Why You Shouldn’t Buy Instagram Followers From Vending Machines

Opinion: Is automating your Instagram too good to be true?

Would you buy Instagram likes from a vending machine? You shouldn't Vasily Sonkin

Is automating your Instagram too good to be true?

Some may find black-hat social media tricks hard to deny. Others may not even realize that practices like buying followers or using Instagram bots are putting their companies in jeopardy.

As the competition gets stronger and social platforms introduce new algorithms, it can be increasingly challenging to build out your brand’s social engagement organically. But neither a competitive market nor a lack of awareness are good enough reasons to boost your brand the black-hat way.

On Instagram specifically, black-hat tricks involve applications that automate posts and account interaction, promise massive follower boosts and allow you to see who views your account. Automation apps are cropping up everywhere across social media, but bots pretending to be people are not replacements for true interaction and engagement, and social media sites are now cracking down harshly on their use.

The result? Paying for followers can do more harm than good.

Instagram recently shut down Instagress and PeerBoost, two tools that take their clients’ login information to automate behavior such as posting and engaging with other accounts.

While Instagram forbids post automation (including automated likes and comments that aren’t created by human users), many of these sites are based outside of the U.S. and are not subject to U.S. laws. Some companies have gone so far as to set up vending machines in Russia, where users can buy fake likes and followers on the spot.

As beneficial as larger follower counts and 24/7 posts may seem, the risks far outweigh the rewards.

The realities of black-hat social media marketing

Lofty promises of engagement aside, these sorts of sites all use the same tricks to make their services seem valuable.

One of the most common black-hat practices is aimed at e-commerce businesses looking to drive traffic. Black-hat tools promise new followers by automating the following and unfollowing of other users on your account, sometimes boosting follower counts by up to 20,000.

The quick win is alluring, but hollow. These followers rarely provide opportunities for actual engagement, and this activity directly violates Instagram’s terms of use. The meaningless rise in numbers looks nice on paper, but at the risk of making you seem disingenuous to potentially legitimate followers.

You don’t want to miss out on the potential reach of such a valuable marketing tool. Everything from fake followers to automated comments to overused hashtags can lower your level of trust and success—with your real audience, and with Instagram.

Winning the white-hat way

If this all sounds overly complicated, it doesn’t have to be. By following these proven strategies, you can achieve true engagement on Instagram without resorting to black-hat tricks.

  • Avoid any activity that could be viewed as spam: Don’t contribute to the problem. Instead, create meaningful content that helps Instagram remain a valuable platform and keeps you on the host’s good side. When it comes to Instagram, always keep quality top-of-mind. If you add the same top-ranked hashtags to all of your posts, especially if they’re not always completely relevant, it can hurt your discoverability. Instagram might even shadow-ban your account, hiding your posts from anyone who doesn’t already follow you. Practice Instagram marketing the right way by sticking to meaningful, relevant hashtags and interacting with your own follower accounts. Not only will Instagram appreciate it, but your audience will, too.
  • Drive engagement with authenticity and trust: Users of Instagram (and social media in general) can spot inauthentic or automated activity from a mile away. Rather than damaging your brand by lowering the level of trust you have with your audience, build your profile through legitimate posts, likes and followers. Your growth might be slower in the short term, but unlike growth achieved through black-hat tactics, your expanded network will be sustainable.
  • Value your Instagram presence and protect it: Some companies might not care if their Instagram accounts get shut down, but most of them would benefit from a positive presence on the platform. Before implementing a new Instagram strategy, determine where there are any associated risks and decide if they’re outweighed by the potential gains. If you worked for the agency running Coca-Cola’s page, for instance, would you double-check the legitimacy of a third-party app before risking the company’s entire Instagram presence? If you would take extra precautions at a large enterprise, why put your own company—or anyone else’s—on the line for gains that are not guaranteed and could make your brand look illegitimate?

Not worth the risk

Some marketers that are aware of the risks that come along with black-hat tactics continue to take advantage of the loopholes, nonetheless. Perhaps Instagram isn’t their primary source of income, so they see the quick boost in followers as a risk worth taking. Others remain unaware of Instagram’s terms of use—sometimes intentionally.

Social media networks are not isolated; they are all parts of one, interactive whole. A spammy presence on Instagram could create a bad impression that follows a brand to Facebook and Twitter. And if that Instagram account is shut down, the damage could be irreparable.

Rather than relying on cheap gimmicks or Russian vending machines to develop your Instagram following, plan a long-term social media strategy to build your brand the authentic way. Reach out to real people and engage with your audience directly instead of depending on bots to help you appear in more people’s notifications and feeds.

Doing it the right way might require a bit more effort upfront, but the lasting rewards will be worth it, as your engagement grows alongside your followers’ trust.

Matt Smith is the founder of Instagram marketing platform Later.

@mattfromlater Matt Smith is the founder of Later.