Instagram automation: what it is and how to do it right
Is Instagram automation even possible anymore?
Depends on who you ask.
Sure, everyone is looking to grow their social presence ASAP. This is especially true on Instagram where getting authentic followers is a serious commitment.
And so marketers, brands and businesses alike turn to Instagram automation tools to speed up the process.
However, there’s a huge gulf between legit tools to grow your account versus bots that spam your followers.
That’s why we put together this guide on the best practices of Instagram automation and what makes sense for your brand.
What is Instagram automation, anyway?
Instagram automation represents the use of third-party software to manage your account, carry out tasks and/or interact with users without a human present.
Simply put, Instagram automation tools can be put into two buckets:
- Services such that effectively “take control” of your front-facing interactions with users such as likes and comments
- Tools that automate Instagram behind the scenes, taking care of tasks such as publishing, reporting and analytics
Let’s talk about the first category, well, first.
Chances are you’ve encountered an Instagram bot in the wild. If you’ve ever dealt with comment spam, mysterious views on your Stories or phantom followers that disappear out of nowhere, you can probably chalk it up to bot activity.
If putting your Instagram interactions on autopilot seems risky or spammy, you’re right.
Instagram has been on the warpath against “inauthentic activity” for years now. They’ve also taken measures to shut down Instagram automation tools and bots that violate their best practices (like when they shut down Instagress back in 2017).
Sad news to all of you who fell in love with Instagress: by request of Instagram we've closed our web-service that helped you so much. pic.twitter.com/sIRYfFVywX
— Instagress (@instagress) April 20, 2017
Keep in mind that while Instagram automation often gets a bad reputation, not all tools are spammy.
That leads us to the second category of social media automation tools which largely deal with your account’s backend.
From automating posts to publish when your followers are most active to uncovering hashtags to expand your reach, you can absolutely automate pieces of your Instagram account without worrying about spam or a strike from the platform itself.
Instagram automation: What can be streamlined?
Below is a snapshot of what’s possible via Instagram automation (and what you should and shouldn’t do):
With care, Likes are arguably the safest front-facing interaction with followers to automate on Instagram.
Why? Because Instagram Likes are the platform’s universal form of acknowledgment.
Think about it. If you’re using a personal account, you might drop a Like on something without actually, you know, liking the content itself (think: a business closing, a serious announcement, etc). Brands oftentimes Like comments and questions from customers (whether they’re positive or not).
Automating Likes allows you to acknowledge more accounts and get your Instagram in front of more followers. That said, Likes represent low-effort interactions and probably aren’t going to result in much traction to your account on their own.
Conventional wisdom tells us that automating comments on Instagram is a bad idea.
Period. Full-stop. No questions asked.
From potentially inappropriate comments (think: an emoji train on a tragic post) to interacting with people who have no idea who you are, automated comments are the very definition of spam.
This is exactly why Instagram has processes in place to block suspicious activity such as auto-comments.
Why do people bother automating comments, then? In theory, more frequent interactions such as “Likes” and comments spell good news to the Instagram algorithm.
The reality, though? Automating such interactions is a surefire way to get reported and blocked.
Note: it is possible to queue up and automate replies to followers without spamming them. Case-in-point, saving suggested replies to common comments and concerns which you can store and publish without having to write them manually when someone interacts with your account.
Perhaps one of the most proactive uses of Instagram automation tools is discovering who to follow.
For example, some tools have the ability to analyze accounts and hashtags to uncover accounts relevant to your target audience. Without actually having to worry about interactions or dig through hashtags yourself, doing so can be a safe time-saver.
Follows (and unfollows)
The concept behind automating follows is simple: the more people you follow, the more followers you can earn yourself. Automation tools oftentimes have features that allow for automatic unfollows to help accounts retain a better follower-to-followed ratio.
In turn, the spread of these types of tools has actually led to Instagram’s follower restriction. Here’s the lowdown from Instagram themselves:
To help reduce spam, Instagram doesn’t allow anyone to follow more than 7,500 people.
Anyone who tries to follow more than 7,500 people will see an error message, regardless of how many followers they have. Anyone who’s currently following more than 7,500 people did so before this change was made.
Direct Messages (DMs)
Automated DMs are similar to automated comments in terms of being spammy. If you’re ever dealt with unsolicited DMs that wind up buried in your “Message Requests,” chances are they’re from bots or automated accounts.
These types of automated messages are usually impersonal and will likely be ignored by readers.
Similar to “Likes,” Story views are a low-effort interaction that doesn’t do much to disrupt other users. That said, having seemingly random accounts look at your Stories can feel a bit stalkerish.
Again, this concept that somehow tricking people into looking at your account will result in engagement is totally wrong.
Scheduling and publishing
To keep up with the need to publish consistently on Instagram, automation can take care of queuing up and scheduling content. Features such as cross-posting from other social networks and optimized timing are particularly useful and widespread.
Reporting and analytics can also be automated on Instagram. Rather than manually log your data in a spreadsheet, social analytics tools (like Sprout Social!) can do the heavy lifting of pulling your numbers and seeing how they stack up against other social networks.
What are the pros and cons of Instagram automation?
Now, let’s look into the cases for and against automating pieces of your Instagram account.
Pro: save time on smaller, tedious tasks
This is obviously the big one. Growing an Instagram presence organically definitely requires a combination of time and strategizing.
Heck, just coming up with a content strategy in and of itself is a huge commitment before you even have to worry about interactions such as comments and customer service.
Automation tools can pick up some of the slack. As highlighted above, such tools can’t do everything but they can certainly trim down time spent on tedious tasks.
Con: Instagram’s isn’t a fan of automation “hacks”
As noted earlier, Instagram has a history of bringing down the hammer on tools that they consider spammy.
The platform obviously wants its users to engage authentically and organically. Instagram has its limits and penalties for tactics of anything they see as potentially gaming their algorithm. Here’s an example of those limits in place as highlighted by Instazood:
Pro: grow your follower count faster
Automation undoubtedly helps you boost your follower count. Simply spending time on the platform and interacting with accounts in any way, shape or form will set you up for more engagement by default.
Of course, the caveat here is whether or not those followers are actually interested in your content or products. If you’re getting all of your followers via automation, the answer is probably a resounding “no.”
Con: poor automation looks super spammy
Give your audience credit: people can spot a bot at a glance.
Automating likes and comments is a recipe for a potential social media crisis. Especially now, brand accounts should emphasize human interactions and avoid anything that looks spammy.
Much like buying Instagram Likes isn’t a good look for brands, neither is trying to push inauthentic engagement.
Pro: uncover important insights about your audience
There’s no doubt that automation tools help you learn more about your target audience. From breaking down what hashtags people use to suggesting accounts to follow, bots do encourage you to take a deeper dive into your audience’s preferences. That’s definitely a positive.
Con: potentially miss out on important customer interactions
The more you automate on Instagram, the fewer opportunities you have to actually interact with followers and customers. You can’t possibly provide personalized service with purely automated interactions.
That’s why it makes more sense to automate aspects of your Instagram account that actually encourage you to spend more time with your followers, not less.
What are some legitimate examples of Instagram automation?
To wrap things up, let’s talk about some legitimate ways to use Instagram automation and a few examples using tools including Sprout. The following tactics will ultimately help you grow your account without having to worry about spam.
Scheduling based on when people are most active
With so much content floating around Instagram, anything you can do to reach followers when they’re most engaged is a plus.
Sprout’s ViralPost not only allows you to crosspost and queue up Instagram content but also publish it based on when your followers are most active.
This is a shining example of how automation and AI can help social marketers become more effective and efficient. Rather than wrack your brain over “when,” our platform removes the guesswork.
Hashtag analytics to uncover new followers
Digging through Instagram hashtags on your own can be a time-sink. On the flip side, tools like Sprout can automatically analyze your account and followers to uncover hashtags relevant to your business.
In turn, you can use these tags to boost your content or discover potential customers faster.
Sourcing user-generated content
User-generated content (UGC) such as customer photos represent awesome marketing materials for brands. Reaching out to users manually and requesting permission to use that content yourself, however, can be a lengthy process.
Tools such as Crowdriff boast features that include automated UGC detection and rights acquisition. This enables brands to collect and curate UGC minus time-consuming outreach.
Suggested replies for comments and DMs
As noted earlier, suggest replies and comments are a smart, spam-free alternative to automated ones. Using Sprout’s asset library, you can save and source frequent replies at a moment’s notice without looking like a bot.
Have a question you get asked all the time? Need a few general customer support messages you can use time and time again? Sprout makes storing such messages a cinch.
And with that, we wrap up our guide!
Are you using Instagram automation the right way?
There’s plenty to automate on Instagram, granted you let a human take the reins.
If you’re looking to speed up your Instagram growth via automation, your head is in the right place. After all, marketers should always look to add tools to their toolbox in order to engage with more customers.
Speaking of which, make sure you check out Sprout’s latest social media toolkit for tips, tactics and tools to embrace a data-driven social presence.
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