I think about Social Media a lot.
Certainly more than the average Jo and probably more than what’s good for me (especially when it’s 2am and I’m revising tweet copies in my head because #fml).
One of the reasons I think about it a lot is because I get paid to think about it. By trade I’m a Digital Marketer who specialises in Social Media and Copywriting but simply by nature I love building communities and inherently respect the nature of the online platforms.
To be clear I don’t always love the sites and apps themselves, hell after the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal with Facebook I felt downright icky, and I certainly don’t always like how people use it...but when used well and with the right intentions Social Media can be a powerful, positive stage.
The instagram #WritingCommunity
This belief was instilled in me further on a personal level when I created a new account on Instagram a few months ago.
I’d escaped the app in my personal life a couple of years earlier. Mainly because I was managing so many channels for work (#AintNobodyGotTimeForThat) but this was at a time when Snapchat was on the rise and I was experimenting more with it, especially to hone my experience for business use as well (and gleefully discovered the filters worked on my cat Lilly, who quickly became a rising star on r/SnapCatFilters).
When I took the leap last year to focus more on my writing it was a no brainer to me to seek out parts of the writing community the way I really knew how to, on Social Media. With Twitter as my work rants, Facebook as my social plans and Lilly filling my daily Snaps, Instagram seemed the perfect choice.
But within 15 minutes of creating the account I was reminded of some of the reasons why I left...and, if anything, the problems seemed to be worse. A discovery feed full of nothing but skinny white yoga models, perfectly framed organic breakfast bowls and makeup tutorials which ran more like a constant stream of advertisements and ways of being told “Y’all look like an unhealthy bag o’ shite”. The dominance of spammy meme-sharing accounts which just regurgitate original content from other sources and use cheap lures for as many Likes as they can. An inconsistent home feed and notifications that make me feel like I’m being selectively fed bits of my own chosen content sources.
But the worse part? The bots. Oh Lord, the bots.
I knew to persevere however and take the time to make it what I need it to be, or as close as possible. With the right formula you can limit the content you don’t want and build up a space that brings you in to the community you do want. And it really did pay off.
Over the last few months I’ve interacted with hundreds of creatives, writers and aspiring authors all over the world. We’ve shared tips, inspirations, struggles and best of all celebrated each others milestones and used our own platforms to share each others achievements and voices. Fuck yes, this is what it’s all about!
At it’s best Social Media isn’t about mindless distraction but that pumped up positive feeling you get when connecting and sharing the good vibes with others. Overall I’ve found the #WritingCommunity to be nailing it.
Getting more Social Media followers as a writer
Now, let’s not beat around the bush here, we all want to see our profiles flourish. Especially if it’s on a platform where you’re promoting your brand or business and, although not with the same vigour as my work profiles, I still thought about mine a lot and kept an eye on the stats to make sure I was headed in the right direction.
I felt pretty happy with the results. Gaining on average several new followers per post and sustaining a good engagement rate across all my posts with more and more comment threads and discussions. Healthy, good quality, organic growth...the good stuff.
But I was still contending with flurries of quick-loss followers, hollow Likes and fake comments from bots which were driving me insane. I also see them regularly on fellow writers profiles and I wanted to go in there and fend them off (like some crazy ass, nerdy, obsessive white knight that no one asked for), to protect this community I respect from the cringey BS that’s dragging this whole platform down.
Then I got even more mad.
One of the #WritingCommunity profiles I follow specialises in sharing marketing tips for writers and they seemed pretty popular, boasting over 8k followers at the time. I noticed a few weeks ago that they shared an article called something like “How to quickly get 1000 followers if you’re a writer” (not sharing the article or quoting the title directly as I don’t want to call them out in a dick move and most of us have seen this type of clickbait high promise content). My eyebrows lifted…”1000 followers quickly” eh? That’s a big promise. And, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from working in this industry, it’s that magic wand promises are usually, quite frankly, bullshit.
But they had a lot of followers and the account seemed legit so I thought I would see where they were going with this.
The pretty extensive article started off really strong. They suggested many of the good strategies that any Social Media manager worth their bread would reel off. Consistency, tone of voice, knowing your intended audience, good story telling, hashtag tips...I was actually impressed! But throughout the whole thing the 1k promise nagged at me. All of these tips would certainly lead to healthy growth but how can they boast a numeric promise like that?
Then it became clear in the last “tip” which they naturally left until the end, which was to advise people to use a paid service to automatically Like posts for you.
I raged quit.
...but I guess now their 8k followers makes more sense. Followers are easy to buy.
What is a bot?
A bot on Social Media can take many forms but I use the term across the board to describe any platform that does the job you should probably be doing. Some bots are fully fake profiles but others harness real ones as well to like, comment, follow or action anything else on your behalf using automation.
The idea being that these automatic actions will bring more people and thus more followers to your profile.
Some have genuine good use such as messenger chatbots which, when used well, help brands quickly and effectively signpost and inform customers in a way that benefits everyone.
The crux is, If you’re paying a platform to like, follow, comment or anything else then it’s a bot. No matter how good their website sells you on how legit the service is, how many other people use it or how high quality your new bought-in followers will be, it’s a bot and you should stop using them.
Why are bots so bad?
Firstly, you’re bullshitting people. There’s no two ways about it.
You can use legit paid advertising on Instagram to promote yourself or your products through their business account (which is free to set up). The only reason to use your money on bots instead is because you don’t want the communities to know you are advertising to them, you want to manipulate through pretend actions so that they think a genuine interaction is happening when in reality it isn’t. Is that what you want your brand to be about?
Secondly, like much automation on Social Media today, it’s a flawed system. Many of these bot platforms promise high quality followers and interactions by using audience targeting. What this means is they use algorithms based on things like keyword and hashtag searches to locate posts and profiles that you would want to interact with. The issue is that we can’t actually rely on these systems and in reality you have very little control over the content this bot is interacting with using your profile. Someone could be posting dick pics with the hashtag #writersblock and your bot is merrilly liking them all using your account and you will be none the wiser (well, until your DM’s start filling up with more of the same).
Maybe some services say they are more sophisticated than this but I would argue that no automation on Social Media is sophisticated enough to care for your brand (and I’ve spent decent time looking in to it). Assuming you want a high quality brand that is.
Thirdly, how can you measure the effectiveness of your content and strategy if you’re buying the results? This is also why I advocate for very selective paid advertising even through the legit means on that platform, though they do offer substantially more quality and learning.
Lastly, they’re banned services and you could have your profile removed for using them. I mean, if this isn’t a red flag you’re participating in something kinda low key shitty then I don’t know what is. Some of them get away with it by tricking the system so it’s harder to detect them sure and they very rarely describe their services as outright “bots” but they still are and it’s still a risk. And for what?
Do we wanna build communities or mine just for numbers?
Why do you want more followers?
I was going to name this section “So, how can I get more followers without bots?” but really we need to answer the above first. Why do you want more followers?
One of the reasons we now see all the major Social Media platforms suffering from a bot epidemic is because even some of those who work in the digital marketing industry cannot answer that question.
There is an assumption that the more followers you have the more brand awareness, clicks and even sales you can harness. After all, it’s more eyes on your content right?
Well, yes and no. The reality is more complex than that.
A high number of followers in itself means very little. It’s the number of well-targeted, highly engaged followers you have that counts. They’re the ones earning you your ROI (return of investment). The type you gain from good quality, long term focused, brand and community respecting Social Media strategies.
And if you don't have the time or patience to invest in those things? Well, maybe this isn’t that important to you in the first place (and that’s ok too).
It’s better to have 100 high quality, highly engaged followers than 1000 passive ones.
Yes, I want to sell my book. Yes, I want to drive clicks to my website. But I also know that it’s the solid, high-quality, organic community building that will pay off in the long term.
And where do you want YOUR engagements coming from? If I told you that 20% of the Likes you were getting were from bots pretending to be profiles liking your stuff, would you be happy? None of us want to feed that system.
Aim for the reason why you want the metric, not just the metric itself.
Go out there and get followers, use paid advertising...but ditch the bots, other BS “growth hacks” and focus on respecting the community platforms. Focus on interacting with the people beyond the numbers because it’s people, not robots, that count in the end.
Just getting started using Social Media for your business or brand? Check out my intro no-nonsense guide (slightly less swearing in that one).
Speaking of Instagram, you can find me here, or if you enjoy more industry ranting come say Hi on Twitter.