Now, I know what you’re thinking here: you read the title of this post, and now you’re all, “Yeah, yeah, Amber: SURE you “inadvertently” paid for Instagram likes! Because that’s TOTALLY the kind of thing that happens by accident!” And then you’re making this face:

You are, though, aren’t you? And I don’t really blame you either: I’d probably feel the same. The thing is, though, the title is absolutely true: I really DID end up inadvertently trying out one of those services which promises to give you hundreds of likes on your Instagram photos. I didn’t actually PAY for it, though, and I didn’t INTEND to use it, either: actually, it was more a case of the Instagram bots finding ME, rather than the other way around. Confused? I was, too, but all will become clear if you read on. Or, at least, I HOPE so, anyway.

It all started with this selfie, which I posted one Wednesday afternoon, mostly as an excuse to complain about the blepharitis attack (It’s when your eyelid randomly swells to the size of an elephant. It doesn’t actually have anything to do with this post, but damn, it was annoying at the time…) which had made me look like I’d just been punched in the face:

This photo didn’t bomb, exactly, but it didn’t set the ‘Gram on fire, either: which wasn’t surprising, really, given that it’s a giant photo of my stupid face, and I’m under no illusions about the number of people in the world who desperately want to see close-ups of my face. (Like, maybe my parents, but… maybe not even?). By the time I got up the next morning, it was sitting at just over 300 likes (I THINK: I didn’t know I was going to want to analyse this info later, obviously, so I wasn’t paying much attention), and I didn’t expect it to get many more, so I was pretty surprised when I picked up my phone an hour or so later, and discovered a couple of hundred Instagram notifications waiting for me.

Now, that might be absolutely nothing to you, because maybe you routinely get 200+ likes in a hour, but I generally DON’T, so, like I say, I was super-confused, especially given that I hadn’t even posted anything on Instagram that day yet. I was even more confused when I saw that all of those “likes” were going to that random selfie from the day before, which was now up at almost 600 likes, and rising all the time. The hell?

I’ll be honest: for approximately 5 minutes after I picked up my phone and saw that my giant face had apparently gone low-key “viral” (And I’m not talking about the eye infection any more, either), I felt like an absolute BOSS. It so happened that I’d had another photo do really well on Instagram just a few days before (More on that later…), and now that this random selfie was apparently set to join it in my Insta Hall of Fame, I figured I’d finally – and somewhat surprisingly – gotten Instagram all figured out, and now I’d get to be one of those people who just travels the world all the time, eating breakfast with giraffes, and getting paid to post it on Instagram.

(SPOILER: That didn’t actually happen.)

I was just starting to think about what I’d spend all of that sweet, sweet Instagram cash on, when it occurred to me to check my direct messages. That’s when I found this:

message from Instagram like botDAMMIT.

Yup, it was an Insta bot: one of those services which you pay to generate likes on your photos. It seems that the way they market themselves is by targeting random accounts, giving them a free 500 likes on one of their photos, and then hoping the owner of the account will be enough of a sucker to pay for more. So much for my sudden rise to Instagram fame, huh?

When I realised where all of those likes had come from, I honestly felt a bit crushed. I mean, I’d thought I was getting genuine engagement from people who ACTUALLY liked my photo… but it turned out all I was getting was a free trial (which I hadn’t requested, I hasten to add…) of one of those stupid “like bot” services I’ve been complaining about on the regular for the past few weeks. I went from feeling pretty smug about how well my account was doing, all of a sudden, to feeling like a giant fraud, reduced to “buying” likes on a stupid selfie, just to make myself look popular. Weirdly, I felt like this even although – and sorry, but I’m going to have to keep on repeating this, just in case someone missed it the first time – I didn’t actually pay for the likes, or do anything to indicate I even wanted them.

I have to admit, though, once my initial annoyance at having my account targeted like that without my consent had worn off, I started to feel curious about what would happen. The main reason people use services like this – or join comment/like pods, which do more or less the same thing, but manually – is because the Instagram algorithm rewards photos that do particularly well, by showing them to more people: which meant that, at the very least, I should soon be getting some new followers – genuine ones, who’d be following me purely as a result of the increased engagement making my account more visible.

So, want to know how many new followers I got a result of those 500 extra likes?

Three.

I inadvertently (No, really!) bought likes on Instagram... here's what happened...And honestly? I’d have gotten at least that many new followers ANYWAY in that period of time – in fact, I’d normally get MORE than that – regardless of what I’d posted, or how many likes it was getting. My conclusion? I have two, actually:

01) Fake engagement does not actually lead to more followers: or, at least, it didn’t for me.

02) It makes you feel like crap to get hundreds of likes, but know that you didn’t actually “earn” them.

Actually, let me qualify that second point: it made ME feel like crap. When I ranted about comment pods a few weeks ago, a couple of people defended them: Nicola, for instance, said:

“I think it’s a pretty good way of encouraging people, especially beginners, as it’s not nice when you spend ages working on things and feel like you’re getting no acknowledgement for them.”

I found that comment really interesting, mostly because I just can’t relate to it at all. I didn’t think I would find it remotely encouraging to get comments/likes from people who I knew were just doing it out of obligation, rather than because they genuinely liked my post, and this experience confirmed that, nope, it didn’t feel the least bit encouraging to get all of those fake “likes” – in fact, it just made me really paranoid that my account would end up getting shadow-banned or something because of it. All of the accounts which liked my photos were real ones (I’m guessing they were all people who’d also signed up to use that particular service): none of them, however, were following me, and none of them STARTED following me as a result of liking that post – in fact, they probably didn’t even know about it. Now, I’m sure those who defend this kind service would be able to find any number of arguments to prove that it was all my own fault (bad photo, wrong time of day, whatever…), but the fact remains: had I actually paid for those likes, I’d have gained absolutely nothing from it whatsoever – unless, of course, you count that momentary ego boost, when I thought they were all genuine. Compare that complete lack of results, though, to this photo, which I posted just a few days earlier:

Now, as photos go, this is a pretty crappy one: in fact, it’s the kind of crappy photo I wouldn’t even have posted on Instagram a few months ago, because it’s just THAT bad. Nevertheless, this is currently my most popular Instagram photo ever, and the reason I uploaded it, despite all of its faults, was because, a few weeks earlier, I’d had a good look at my Instagram analytics, and I’d realised that every single one of my most popular photos there was… a mirror selfie. Literally every single one. This really surprised me, because, as you can see, I take TERRIBLE mirror selfies. What I’ve come to realise, though, is that my Instagram followers are mostly interested in seeing clothes: and they don’t necessarily care how good or bad the photo is, as long as they like the outfit. So, I posted the photo anyway, and by the end of the day, it was well on its way to 1,000 – GENUINE – likes.

Want to know how many followers THAT photo got me?

200. At least.

Quite a difference,  huh? And, again, there could be all kinds of reasons why one photo generated 200 new followers, and the other got 3 (if that). The one I keep coming back to, though, is that fake engagement doesn’t actually help you grow your account. I don’t know HOW Instagram knows which likes are real and which are fake, but… I think it does. And I think that, not only do these automated services not really help your account, they could actually harm it, by having it marked as spam, or even banned.

(This, incidentally, is also why I dislike the current trend for people calling out bloggers for “”suspicious” activity: twice in the last few weeks I’ve had big spikes in followers which would look suss if you seen it on a graph or something, but which were actually completely natural. (All it takes is a regram/tag from a popular account, or a feature on a high-traffic website.) The one time I DID get targeted with fake “likes,” though, it didn’t make any difference to my account at all, and the negligible growth I had that day would look totally natural to anyone studying my follower numbers…)

Oh, and just to top it off, a couple of hours after all of those fake likes started flooding in, this message flashed up in my notifications:

This post is doing better than 95% of your recent postsSo, having first of all “paid” to get all of these fake likes in the first place, Instagram then “rewards” me, not by showing my post to more people, but by kindly offering to allow me to PAY for that privilege. So, I pay for likes from people who aren’t following me, and, as a direct result of that, I’m encouraged  to pay MORE for likes from people who ARE already following me. Gosh, Instagram, you’re really spoiling me here!

Of course, I’m sure most of you will have noticed the fatal flaw in this plan. If the “more likes = more exposure” algorithm actually does what it’s supposed to do, then I shouldn’t NEED to pay Instagram to show my post to more of my followers, should I? Instagram should ALREADY have done that, based on the level of engagement I was getting. But it didn’t: and the only conclusion I can draw from that is that spending your time trying to get people to “like” your photos – whether through comment pods or bots – isn’t actually worth the effort: or, at least, it wasn’t for me. Maybe it DOES work for some people – I should obviously caveat all of this by saying that this wasn’t exactly a scientific experiment, and that, just because it didn’t work for me, it doesn’t mean it won’t work for everyone. I’m still totally convinced, though, that there are much better things I could be doing for my blog/social media than attempting to generate fake “like” on Instagram posts – and that genuine engagement will always, ALWAYS beat the fake stuff.

Which is why I’m now off to take some more terrible mirror selfies…

P.S. My “questions” box is now in the sidebar, for anything you need to know: thanks to everyone who’s submitted questions so far – look out for the answers in an upcoming post!

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18 Comments
  1. I’ve seen this happen to another blogger, it’s such an awful thing to do when bloggers are really trying to make sure their engagement is authentic which all the bot buying that’s been going on later! In my opinion bots are just a waste of time and money. When stop using them and your engagement goes right down, surely people are more likely to carry on buying fake likes so they don’t look odd?

    I hate Instagram lately!

    Corinne x

    1. Yeah, you’d have to keep doing it forever, because if you stop, it just makes it really obvious what you’ve been doing! Same with comment rings etc: once you start, you’d never be able to stop!

      1. interestingly, I’ve seen a *big* blogger stop paying for likes and her reason as to why her engagement has suddenly stopped is the algorithm. It’s a brilliant excuse really. But if you have 55k followers and between 80-200 likes per post that looks incredibly suss, yet she *still* gets ads. It’s amazing.

  2. Wow, this post was really interesting! And it must feel really weird and intrusive to have someone do that to you, but at least you got proof of everything you’ve been saying about “like bots” and it made a very enlightening post!
    That last message you received from instagram, I usually see it on facebook, doesn’t that mean that they’ll show your posts to people that don’t follow you…? I always thought it was that way, not that they would show them to people that already follow you, that doesn’t even make sense and it’s really inconsiderate of them for you and your followers! I mean, if they stoped showing me your photos I’d be pretty pissed!
    To comment on that photo that got 1070 likes (I didn’t know it did that well, congratulations!), I pressed like because of the matching coulors and because I LOVE that skirt!! Oh, and that shade of pink really suits you.

    Also, one other thing that has nothing to do with this: you know the arrows on both sides of your page that allow you to see the previous and the next post? I haven’t been able to click on the left one to the previous posts because of the social media buttons 🙁 I don’t know if I’m the only one with the problem or if you’d noticed, but I thought I’d let you know!

    Sorry for the long comment…!

    Love,
    Raquel

  3. I actually had no idea that bots would do that automatically. It’s a bit scary, like, Instagram could think you were buying likes for real then suspend or delete your account. I’d hate for that to happen. I agree with what you said about not feeling any better from knowing your likes are bought. What is the point when it’s not genuine?

    Charmaine Ng
    Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

  4. You know what, the same thing happened to me a few weeks ago! I was wondering why a two days old photo got more than 500 likes on this day and then I checked out my direct mail and saw exactly the same message you posted here. Oh yeah, and I got about two new followers on this day… this is so annoying!! I actually don’t like Instagram anymore.

    xx
    Sandra

  5. It’s so bad that bots are doing this when people aren’t even asking for it! I feel so sad at how Instagram has gone now. It really puts me off making an effort on there to be honest x

    LuxeStyle

  6. Amber,
    I like all of your outfit photos whether Terry takes them in the middle of a field of flowers or whether they’re the mirror kind. I follow your blog and instagram accounts faithfully. I have tried new products because of you, ordered from new websites because of you, laughed and cried reading your posts, and of course lusted after your fab closet. Keep up the excellent work:)

  7. As an old lady who grew up only with the “likes” of real people and trying to get the “likes” of popular people when I was in school, I can tell you the internet is just one big high school clique of people. If one doesn’t get the certain number of approvals to make them “recommended” by the algorithms of Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. ; the popularity of oneself is seen as a failure.

    I am very saddened to see so many people driven by numbers when what people should be doing is facing the fact the internet approval doesn’t matter, it is important to build one’s own self confidence.

    Sorry, for getting off the subject a bit. I also want to say, the algorithms can change at anytime. Remember when Google search ranked websites highly through the backlinks and it didn’t matter if they were legitimate or spammy. Now, with the Fred update, those spammy sites are ranking lower. I think Instagram, Facebook, etc will be doing something to prevent bots and such from allowing the fakers from ranking so high. After all, advertising is not cheap especially when a brand has to think of how to divide their budget through television, print, radio, and now the many social media sites. If I were a brand and I was spending my advertising money just to be seen by bots, I would be angry at the waste of time and money!

  8. This also happened to me! I was livid to be honest! Especially as there is so much talk about Insta fraud going on, I don’t want people thinking I’ve paid for those fake likes myself. Instagram really need to start cracking down on this behaviour.

  9. This has happened to me too (although they gave me just 200 likes scrooges haha!). I messaged them that they can’t be bloody doing stuff like that and they replied I should be GRATEFUL! I’m like well cheers mate you’re messing with the algorithm like there’s no tomorrow. The algorithm works now off niches as well so if you get lots of likes from people that are not your niche it can bump you down. I think it’s a way of the algorithm disregarding bought likes because even though they LOOK good on your account they can do more harm by degrading you in the timeline eventually. xx

    1. Oh wow, I didn’t know that about niches! What about people who don’t really have a themed Instagram, though? I mostly post about fashion, but I also post a bunch of other stuff, too – I know I have some people who only follow for the fashion, some who’re only into interiors, etc etc… I wonder if that’s why my growth is always so slow compared to other people, then?

  10. Nothing turns me off more than seeing an instagram picture with 1k likes and ZERO comments. Yeah, totally not suspicious.

  11. Two local bloggers had the exact thing done to them a few weeks ago. One even got an email from the bot company like “Hey, we think you’d be a good fit for us so we’ve GIFTED you a bunch of likes”. She responded with a no thanks but still, how icky!

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