Instagram - to bot or not to bot, that should be the question.. Social Media 2017, pt 2

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Instagram continued to grow dramatically in 2017 and introduced so many new features, upgrades and enhancements it was too hard to keep up, to be honest.

In fact, keeping up with the platform full stop proved extremely hard for me to maintain throughout 2017. Preparing and scheduling relevant and value-based content for Instagram was a real challenge for me during the year with so many competing interests on my time.

Instagram stories were far and away the continuing success story of the platform.

Most of 2017 saw Instagram build on this aspect of the platform with many fun new features

  • New labels - geotagging, hashtags, accounts within stories allows you to get past the algorithm as the number of users is small at this time compared to the entire number of normal Instagram users.
    TOPTIP: Start using stories every day to grow your account. You will find your reach with stories at this point in time is much larger than your reach with normal posts.

  • Filters - whilst probably not as ‘fun’ as snapchat, Instagram’s filters brought a quirky element to your posts/videos and stories.
    TOPTIP: Think about your target customer, Instagram is not snapchat, so think about what they are used to, what they might like and then think is the cute flower face filter right for your market.

  • New features such as being able to send your stories to select groups as well as the first in a gamechanger for Instagram - links within stories
    TOPTIP: Create a group of your most noted story watchers, this could potentially be a target for your for future offers, exclusive content, a sub-community of potential clients - real ones.

  • Live Instagram stories - a powerful way to reach your existing group of followers as they receive a notification when you are live.
    TOPTIP: Everyone starts somewhere, so if you are game enough to dive into Instagram LIVE within stories don’t be put off if your numbers are very small at first. Social Media is about becoming more visible so that you can build your brand and grow a community. Live Video is a perfect way to build visibility (and it doesn’t have to be you talking, it can be something else going on, or you showing your audience something)

The shadowban controversy

However, the really big news for Instagram for 2017 was the great shadowban controversy (or hoax). I say hoax as Instagram never really came out and confirmed that a shadowban was ever in place, but there was plenty of anecdotal online evidence that would seem to indicate its existence at the very least, Instagram was doing a lot of work behind the scenes with their algorithm.

The shadowban controversy occurred when an image was no longer visible in certain hashtag streams, you could see your image in the stream, existing followers could see your image in the hashtag stream, but no new people could see your image in that hashtag stream. So the use of hashtags as a means of reaching a wider audience appeared to have been blocked.

So why was Instagram shadow banning certain accounts and certain hashtags?

Instagram Automation crackdown

It would appear that these accounts had been caught up in the other large controversy inside Instagram during 2017 -  the use of bots or online tools to automate the process of engaging with your audience. Automation is great and I am a big fan of leveraging this power in your business, but Instagram has never been a fan of automating the process of connecting with new followers and specifically prohibits you from doing this. Programs like Instagress and MassPlanner allowed plenty of so-called online influencers and d-list celebrities to grow their accounts quickly and exponentially (as well as plenty of small businesses) by automating the process of liking, following, commenting and then unfollowing accounts on mass. Even now there are companies that have teams of people who sit at a desk somewhere whose sole job is to like and follow as many accounts as possible on your behalf (and are paid next to nothing to do it).

This is how so many Instagram influencers have actually grown their large accounts.

Engagement with real people remains key

You might be mistaken for thinking that Instagram accounts were all about genuine engagement, but you would be wrong. Many accounts are just about numbers, large numbers. Large numbers of followers, large numbers of likes but not necessarily large numbers of conversions.

The Instagram world is now awake to these dodgy methods, but at what cost?

These methods work to grow followers, but do they work to grow clients?

For me, that has been the big challenge with my Instagram account during 2017.

How do you sift through your real followers from those who are just following your account on autopilot using an Instagram automation tool? Who has time to delete and block the bots that comment on behalf of an account with meaningless drivel? And then, of course, there is the real battle, how to achieve good results now that the huge growth of Instagram has meant that the effects of the Instagram algorithm can be seen by everyone - throttling feeds and preventing your real follows from seeing your content.

This is occurring with even large genuine organic accounts - it is not just your account.

For me, I have to weigh the balance between creating the volume of content that Instagram seems to require for high levels of engagement (to keep my account visible with my followers and attract new ones ) vs actual engagement with accounts and potential customers within the platform vs using the platform for my own personal development.

So, is there a place for Instagram engagement automation?

Right now, I say no.

It is far too random, far too global and for a small business wanting to actually grow your account with real followers, pointless.

So this means we need to look honestly at what we are doing on Instagram and how we are doing it.

Consistent Content Creation 

My experience has been that I lose followers if I do not post with high regularity. So in order to maintain the level of content creation that my Instagram account needs at my level, I know I need to commit to creating and scheduling a month of content at a time and then post twice a day using my Instagram scheduling tool. I use Sendible for all my social media posting, but I have also used Later, PlannThat and Planoly for my Instagram posts to test them out (all good buy the way). This allows me to not only engage with my target market within their feeds, but by creating content in bulk, I then have more creative time to post more regular Instagram stories.

That is part of the 2018 plan. Daily Instagram Stories.

I know this works because when I operate my Instagram account this way it grows, I attract the right kind of followers and I see an increase in traffic to my website from Instagram. However too often during 2017, I found that I just had run out of things to say, mainly because when I was in a moment of high creativity, I didn’t actually create enough items in bulk for Instagram. I would perhaps create 2 weeks worth of posts, not 4 weeks worth of posts when I had the chance to.

A lesson for me here is when on a roll, stay on the roll for as long as you can.

Go with the flow

Be right there in the flow and just create and create until the tank is empty and then walk away from your desk. We are just so much more productive when we do that, so stay with that energy and create all the posts.

If you need to fill the tank, go outside for a walk, a swim or a run and if you need to dive into the actual work of your business (’cos cashflow) make sure you write down the ideas you have dreamed up and park them for when you can have a social media creating and scheduling session. When you create space to create your posts, double it. This way, you will make room for what is so much more important on any social media platform, engagement and conversations with your target market.

The other benefit of planning work like this is that the quality of the work is likely to be higher and you will both stay on brand and on message. Often we can get caught up in thinking that social media needs to be immediate. Your Instagram feed does not need to be immediate - in fact, your Instagram feed works much better when you carefully plan out how it looks. I know my feed suffers when I am off my game. I see it in how my overall feed looks and how people respond to it.

When I post ad hoc and rushed it looks ad-hoc and rushed. I often find I go back and delete items after the event that just don’t look quite right. You should too.

If you have a branding message you want to consistently convey, then have that uppermost in your mind when creating your posts, rather than thinking, “I haven't posted in ages, I better post something”. I have been guilty of that far too often in 2017 and my account suffered.

This review process really made me question what I was doing on Instagram, am I in or out.

I still love the platform, BUT, I have come to really realise that when it comes to having an effective presence within Instagram you need to be all in and not just tinkering around the edges.

If Social Media is not working for you in terms of traffic, leads or conversions - then maybe you need to recommit yourself to valuable content creation that serves a clear purpose and is the best reflection of your business.

My Instagram account stagnated during 2017 and yes I was busy working within my business, but, if I want to really grow my business and help more people grow theirs I need to be on top of my game in my social media platforms of choice and not just be content to sticking my toe in the water, being lazy.

I know that Stories is a great option to beat the algorithm’s reach, especially via geotagging, so I need be consistent. I know that regular posting in the aesthetic of my Instagram account will bring a steady stream of targeted followers, but I can’t afford to be sloppy.

This was a big aha for me on Instagram during 2017. BE ALL IN.

If you are an Instagrammer, what is your feeling from 2017?

Were you all in?