Managing an Instagram account takes a lot of time and effort. Replying to comments, posting new content, monitoring brand mentions and numerous other tasks fill up your day. As a result, several marketers look to Instagram automation, including tools frequently referred to as ‘Instagram bots,’ to save time and take care of some of the more monotonous aspects of Instagram marketing.

But here’s the problem–some brands go too far with automation to the point where it does more harm than good. We’re sure you’ve seen Instagram comments that were clearly left by bots. You know, the generic “beautiful photo” comment on a picture of your broken iPhone.

In this post, we’re going to go over the ins and outs of Instagram automation, show you the pitfalls to avoid and how to automate the right way.

What Are Instagram Bots & What Do They Do?

The Instagram bots automate certain tasks, typically around engagement. The most common things marketers automate on Instagram are:

  • Leaving comments
  • Liking posts
  • Following and unfollowing accounts

There are Instagram automation tools that perform all of these functions based on specific settings. For instance, you can have a bot leave comments on every post containing a certain hashtag. Or they could automatically follow anyone that follows one of your competitors.

Instagram bots have a bad reputation because they often lead to extremely embarrassing moments. For instance, you could leave a comment on an inappropriate photo, or your comment could be completely irrelevant to the content.

Since everything is handled by computers, you lose the human element that warns you it’s probably not a great idea to leave a comment that says “awesome” on a photo memorializing a tragic event.

The takeaway here is clear: when it comes to interacting with your fanbase, whether it be through likes, comments and more, you want to retain a human and authentic touch by staying hands-on with these tasks. Interacting with fans genuinely is a key part of building brand authenticity, and that isn’t something you want to leave to an entirely automated system.

The Biggest Problem With Instagram Automation Tools

Aside from creating awkward moments, the biggest problem with bots is that they violate Instagram’s terms of use. Specifically, Instagram states:

You must not access Instagram’s private API by means other than those permitted by Instagram.

The way bots use Instagram’s API is definitely outside of what’s permitted. Here are some of Instagram’s API general terms automation tools violate:

  • Don’t store or cache Instagram login credentials.
  • Don’t use the Instagram API to simply display User Content, import or backup content, or manage Instagram relationships, without our prior permission.
  • Ensure your comments are uniquely tailored for each person. Don’t post unauthorized commercial communication or spam on Instagram.
  • Don’t enable a business to take more than one action on Instagram at a time.
  • Don’t use an unreasonable amount of bandwidth, or adversely impact the stability of Instagram.com servers or the behavior of other apps using the Instagram APIs.

Let’s be honest though, most people never look at any software’s terms of use. But don’t worry, Instagram is more than happy to remind companies when they’re in violation. Over the years, they’ve shut down several Instagram automation services through waves of bans and removals for ‘inauthentic’ likes and follows. When you think about how much you stand to gain from interacting in a personalized way with fans, the risk definitely isn’t worth it.

The companies that make Instagram automation tools aren’t the only ones that have something to lose. Your brand is also at risk if you use them.

How Instagram Automation Tools Hurt Brands

When brands automate Instagram actions, their activity tends to become very unnatural. Instagram automation tools usually allow you to set a number of likes, comments and follows you want to do per hour or even per day. Do you think brands set these limits at a handful per hour? Of course not. You could do that manually within about 10 minutes a day.

Instead, they use more aggressive settings to perform hundreds of likes and comments per day. However, eventually Instagram will cut you off. And in some cases, your account may even get banned.

instagram unfollow limit warning

There aren’t any universal limits for Instagram as far as how many likes, comments and follows you can make a day. Instagram factors in things like your account age and activity. In order to keep your account active, it’s best to avoid automating likes, comments and follows altogether.

Just in case you need a little more convincing, here are a couple of stories of people that tested using Instagram bots. Spoiler alert—it didn’t turn out well:

The Benefits of Instagram Automation

On the other hand, the idea of automating some Instagram tasks does make sense for marketers when it can be done in a way that doesn’t endanger your account. Instead of trying to automate tasks that are better served with a human touch, like responses and engagement, look for solutions that can automate more mundane tasks like scheduling out content to post automatically.

You can schedule Instagram posts as part of your content calendar on Sprout. This means you can easily target the top times to post for your industry, or you can let Sprout do even more of the heavy lifting with Optimal Send Times powered by our patented ViralPost technology. ViralPost looks at your own account’s top engagement times and makes recommendations accordingly, saving you the effort of doing this analysis yourself.

sprout's optimal send times

The great thing about this type of automation is that it doesn’t violate Instagram’s TOS or limit your opportunities to forge an authentic connection with your followers with legitimate engagement. Instead, automated Instagram scheduling helps marketers save time for working on strategy, planning outstanding content, and sharing social insights widely across their organization – all of which we found were key concerns for social marketers in our Index: Empower & Elevate.

Alternatives to Instagram Bots

The main draw of Instagram automation is that it saves you time. So how can you get similar benefits and results without bots? Here are some alternatives:

1. Hire Someone to Do It for You

Yes, the costs of hiring an employee or virtual assistant will be a lot more than what you’d pay for an Instagram bot. However, consider this. The quality of the work you get from a person will be significantly better than what you’ll get from bots. People can look at posts and respond with authentic, relevant and compelling comments. Bots leave comments like this:

2. Be Patient

We live in the age of speed and quick results. That’s what makes Instagram automation so appealing in the first place. Getting hundreds of followers over night sounds a lot better than creating and implementing a full Instagram marketing strategy and slowly growing your following over several months.

Quick results sound good on the surface, but the slow and steady approach will ultimately give you a more loyal and active following. Would you rather have 1,000 accounts following you just because you followed them first, or 500 people following you because they saw your content and felt compelled to follow you?

3. Do the Work Yourself

You may not have the budget to hire someone to manage your Instagram account for you. In that case, you’ll have to work with your existing resources.

Whether that means taking on more of the work yourself, or having your social media team dedicate more of their time specifically to Instagram, you’ll have to make it a priority if you want better results. It also helps to have an Instagram management tool like Sprout to schedule posts, monitor hashtags, get analytics and more.

4. Focus on Engagement

If saving time is the main reason you want to use Instagram automation tools, look for ways to optimize time spent on the stuff you’re doing manually. One switch you can make to get rid of your need for bots is to spend more time on engagement.

You don’t have to publish 10 posts a day to be successful on Instagram. That means when you’re not creating or publishing content, your focus should be on interacting with other accounts. A bulk of your Instagram activity should be liking posts and leaving comments. If your comments stand out, people will be enticed enough to check out your profile and hopefully follow you.

5. Use Instagram Ads

If you really want faster results, but don’t want to resort to spamming and using bots, Instagram Ads is a great option. Promoting your posts through Instagram Ads allows you to get in front of your target audience without having to leave hundreds of comments.

signbliss instagram ads example

If you need help with your Instagram advertising efforts, check out these tips.

Closing the Door on Instagram Automation

Instagram automation is very popular and there are a lot of interesting reasons to do it. However, it has been shown time and time again that putting in the work is the best long-term strategy.

Bots may save you some time at first, but the results aren’t always pretty. And of course, you could end up getting your account banned.

We’re not sure about you, but it seems like an easy choice. Grow your account naturally through being creative, publishing great content and regularly engaging. It’s the only sure-fire approach to being successful on Instagram.