All about bots: How to spot them, why you should avoid them

We’ve covered a little bit about bots before when we’ve written about why you shouldn’t buy Instagram followers. But we thought it might help to go a little bit more in depth about bots: You’ve heard that they’re bad, but just why are bots so bad? What can they do to harm your brand? How do you spot them in the first place, so you can keep them from doing harm?

We broke all of that down in this post.

Got questions or something we missed? Find us on Twitter @UnionMetrics.

Why bots are bad for brands

Bots are bad for brands for a few reasons: Bot followers make your brand look bad, because a lot of them will make it look like you might be buying your followers, even if you aren’t. If you haven’t read our posts on why buying your followers is a bad thing, we’ll summarize that really quickly; buying followers (which usually end up being bots) violates platform terms of service, they will drop your engagement numbers (more on that in a second), and they tarnish your brand’s reputation. After all, if you can’t be bothered to build up your own followers organically, why should a customer assume you’ll care about your interactions with them?

Bots can also bring down your engagement numbers because while they’ll raise your follower count, they’re not going to be liking and commenting on your posts the way real live human beings would.

So now that you know why you should be avoiding bots, here’s how you can spot them.

How to spot a bot

Some bots are obvious because they say outright that they are a bot, and these are usually harmless accounts that can be fun to follow, like @lostTesla.

As for other bots that are not-so-nice, it’s pretty easy to get the hang of spotting them. Most of their profiles will have empty avatars or use stock images, their usernames and handles won’t match and their bios will be empty or nonsensical. You can often spot a lot of patterns in the bios bots use; they’ll copy a bio style that isn’t quite of-the-moment anymore and that doesn’t make sense. Some other bots contain scantily clad models and promises of one-on-one camera meetings. But there are also political bots of every stripe and apolitical bots that seem to be willing to sell post space to anyone willing to buy it.

Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab has a fantastic, in-depth Medium post on how to spot a bot. A key takeaway:

“In all cases, it is important to note that no single factor can be relied upon to identify bot-like behavior. It is the combination of factors which is important. In our experience, the most signifcant three can be called the ‘Three A’s’: activity, anonymity, and amplification.”

We recommend reading the full piece to get the rundown on all the different aspects that typically make up bot profiles and botnets.

What to do once you spot the bot

Report for spam and block them. Every platform has a way to do this, both with individual posts and with entire accounts.

Taking these actions as soon as possible removes the bots from your follower count and reduces the risk of any association with your brand.

Photo by Dominik Scythe on Unsplash