunities from brands and PR agencies and taking work away from those who make an honest living from blogging.

It’s even more frustrating as a blogger to watch brands work with influencers that have a fake following, knowing full well the engagement for the campaign will be pretty terrible because of the fake followers.

As influencer Nik Speller stated: “I don’t like the fact that people are being conned: that influencers’ popularity is being misrepresented to the public; that brands are paying to work with people who aren’t half as popular (or influential) as they claim; and that decent, hard working influencers are being overlooked for projects and other opportunities because other people have played the system and have a ‘bigger’ following.”

Isn’t Instagram Doing Anything To Combat The Bots?

This was another reason for the uproar. Up until today, Instagram didn’t even bat an eyelid about the problem. Many people were angry because using automated bots is strictly against Instagram’s Terms Of Use.

Instagram is owned by Facebook. Facebook is a public company. Their shareholders look at active usage numbers and engagement as that then provides a platform to translate reach, impressions and engagement into advertising currency. That in turn then feeds into brands and partners who then spend more and create more revenue for Instagram, which of course shareholders love.

This morning, they made the main bot service Instagress shut down. I never like to see a good tech brand go out of business (hate the game, not the player), but I hope this is the beginning of a bigger, wider crackdown.

From Instagram’s point of view I hope they come out and say that bots won’t be tolerated, and that bot engagement was so low that it didn’t really impact the good work of honest, authentic bloggers and influencers.

So Are the Instagram Bots Going To Be Terminated?

Remember in Terminator 2 where Sarah Connor and Arnie aim to blow up Cyberdyne systems with the aim of stopping Skynet and the robots taking over in the first place?

Well, even if all the bot services are terminated, there are still issues. Those fake followers and inflated audiences that have been generated are still there. Brands and agencies will still work with influencers that have large follower numbers, so whilst one of the main causes of the problem has been nipped in the bud, there is still a way to go to unravel the bot mess that Instagram should have tidied up long ago.

What Next?

Let’s not forget influencer marketing is still in its infancy. There are always going to be teething issues for a sector that is currently one of the biggest growth areas in digital marketing.

Late last year I wrote a post about why 2017 could be the year of micro-influencer marketing. All #instafraud does it back this up, and reinforce how important micro-influencers are. Brands and agencies should look at influencers with smaller, more authentic followings in order to generate better engagement.

Here’s where I think we should head after ‘botgate’;

  • Educating Brands & Agencies – although micro-influencers have smaller followings, they will work hard and create more engagement. Bloggers have become multi-media content creators – they are photographers, they are videographers, they are social media specialists. With a real-audience that is aligned with the brands audience, choosing the right influencers should be a no brainer.
  • Weeding Out The Fakers – there is a great tool called Social Blade which identifies those using bots on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, and the fakers are very easy to spot. Brands and agencies should use a tool like this to dive a little deeper into those follower numbers, and not take them at face value.

Using Social Blade to spot mass follow and unfollower patterns on Instagram

Social Blade fake following - Instagram graph

  • Instagram Steps Forward – whilst the clean-up has started, Instagram needs to do a lot more to clean up spam accounts and the automated bot mess left behind. This could be an amendment in their terms of use, or a more transparent push on ‘shadowbanning‘.
  • The ASA Intervenes – let’s not forget influencer marketing falls under the advertising umbrella. Brands are paying influencers to promote their products and services. I’m surprised the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) hasn’t stepped in already, but I hope this happens sooner rather than later so that some sort of regulation can be set in motion.

This is a developing topic and is likely to change and update over the next few days, but feel free to leave your comments about instafraud in the comments below, or on our Twitter feed.

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