If you’re on social media, you may have heard of social bots. But what exactly are they and how do they work? If you’re not sure, then you’d be in the same boat as me. Thankfully, Lutz Finger over at Forbes provides us with a pretty well-rounded definition of the little bot bots, as well as throwing in some humour along the way – and can you believe 30% of us can be fooled by bots?
I had no idea social bots could be so tricky to recognise and that they are floating about Twitter and Instagram, fooling even the best of us with their plundered photos and opinionated tweets. I also had no clue about the bots that can help you comment and like posts and follow/unfollow people in quick succession.
You may not be able to easily pick out the bots from the real people, but what you can do is sniff out the real people using bots – whether or not they bought 10,000 followers to plumb up their Twitter account or are utilising the follow/unfollow method on Instagram.
Ever had someone follow you only to unfollow you a few days later? That’s a bot. Ever noticed a new user with an insane amount of followers on Instagram but with hardly any likes on their photos? There’s a bot. Always wondered why someone said ‘nice photo!’ on your Instagram video? Every single one is a bot (most of the time).
What does the cat say?
Other users also employ the art of automatic direct messaging (DM), in which they spam unsuspecting followers with pleas ranging from the unobtrusive: ‘Thanks so much for the follow!’ to the sly haggler: ‘let’s collaborate! If you follow my blog, I’ll follow yours’ and to the downright desperate amigo: ‘please make my day and subscribe to my YouTube channel xoxo’.
No, no I won’t. But what I will do is unfollow or block you.
So please, if you use a social media bot – disable it immediately! Automatic DM’s also count. I hate them, everybody hates them, even your cat hates them.
Why do users bother employing bots when there’s the very real possibility they will damage their reputation and get blocked or trolled by a large number of seriously pissed off individuals? Stephanie at Honestly Mummy gives an honest account on her own experiences while using a bot system to follow/unfollow people – and why you shouldn’t be tempted to follow in her footsteps.
The benefits do seem tantalising tasty. Bots can follow hundreds of people in a short amount of time so that we don’t have to. The bots do all the hard work, following and unfollowing accounts in our target area so that we can get that perfect follower-following ratio. But… it all seems so heartless, inauthentic and shallow.
I’m not going to lie, I’ve been guilty of trying to get as many followers as possible too.
People naturally have a desire to stand out from the crowd, to elevate themselves to a higher status than others, to be ‘notable’, ‘famous’ or an ‘influencer’ and receive all the benefits this entails.
And to make money.
While I do love the writing community on twitter, there is a prolific amount of people who use automatic DM’s or tweets to promote their work. I can almost understand why struggling authors do this. Perhaps they think that if they spam 200 new followers with DMs, maybe 2-3 of these people might actually visit their website and buy their book.
Except… they don’t take into account the other 197 people who proceed to unfollow them for acting exactly like a mosquito – and no one wants to have one of them buzzing in their ear.
And if you’re spamming because you want more subscribers? Seriously, just don’t.
The loveliness of being genuine
There are so many other ways you can engage your followers and promote your work without relegating yourself to begging and annoying people left right and center. And being genuine is one of them because people can also smell genuineness from a mile away.
It might take more effort, but the results are worth it in the long run. People will move mountains to help out someone they feel they have a connection with.
Would you buy the book of the author who pesters your feed with retweets screaming ‘MY BOOK IS ON SALE – 99cents FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY!!” or the author who tweets about the ‘upcoming writers festival, and would anyone else be going? And would you like a flower?’
I know exactly who I’d be more inclined to reach out too and support.
Sadly, I’m usually so focused on liking and following as many people as possible to increase my own follower count, that I’m missing out on the social nature of social media – the part where you engage, connect and enjoy what other people can bring to the table. I’ve been pretty much acting as my own bot, though at a slightly slower pace.
It’s a bit sobering to realize that you’ve sunk to the same depths as the people you look down on – which is just a tad ironic!
The 100 comments challenge
In the spirit of genuineness (of which I think I’m lacking) I decided to leave 100 genuine comments on the Instagram feeds of complete strangers that I actually found interesting through the #writersofinstagram tag.
I’m not going to lie, leaving 100 genuine comments took me a few days. It was so much more effort than I thought it would be because I didn’t want to slack off and do a quick copy+paste+personalise.
I wanted to be real.
And so I tried to linger longer on their posts than I normally would, inspecting their feed, following and liking when I wanted to and not because I expected anything in return.
I’m not going to lie, for a while it felt like I was ‘pretending’ to be real, and I also occasionally experienced repeated bouts of ‘I need to get to 10k followers A.S.A.P!!’ in which I would put my head down and follow 50 people in quick succession, waiting and watching with wide eyes as my notifications pinged – wallowing in misery when they didn’t.
Thankfully, the ‘cravings’ slowly dissipated the more I forced myself to stop, concentrate and comment, and it wasn’t long before I was having fun and meaningful conversations with a few very different people, most of whom were very happy to say g’day and have a chat with a complete and random stranger.
Connecting the dots
One thing this experiment made me realize was… how awesome is it that we can connect with people who live on the other side of the world? With people who are experiencing Winter while we are running headlong into Summer? With photographers who capture the majesty of nature so perfectly? And with poets who express the pain of heartbreak, love and loss with such beautiful sensitivity that your very heart and soul aches with wonder and nostalgia?
For that is the true heart of social media and is surely what it was originally created for. But if there is nothing you want more than to get those 10k followers or become famous, (and you’ll do absolutely anything to reach such lofty heights) then good luck, God Speed and may the bots be with you.