I was quite surprised that I received so many feedbacks from every platform, and I feel great that more and more people could now identify those people who are using the tools. (Check my last post and find out how) But still, as I said on Facebook, I am not writing all these articles to destroy someone or be personal, I do this simply because some people enjoy using robots to help them on social media, and I believe it is also other people's right to know what is happening out there.
I feel honoured to interviewed Lauren Bath for a few questions in regards to this issue, and I'm so glad that she is kind enough to offer us some perspectives as a social media professional:
1. When did you first notice about this whole fake engagement thing?
Believe it or not Instagram cheating has been a thing since the word go only the tools used to be less sophisticated. I’ve been an active user of the platform for five years and I’ve seen everything from “Pop Page Groups” to comment hubs to the old manual follow/ unfollow scam to get users across to your account.
From those basic beginnings there has been a huge rise in the methods used and fake Instagram engagement and automation are a big money business, not just for the people selling these services but for the users taking advantage of them to buy “influence”. When an industry exists that can pay people five figure deals for single Instagram posts there is definitely going to be a hunger for numbers. Numbers = Power = Money.
I have personally seen accounts that I know for a fact are completely falsified (because the owner is a source of mine) and to anyone watching you would never, ever know. Relevant likes to followers, regular content and even a normal amount of comments from accounts that look legitimate. You can fake EVERYTHING.
So, in answer to your question, I’ve been aware of the cheating and fake engagement for five years. On my first week on Instagram a popular user followed me and when I followed her back an hour later I received an instant unfollow.
2. What do you normally do to deal with these people who potentially use these services?
First of all I try not to get too angry and judgemental about it. Believe it or not I do completely understand why people do this. There is a lot of money and a lot at stake when you have a high social following and people want a piece of the action. However, I completely and 100% abhor people that cheat because I feel like it’s the ultimate sense of entitlement in a generation of entitlement.
I work with a lot of influencers on the campaigns that I run for my clients so it is very important to me that I do everything in my power not to hire people who have used any underhanded methods to gain their audience. I might not get it right 100% of the time but I try very hard to make sure I get it right. I’ve even gone to the trouble to have a lawyer draft an agreement for my influencers to sign that denies any wrong doing and it is completely in my power to sue for fraud if I later find out someone has faked their influence and worked on one of my campaigns.
If I suspect that someone working with me is using any Instagram services to boost their numbers then the first thing I do is go directly to them and give them an opportunity to defend themselves. If they can’t do this then I have to make a judgement call and that’s a tough one. I want to work with amazing influencers and I have always been prone to giving people the benefit of the doubt but my eyes have certainly been opened in the past few years and I need to be realistic sometimes.
3. I’ve heard about “the list”, does it exist? or is it going to be a thing?
I don’t tell my clients the users who I believe are cheating because there is always, always an element of doubt. Unless we have a bank statement with direct deposits going from a users account to “buyfollowers.com” then we can never definitively prove that someone is cheating regardless of how many screenshots we have and how much late night stalking has been going on. For this reason I try to always hold back.
What I do instead is give my clients the knowledge that this is going on, give them the tools to spot it and offer my opinion on named influencers if they ask me in confidence. I always tell them that this is just an opinion and that I might be wrong and they need to do their own research on that particular user.
I do have clients that would love for there to be a list and a number of my friends have their own personal lists going on but I’m not sure if it could ever work because the cheating is not black and white. There are certainly users who have bought their first 10K, boosted their likes for a few months to get on the explore page and then gone absolutely gang busters and grown true and absolute influence. Would I hire these people? No. But I understand why brands do. I don’t consider automation as bad as buying followers and likes. I don’t hire people that use bots but I understand why brands do because unfortunately the bots do increase engagement and it’s engagement from real people.
The one thing that I truly hate the most about it all is that those of us with integrity that have never used a single program or cheated a single number, we are the ones suffering from it all the most. Because if you don’t cheat you can’t keep up. Cheating on Instagram has fundamentally changed the algorithms that lead to views and engagement and to me that is unforgivable.
4. I noticed that you work closely with the tourism boards, have they noticed that? What do they think?
For the most part the tourism boards that I work with are shocked and appalled that this is going on but there is unfortunately a trend of brands and tourism boards turning a blind eye to it because they want the numbers for their own reporting. At the end of the day you can’t compare the actions of an influencer or user to the actions of a brand or tourism board because brands and tourism boards just need eyes on their content no matter how. All I can do is to concentrate on my own work and providing value and true influence to my own clients and hope that it’s enough.
5. To those who use these services, do you have any thing to say to them?
It doesn’t matter what I say, people will always do what they need to do to survive in life. But what I will say as a broad statement is this -
Influence is traditionally defined as the combination of trust plus reach. Most people have a circle of friends that they trust so when your mate comes back from Jordan and shows you the photos and tells you all about it you will trust him enough to book your own holiday. Influencers need to have close to that level of trust but with a lot of people. Buying followers doesn’t buy trust. Buying likes and hacking the explore page doesn’t buy trust. Using automation and liking random photos around the clock doesn’t buy you trust. Trust has to be earned and this takes a shit load of time and dedication. Since I’ve started on Instagram I have formed relationships with tens of thousands of people around the world. This might be as simple as sharing a laugh on a comment thread or as complex as mentoring someone. The thing is, I give a shit. I care about people. I take time out to help people. I still answer every single email I get. I give people opportunities or advice or a laugh. I meet people for coffee, even if it means missing an afternoon with my own partner. Five years of giving a shit and talking and helping and advising and laughing and coffee is influence. Not some fake likes and automated software.
My advice to anyone who seriously wants to do good work and create a career for themselves as an influencer is to be real. Because the fake shit isn’t going to last.
After the article, a lot of people argued why they are using the tools, one of the most common excuses would be "Time poor" . By saying that, they mean they have limited time to spend on Instagram to engage with other people because they might have a full time job. With a well paid full time job, now they also want to have a well engaged relationship with other people on Instagram. How does this sound to you? Want-it-all much?
In spite of that, I want to demonstrate how harmful those tools are from some different perspectives:
Let's start from the Instagram itself:
I would say Instagram encouraged people to use fake engagement tool because of the adoption of algorithms. After the new mechanisms(including the hashtags), all these more artificial intelligent tools become even more popular to "help" you to keep up with other people, because you can not really have a timing strategy(which works well for a lot of people) any more. A lot of people have been struggling with the engagement, and the followers. It was a good timing for those tools, because that is basically the new and the most efficient strategy, to mass like on other people's photos. But her Instagram, is this really what you want us to initially? Isn't it supposed to be a place to share your photos ,find inspirations, and making friends? Look at what is it becoming now?
Secondly, we shall talk about the agencies and Brands themselves..
Ok, someone argued with me about the similar results from using the fake engagement tools and doing it manually, the only difference is manual likes will cost significantly a lot more time.
Is that true? ABSOLUTELY NOT!
The whole point of advertising on social media is because the marketers find your content might fit in with the brand, and the people who follow you might appreciate your content. Hence, implant products in your feed in a right way might have positive branding value, and potentially some conversions to the brand as well.
However, the engagement that you got from the cheating bots, they don't care about your content, they don't or less appreciate your work, because they are not the loyal audience of your content, for marketers, it is way more difficult to market something to a not-so-loyal audience!
This could be related to the case that I mentioned before: one of our business partner who had zero knowledge on social media invested some money on this account to promote the event that we had been organising. I knew the account has fake engagement(views on WeChat) but it was my bad, I didn't want to hurt his feelings because he already paid upfront. Guess what, that advertising campaign got zero return. But our business partner didn't track the conversion, but only focused on the views and comments, thought he made a great investment...
In this case, I might be the brand who does there own marketing and tracks everything ourselves, and our business partner could be the innocent one who outsourced their digital marketing to some irresponsible agency that only reports the likes, and comments of this campaign, but didn't take care of the content and engagement tracking.(Trust me, most of the agencies are clueless nowadays, but it's not entirely their fault, Instagram is not entirely open for third party itself...So all it matters to the brands and agencies is the number, there isn't a effective way to track more activities from Instagram.
Last but not the least, the fake engagement tools themselves.
Based on the instruction of the management tool, there is a "team" of them are doing all the likings, commenting, potentially following for you.
Do forgive my English as second language, but does the team here mean a team of real person?If so, I cannot really work out how could they possibly make any profit from it(Maybe in extremely poor third world country with under aged labours?) Also, if you want to spend your time to use up the 100% quota of like capacity on Instagram(which is unlikely to be possible), I guarantee you, you will not get the same effect as they do.
Therefore, my assumption is: How could they reduce their cost and make you happy at the same time? Maybe replace the real person's' job by bots, buy fake likes partially, inject into your photos and create some fake illusions for you that the engagements were attracted by real persons, and the engagement still actually has value as well. What's more, the price per account per month is 99 USD, and it would be 1200 USD annually? You can basically spend these money and travel without obligations to post photos, and be happy genuinely.( Weird to write it in this way...)
I knew you liked the analogy from previous post, here is another one: This situation is like you order hookers from a pimp constantly, but the pimp thought you might want some extra special services, so he charged you less for the first time. But you are a cheap scum, never spent a penny on the extras, so the pimp doesn't make any money from you any more. Therefore, instead of sending you real prostitudes, he simply drugged you and made you feel like you had real sex. At the same time, you still paid the same price for the prostitudes yet didn't get anything really but a fake orgasm from drugs.
Well, there will always be people who cheat, but I believe it is more important to understand what we really want from Instagram or other social media. If we just want to have fun, then just have fun with it, cheating will not make the game more entertaining. If you want to build your career on it, be patient, create your own authentic and genuine content, connect with different people by yourself. I am not saying you will success 100%, but at least, you are doing the right thing.(In terms of "Doing the Right thing", don't tell me to take the risk, or do illegal Ubex shit here, and tell me that's art, simply fuck the right off if you are that kind of people)