Should I use bots to promote my photography business?

by james from Who shot the photographer

Is it worth paying for Instagram bots like Instagress to run my account?

Short answer: NO!

Why though?

“But James! I’m working nine to five, have thirteen goldfish to feed, two dogs to run, an oven to maintain, and fifteen screaming children to look after! If I use these bots my business can practically run itself! What is the harm?”

It isn’t so much about harm, but more about how your business is going to be reflected, and what it says about you as a creative and entrepreneur who is trying to create authentic and beautiful images.

I’d also like to point out here that I am writing this from the perspective of someone who has been through this process and come out the other side. It isn’t meant to be a dig at anyone using bots, as I understand why you are using them. I’m simply trying to say that using them will do about as much for your business as making paper aeroplanes out of your bank statements.

My story and experience with bots

I’ll be honest with you here. Shame time. I have previously used bots. I have forked over money to Instagress and others to help get me followers. Can you please forgive me? It is genuinely a shameful thing for me.

I’m going to give you a solution instead to this problem. Please bare with me dear reader, and listen to the story of how I’ve been through bot use, and why I now swear against it.

I started using Instagram, and quickly noticed the ‘Popular and trending’ part of Instagram, where if you put in a term, it will show you a collection of 9 of the most popular photos in that category.

“Damn, if only I could get to the top of that, it would give an amazing impression of me, and get me noticed!”.

So I found out about Instagress and decided to chuck $10 of my hard earned money at it and wait for the likes, follows, and fame to flow in.

(I don’t want to promote them at all here, but unfortunately I have to tell you how this works so you can get a vague idea of it. Basically it has a set number of controls for you to follow, like, comment, and unfollow someone, on a continuous cycle. This will mean you could do 50 comments in an hour, 50 likes, 50 follows, and (once you hit a follow limit) unfollow people who don’t follow you.)

And boy did the fame flow in. Within the first week or so I had amassed hundreds of followers. I was on cloud 9, having all of these likes and nice comments on my photos.

“Nice”, “Awesome!”, “Instagood!”. Wow, these people were really digging my photography and what I was doing. This really is the way to go. How can I chuck more money at this incredible robot?

So it went on. It went on for about 3 months when it got to a point that I had roughly 3,000 followers. I couldn’t seem to break past the 3,000 mark though despite having the ‘follow’, ‘unfollow’ cycle. Maybe I was targeting the wrong people? I changed the settings to hit a different set of targets to help with this. Again, I couldn’t break the 3,000 point. What gives? Why isn’t this working?

I furrowed my brow and ended up frustrated that my Instagram following wouldn’t break the 3k mark.

Then I got a message.

“You keep adding me and then removing me. I’ve followed you a few times now but you keep removing and adding me. Stop it.”

I finally (literally and metaphorically) got the message, and this is the take home message; bots do not engage people in your work. They do not engage people, and they do not make you authentic, nor real.

Dan Norris, one of my favourite authors always hits this point home that authenticity is the most attractive part of someone and consequently their business. When I was using these bots and having comments like “Nice!” and “That looks great!” sprayed over the Instagram world, I was being the opposite of authentic.

Plus it seemed to be that it attracted an absurd amount of people who wanted to tag me in their photos. Maybe this isn’t an Instagress thing but my god, I spent about an hour one day just detagging myself from posts where someone had tagged me, and about a hundred other people in a photo of a poorly shot bowl of rice with a skull on it. If you do that, please stop. If it was you, please stop. I like rice, I like skulls, but I don’t like my photography business being tagged in your photo.

Paying for mass followers – the ultimate expose.

One of the biggest tell tales of bot use is the completely disproportionate amount of followers to likes. I have seen this countless times, both on Instagram, and on Facebook. It is hands down possibly the most blatant and obvious dumb-ass move for someone looking to promote themselves.

I’ll explain why.

Say you set up a Facebook page for your modelling career. You want to be noticed right? Well saddle up and fork over that $100 for 30,000 followers. Done? Well done, you now have 30,000 followers on Facebook! Isn’t that how many Kim Kardashian gets a day? Well get off the throne Kim, I’m coming to take your crown.

Except you aren’t. What you now have is a blank and empty photo-less portfolio which has 30,000 fake account assigned to it.

Now here is the huge, HUGE, HUGE giveaway. When you post that update about how excited you are to get out there to model some more, and there are 2 likes on it, when your page supposedly has 30,000 people following it? That would mean roughly 0.000066% of your followers actually likes the content you put out. I think there are interest rates higher than that coming from banks.

0.00…(breath)..0066%. Several things come from this. Firstly anyone with a couple of marbles in their head will either thing ‘Damn, this person isn’t very popular despite their likes, what gives?’, or more likely ‘why do they feel the need to compensate by paying for likes?’.

This is especially showing when a photographer has an insane amount of likes (so much so that it hits the ‘K’ mark on Instagram) but they aren’t shooting with international models, being featured in international magazines, and generally putting out sub par content. This sounds harsh but where there is smoke, there is fire. Where there is 30 posts, 100k followers, and an average of 150 likes per photo, there is the empire state building on fire, unless of course there is a single photo that is of someone doing a triple back-flip into volcano full of rainbows and jelly. Show me that photo and I will come back and cross out everything in this post.

The bottom line on how bot use does nothing for you or your business

Here is why using bots does absolutely nothing for your business, and why you are playing into the hands of the (albeit very clever) creators of these bots:

You end up having a collection of followers who aren’t real. Even if they are real people, they are most likely using Instagress or some similar bot, and therefore will ‘unfollow’ you if you don’t follow them back.
People who are smarter than the average bear will pick up on the fact that you have paid for likes very quickly. They are then free to make their own judgements about what it says about you having to pay the be noticed instead of you putting out quality content and trying your hardest to commit to developing a healthy and authentic image.
You waste your money on phoney non-existent advertising when it could be put to much better use. You wanted to buy those Polaroid films for your camera right? Putting your money into that and posting them online and sharing with people will net you a lot more authentic followers than paying Bob the talented web developer to spray your name voidlessly over Instagram.
Ok, now I’m depressed. Solution please?

I really do believe that authenticity is key to any business.

Whether you are creating handbags from sustainable materials, or capturing someone for their wedding day. People will usually buy into the person, rather than the product. I always think of Richard Branson as one of the pioneers of this, with this incredibly positive and open attitude about being people first. Sure, I’m sure Branson has had more than a handful of times where things have gone wrong and he has made the ‘wrong’ decision, leaving some people very upset. But I personally, as a consumer, believe in Branson’s product because I like him. I don’t want to take him out to a lobster dinner for two (I totally do – please Richard, if you are reading this get in touch. Seriously.) but I do believe my values align with his.

So in this vein of authenticity I do have a solution for you. Well, 3 solutions:

Forget the bots. Spend your money on something else and learn how to market and attract people rather than relying on some code to help you out.
Learn about your customer and engage with them. I’ll repeat that; ENGAGE. We are always looking for the passive income, passive attitude way to solve a problem. We rely on phones now to tell us when to wake up, feed the washing machine, and decide on our favourite colour for the year. Forget all of that. You have to engage with your customer and want to know about them. Someone comments on your photo? Well give them your thanks in the same image! Someone has tagged.
Be patient. “Oh screw you James. Patient? What can I do about that?”. Try gardening. Gardening is possibly one of the most satisfying things you can do to appreciate the skill of patience and waiting. There is a difference between doing and waiting, but there is only so much you can do. The rest is waiting. Do not expect to be a sensation overnight, unless when doing a shoot you somehow safe a burning busload of cats.
Final Words

Please bare in mind that I’m not writing this as a dig to anyone who does use bots. I can hand on heart honestly say I know exactly what you are thinking and I understand why you think using bots will help you get noticed. As you can see from above, I’ve done it and completely believed in it.

I’m telling you, from one user to another, down the line, they do nothing to help you. Please don’t bother with them, and instead work on yourself, and your ability to engage with your fan base. It will reap riches beyond some idiot robot commenting on every photo of a dog in California with ‘INSTAGREAT!’.

Big love.

James X


About James

I’m a Fashion and Portrait Photographer originally from the UK, and now living in Canberra Australia. I believe in a strong communinty spirit, helping others grow, and creating beautiful art with incredible people. My background is in ornithology, and I have a huge passion for all feathered birds.
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