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It’s 2017! Almost everyone and their pets are posting online, and we’re all loving it.

But while we’re busy typing away and posting about our lives, our beautiful meals, and that time our dog grinned, not all accounts we follow and interact with are real. Shocker, I know. But who’s out there creating these digital presences out there commenting on our online lives and liking our posts?

They’re bots. And we should talk a little bit about them. 

Who would pay to create a fake account just to like and comment on your own? Let’s discuss in detail exactly what the advent of social media bots means and how it may affect you.

Is bot-supported influence all that bad? 

Image via ZeroFox

Fake influence is not good for companies who like accounts to promote their products. There is an ethical issue here if your influence pool doesn’t know half of your followers are bots being paid to promote your stuff. If you’re a company it’s probably not a smart move to buy some bots to influence your follower pool and engagement for two reasons.

  • If you hire a company to put bots on your account to make your follower count bigger, or you pay for bots to like and comment on your followers accounts, that seems fine in theory for engagement purposes. But what if the company shuts down like in Instagress’s case? It becomes obvious that you paid for your followers when half your pool decreases. Instagram shut down Instagress, a service allowing someone to pay for bot followers to follow other accounts. According to Fortune, follower counts decreased significantly for celebrities like Justin Bieber, who lost 3.5 million followers.
  • When you invest in these followers for yourself or followers and commenters for someone else, there’s little to no real           engagement. Would you rather have a lot of people following your account but not actually liking or commenting on your content, or a couple hundred actual human beings actually engaging with you?

If the account is personal then it’s an individual decision whether to test out some bot buying. If it’s a professional or corporate account, think about laying out a game plan for what the goal of buying a bot… or 70 includes, and understand the positive and negative effects this influence could have on a company’s image.

Bot Varieties

Wondering if bots exists for a variety of other purposes aside from adding followers or engagement to an account? Yes. Yes, there are.

Twitterbots are bot software designed to control a Twitter account by tweeting, retweeting, liking, following, commenting, and unfollowing. Peep this list of the 15 best Twitterbots to get a real grip on what these things are up to.

A famous Twitterbot is the now-defunct @horse_ebooks, with its Weird-Twitter approach to found poetry.

@autocompletejok can be considered stupid funny, as it creates jokes based on the autocomplete feature by Google.

Similar to Twitterbots, chatbots are pieces of software designed to hold conversations with real users and are currently on platforms like Facebook Messenger or are employed by Disney to provide customer service. Since 2016, more than 11,000 Facebook Messenger bots launched. Ticketmaster launched a bot on Facebook Messenger, for example, that can provide you with tickets and information to every Ticketmaster event in the area.

A Ticketmaster chatbot. 

Since its creation, a lot of investment has gone into chatbots. To be specific, more than $140 million has been invested in chatbots since 2010 and $85 million has been invested in the technology from 2015 to 2016 alone.

Socialbots, meanwhile, are designed and deployed to create messages and support ideas by acting as a follower or owning its own account; essentially they live on social media.

@dscovr:epic is a socialbot that sets a positive example, taking pictures of earth from space.

So what does this all mean for you? 

Bots can essentially become spam if they follow too many accounts. Look out for accounts interacting with your content whose usernames consist of only letters or numbers or are commenting very simple or vague phrases such as “That’s awesome!” Also, please don’t spam your followers if you buy bots. Choose carefully who you wish to follow or ask a bot to engage with. Use a deft and light touch. In other words, don’t send a bot to a valuable influencer’s account.

However, chatbots can be quite useful to companies. Sephora, for example, has been part of chatbot history since the beginning and has a few bots to help with things like making appointments or recommending beauty tutorials.

Aside from making actual bot purchases, finding them can be fun, and understanding them can only level up your greater knowledge of the social media landscape. 

About the Author

Michelle Goldsborough

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