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:
I know I wear my sunglasses all the time, but I’m particularly glad of them today, because I’m having an attack of blepharitis, which means I look like I’ve been punched in the eye, basically. 😫Having to stay makeup-free until it clears up, so I’ve done brows, lips and nothing else today: now, if only it was acceptable to wear sunglasses indoors! 😎 . . . #selfie #selfiegram #selfietime #redhead #redhair #redhairdontcare #pale #palegirl #palegirls #redlipstick #redlips💋 #sunglasses #retro
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:
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?
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:
Can’t seem to stop matching my outfits to my bedroom 😂😂😂 <tap for details> . . . #fashion #style # #ootd #pictureoftheday #instafashion #clothes #scottishbloggers #fashionblogger #fashionblog #fashionstyle #whatimwearing #stylegram #ootd #outfitoftheday #personalstyle #todayiamwearing #styleinspiration #stylediaries #styleblogger #over30style #ukbloggers #redhead #styleatanyage #redhair #redhead
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:
So, 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!