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6 Dirty Little Habits that Creatives Need to Stop Doing on Instagram

Megan Martin


Picture this: It’s just you and me sitting in a cozy coffee shop sipping our favorite morning brew. That sounds nice, right? And when you read the rest of this post, know I am not shouting at the keys in front of me ūüėČ This post is coming from a place of love not a place of judgement! I tend to be a little sassy in my content delivery, but it’s really because I like you and write like I am talking to my best gal.

Friend, there are some seriously inauthentic habits going around to “grow” your creative business on Instagram’s wildly effective visual platform. Listen, I get it. We need to market our businesses and work smarter not harder. But there is a difference between smart and just plain inauthentic. A few (thousand)¬†of our friends have been taught some really bad advice from the likes of “pros” who sing 6 figures like that excuses sneaky little behaviors.

The rest of us talk about how we are frustrated, but no one wants to air the dirty laundry of our creative bubble. But I crave honesty and opening the door to have real conversations about the kinds of businesses we are running.

There is a big contradiction going on in the world of creative entrepreneurs around me. I’m hearing the confetti tossing praises¬†of¬†authenticity, but seeing friends resort to dirty little habits like buying fake followers and comments to boost their following. Well, someone just has to say it: It NEEDS to stop. Right now. As in just go right this minute and cancel those bots and find another way to grow your business. You don’t have to tell the world about it. We will just move on from these “exposure” tricks and all be friends.

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In case you think I’m just standing on my pulpit, I’m not. These time consuming or expensive paid for habits are actually working against you whether due to the algorithm or simply bad interpersonal¬†skills, so they really aren’t that smart. Let’s break down the top 6 dirty little habits that need to stop and why:

  1. ¬†Fake Followers: I really wish the word fake would just explain this one on it’s own, but since it is still a habit, I guess I will do my best to clarify. The followers are f a k e. Why is this even a thing? To make the number next to our catchy handle look cool? I digress. But seriously, this is one of the silliest “growth” habits I have seen, especially with the roll out of the Instagram algorithm. Instagram now evaluates how relevant¬†your posts are to determine how many times and in whose feeds they will show up in. So all those fake friends who aren’t actually engaging in your content are hurting your efforts to convey the work that you do or the things you sell. I bet you’re thinking, but Megan! I need more followers to get more eye balls on my awesome biz! Well, it’s time to get strategic and engage with a very niche focused approach to grow a following that counts.
  2. Bot Comments & Likes: Are you a robot? No? Okay good, so that begins to explain why this odd service¬†shouldn’t be¬†a thing you put your hard earned money into. This is by far one of the worst exposure tricks in my opinion. Sure a like and a fun emoji comment here and there can put a pep in your step, but there are times when this really backfires.¬†Like when¬†your creative industry peer shares that she is navigating the very raw and painful emotions of a miscarriage and your bot comments saying “Awesome! {insert random emoji}” or “Cool Pic!” or whatever bots say these days. Come on, do I really need to go further? This is extremely inauthentic and insensitive. And rude. We all say we want more real and less curated. Well sometimes that means sharing the reality that we are in and your bot comments are completely inappropriate. And even on the not so heavy posts your bot comments make your brand look just plain silly in the context of what is being shared. Seriously, I like you and friends don’t let friends use robots to connect with other human beings. Instead of trying to engage with random strangers and the masses, try picking a group of 10-15 people that are in your target market or niche and start an Instagram Pod. This will start boosting your posts in the algorithm and show followers to be that you care about the people around you.
    And as far as the bot likes go, the liking itself isn’t the issue. The likes actually help my algorithm problem. But it makes your brand look bad. Listen, it isn’t that hard for me to see if you follow me. So if I know you don’t but you happen to like every single one of my images, I can drum up enough street smarts to figure out one of three things: Either you have way too much time on your hands to look at my feed everyday to like images (doubtful), or you borrowed Hermione’s Time-Turner necklace to magically like my image AS SOON as I post it (if so, let’s really be friends!), or most likely, you are paying for bot likes. Bot = Icky. Don’t tarnish your brand with Icky.
  3. The Follow Unfollow Follow Game: Don’t know what this game looks like? Let me give you a peek. It goes a little something like this – Someone follows me (woohoo!) and then two days later they somehow follow me again? #confused. Yeah I was too until I heard that those “pros” whom shall not be named I was talking about before started teaching this bizarre growth hack. The goal is to get your handle popping up in someone’s feed so that they want to go to your handle and maybe give you a follow. Simply put, you follow someone you want to get followed back by. If they don’t follow you in a certain time frame, you go back, unfollow them, and then follow them again to get your handle back in their notification roll. My favorite part? When creatives do this 20+ times. Y’all. I can’t. I don’t know if this is yet another robot service you are paying for or what, but I sincerely hope that you are not using your precious business hours following and unfollowing people. And even if there is some sort of savvy following robot, you should probably cancel that subscription right now. It comes off so unprofessional and paints your brand as desperate instead of powerful.
  4. The Bait and Switch Game: A few months ago I was invited to be apart of a private Facebook Group centered around growing your brand on Instagram. Intrigued, I hopped in and was immediately turned off by what was going on. Thousands of people were being taught this trick to get a huge following and when someone hit 10K or 20K and so on, they would share a snap of their profile and all celebrate the time it took to follow and unfollow thousands of people. Similar to the Follow Unfollow Follow game, this dirty little habit’s goal is also to get you to follow someone, but once you do, they will immediately unfollow you. Why? Because they don’t want the number of people they are following to be too high… aka desperate looking. Now I seriously cant even. Please just trust me and don’t do this. I can’t say follow unfollow one more time or my eyes might naturally combust.
  5. Tagging Random Brands/Publishers in Your Image: This little habit doesn’t happen to me too often, but I have friends in the publishing industry who talk about it all the time. To explain it I asked my good friend Lauren Grove, editor of the popular wedding blog Every Last Detail, if I could share about her experience with you. Lauren spends hours every week untagging images from the Every Last Detail Insta handle. Basically a wedding professional shares a photo of a wedding or a shoot or some inspiration and tags @everylastdetail in the image. But ELD hasn’t actually featured that work. So it becomes a sneaky little habit of trying to push work in-front of publishers in hopes to get a feature or re-post. To protect the integrity of her brand mission and carefully selected body of work she shares everyday, she has to go back and un-tag all of these uninvited tags. Let me be clear: Lauren sees you doing this. Other publishers like her see you doing this. They don’t forget your Instagram handle or business name when they are having to spend time untagging your image instead of the 8 million other things they could be doing to actually benefit their business. That will come back to haunt you if you ever actually want to be featured. So just don’t. *There are exceptions to this. If a curated publication or feed asks to be tagged so they can see your work, then go for it! Just don’t assume that everyone welcomes tagging like this. Do your homework!
  6. Sharing Images (That aren’t yours) Without Proper Credit (ESPECIALLY when you are trying to sell something): Okay so this very dirty little habit IS the absolute WORST. This is a foot down no no and could cost you the big bucks when a lawyer comes knocking on your door with a copyright infringement. Important clarification:¬†re-posting with proper credit to uplift a fellow creative or business is not what I am talking about here. I am honored when sweet peers take the time to do this! And I LOVE uplifting others in this way, like this.¬†What I am talking about is when you post my original image on your feed without my permission or expressly stating that I created that image. For example, recently a business whose mission is to help others grow their businesses on social media,¬†screen captured one of my Instagram images and then shared that image on their feed talking about their service and what they can do for their potential customers if hired. I was never asked if they could use my image or even credited as the creator. This is a blatant copyright infringement. You can’t use someone else’s work to sell your service or your product without permission. And even if you aren’t directly selling, you still can’t use someone else’s images within the context of your business without proper credit or permission. Even if it looks like everyone is doing it. It is illegal and you could get in big expensive trouble. (Steps off legal soap box.) But beyond the illegal nature of this habit, it is just plain not cool as a creative industry peer. It takes a lot of hard work, guts and gumption to create something (not to mention often times a lot of money). How would you feel if someone used your creation to make money? Ouch. Let’s just call this one quits okay? Be kind and credit well. <3
    And to clarify: Re-posting another’s image and “crediting” by tagging them in the image and not the actual original post text is not kosher. It is still sneaky. Just be honest and tell your tribe where you got the image from.¬†My rule of thumb is if in doubt, ask. Don’t assume!

Whew! Okay. Now that we have¬†officially put those on the table, we can silently stop and all move on into using Instagram to grow our businesses authentically! So let’s pour another cup of the good stuff and go back to¬†our love of pretty things and heartfelt connection.

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  1. Bethanne says:

    Pa-REACH it girl!!! Love this article of yours Megan!

  2. Julie says:

    Loving this post! I cannot stand the follow/unfollow strategy. Crazy when people/brands do it multiple times too. It will pay off in the long run to be authentic.

  3. Dilia says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been followed and unfollowed by the same account in a matter of hours. I see what they are doing but I’m just not taking the bait. I think people forget that while we may be sharing business content on Instagram, sometimes our accounts are personal in nature. For instance, I use my account to post recent work, pictures of my family, but also to follow up on what is going on in the lives of friends and family. Not only that, I like to be very intentional with Instagram, and actively engage with the accounts I follow. Regardless of how anyone uses Instagram, I think this is one post everyone should read.

  4. Susie says:

    Thank you for writing this! I’m a newbie to blogging and instagram and when I figured out what this whole “robot” thing was I got so incredible discouraged. It felt slimy and wrong that folks were engaging that way. I have to admit it crossed my mind to try, I was thinking, is this the only way to grow my business and get more engagement? Came to the conclusion that even if it was the “only way” it would just be wrong for what my brand . Thanks!

  5. Jason says:

    Hmm, I tend to disagree to a certain extent. I used to go through specific hashtags related to my content and like hundreds of photos from relevant accounts. I view this as “knocking the door” and invariably I gain loyal followers who are genuinely interested in the content I produce. I now use a bot to do this as there are not enough hours in the day and I don’t know anyone who has ever been irritated by a few extra likes. I’m all for being authentic but I don’t think it’s fair to shame people for using a few tips and tricks to get ahead. I prefer to spend my valuable time developing quality content and interacting with my followers.

    • Megan Martin says:

      Thank you, Jason, for your insight! I appreciate you taking the time to give me your perspective. I agree that the likes aren’t hurting anything. The reason I am still not for it is because it comes off odd to me that a brand will like every single one of my photos, but won’t actually follow (which is how it cues me in that it is a bot service). That doesn’t come off as knocking on the door to me. It just rubs me the wrong way, but I get that we all have different perspectives! I truly don’t want to shame people, but really just shed some light on they can backfire.

  6. Megan Martin says:

    Thank you, Jason, for your insight! I appreciate you taking the time to give me your perspective. I agree that the likes aren’t hurting anything. The reason I am still not for it is because it comes off odd to me that a brand will like every single one of my photos, but won’t actually follow (which is how it cues me in that it is a bot service). That doesn’t come off as knocking on the door to me. It just rubs me the wrong way, but I get that we all have different perspectives! I truly don’t want to shame people, but really just shed some light on they can backfire.

  7. Beverly says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I am on Instagram for my blog. I’ve noticed some strange followings and unfollowing going on. I figured it was some type of marketing thing. I even have had comments that didn’t make sense with what I posted. Your article helped me understand it all. I’m not in to fake and that takes the fun out of Instagram. I guess I don’t understand why people would really want to to that. For me, Instagram is just a fun way to see some creativity and family pictures.