All websites have problems with spam.

Many of the large clients I work with have spammers hitting them daily. This is no different for the mammoth players like Instagram.

If you're unfamiliar with spam bots, they give new meaning to the phrase "marketing automation." They're an easy way to boost your following on the various social media channels but they are definitely not sanctioned by the websites they run on. 

Instagram is a particularly popular target for spam bots. 

In this article I'll tell you a little about spam bots. My goal of this article is to give the general public a deeper understanding of how some of the darker corners of social media work. I do not recommend using these bots, but I do want people to understand them. 

Auto-Liking

The basic gist behind Instagram spam bots is that they crawl around Instagram and "like" photos based on a particular hashtag, location, or username. The end goal is that the person whose photo was liked will follow back the person who liked the photo.

So think about it: if you use a bot to auto-like 50 photos per hour and half of those people follow you back, that's 25 new followers every hour or over 5000 new followers every day. The actual number of people who follow you back is actually much lower. From what I have seen, it is more like 2% of of the accounts where a photo is liked follow you back. 

Now, because you chose to like photos that used a particular hashtag, the people who follow you back probably share your interests. Really, what the spam bot does is exactly what many social media managers do. They follow, like and interact with like-minded people with tools like Crowdfire in hopes that they are followed back. 

Options on the Market

If you're looking for an Instagram spam bot, there's no shortage of options on the market.

NOTE: I do not recommend using these tools. My motivation here is purely educational. 

The most popular tool among the blackhat crowd is FollowLiker. It's in high demand for a couple of reasons: you can auto-follow users as well as auto-like images and it offers support for Tumblr, Pinterest, and Twitter in addition to Instagram.

Keep in mind: you'll need to download the FollowLiker software and install it. It does not run in the cloud.

Although FollowLiker is relatively expensive, it's a one-time fee. Some of the other options require a monthly membership.

One of those options is Robolike. For under $10 per month, this tool will crawl around Instagram during a time period you specify and like photos based on hashtags. It also offers a 3-day free trial if you'd like to see how it works before forking over any cash.

Finally, there's Tagliker, which is another popular spam bot.

Turnabout Is Fair Play

Keep in mind that karma is at work on social media. If you're launching bots to like photos, it's probably the case that other bots are liking your photos.

It is almost certainly the case that bots have already liked a few of your photos. It's possible that you followed someone back already because of a bot-liked photo.

Of course, that's the essence of the problem with bots. Social media is supposed to be social. It's about building relationships online and making it easier to stay in touch with fellow human beings.

The more we decide to use bots to do our social interactions, the less social they become.

That's why marketers might ruin social media just like they ruin everything else. They could overautomate their engagement efforts on the various social media sites until the platforms are dominated by bots or automation rules. 

It Doesn't Last

It's likely that the bigwigs who run Instagram will soon put a stop to bots by using legal action.

Yes, they have the power to do that.

A few years back, Twitter filed lawsuits against 5 companies that made spam tools specific to the social site.

Wrapping It Up

Although an Instagram bot can get you more followers, it comes with a price. That price is paid in terms of money and karma.

You might appreciate the short-term gains you get from your automated efforts, but if you don't regularly post quality photos and videos on Instagram, you're missing the point.

I recommend everyone stay away from bots and instead focus on quality content and genuine interaction over time. 

Published on: Aug 9, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.