From live chats to social networking, bots attempt to mimic human users in all forms of online communication. They can like posts, comment, follow/unfollow users, etc. (Florian, Cappiello, & Benatallah, 2018). Today, bots can perform nearly all of the social networking actions. Although they have been helpful for automating certain aspects of social media, such as responding to frequently asked questions on Facebook (e.g., “what are your hours of operation”), bots are not always suitable for every social media platform. Recently, “Instagram bots” have come to the center of the debate as a growing number of individuals and organizations are now using them to perform engagement functions – ranging from liking and commenting to following and unfollowing other users. These Instagram bots serve as an effective marketing mechanism, mimicking human behavior in order to attract the attention of users in the hopes that the users will follow or like them in return (Druiventak, 2017). However, using Instagram bots to automate such engagement does come at a cost. Here are 7 reasons you might want to reconsider using social media bots on Instagram for in your brand’s social media strategy:
Florian, D., Cappiello C., Benatallah, B., (2018). Bots Acting Like Humans: Understanding and Preventing Harm. Retrieved from: https://www.floriandaniel.it/papers/DanielIC2019.pdf
Druiventak, E. (25, September 2017). Instagram Bots are the Debate of Free Labor. The University of Amsterdam Masters of Media. Retrieved from: https://mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl/blog/2017/09/25/instagram-bots-in-the-debate-of-free-labor/
Although these services exist in the marketplace, it doesn’t make them legal. Automated engagement services (e.g., liking, commenting, and following) is strictly against Instagram’s API and terms of service. Instagram’s API and terms of service states, “Don't use the Instagram platform to replicate or attempt to replace the functionality or essential user experiences of Instagram.com or any of Instagram's apps” (Instagram, 2018).
Instagram. (2018). Platform Policy. Retrieved from: https://www.instagram.com/about/legal/terms/api/
With bots, there’s no real person behind the engagement. While it might take 20 minutes for a social media marketer to type in a couple of hashtags and general messages for a bot to deploy, it lacks the human touch of a real person engaging in real-time conversations.
Although the allure of attracting thousands of new followers can be tempting, using bots to create an inflated audience is not a good long-term strategy if you wish to keep a healthy and engaged community of followers. As Wharton Marketing Professor Ron Berman predicted, "Fake followers will end up undermining the value of social media platforms" (Golbeck & Elliot, 2018).
Jennifer Golbeck, J., & David Elliot, D. (2018, February 2). A 'Dirty and Open Secret': Can Social Media Curb Fake Followers? Retrieved from http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/twitter-and-the-bots/
Since bots lack the human touch, they also lack the ability to decipher empathy or compassion. This can be especially problematic when a bot comments on a post without taking into consideration the context of the post. For example, a bot programmed to comment “Love this!” on a post with sensitive content or messaging can create bad publicity for your brand.
Marketers today have a distinctive advantage to create value in brand communities using social media by leveraging two-way communications that previously didn’t exist (Humphrey, Laverie, & Rinaldo, 2015). Online communities, such as those facilitated through social media, provide the perfect platform to build relationships through customer interactions (Humphrey et, al). Replacing these interactions with a bot does not build long-term relationships as someone behind a computer (or phone) screen responding to each individual question or comment.
Humphrey, W., Laverie, D., & Rinaldo, S. (2015). Fostering Brand Community Through Social Media. New York, NY: Business Expert
Using bots to stimulate conversation compromises the integrity of the communication process. According to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), “The free flow of accurate and truthful information is essential to serving the public interest and contributing to informed decision making in a democratic society” (PRSA, 2018).
PRSA (2018). PRSA Code of Ethics. Retrieved from: https://www.prsa.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/PRSACodeofEthics.pdf
To succeed in today’s highly competitive marketplace, consumers need to trust brands. Brands that are viewed as being trustworthy are more likely to be successful than those that are not (Portal & Russel, 2018). If you’re using social media to build trust with your customers, using a bot to automate engagement with them is not going build long-term brand equity.
Portal, S., & Russell, A. (7, January 2018). The Role of Brand Authenticity in Developing Brand Trust. Journal of Strategic Marketing. Retrieved from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0965254X.2018.1466828
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