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blogging Mobile Apps Social Media

A Brief History of Instagram Growth Hacking

In Episode 83 of the now defunct Hashtagged Podcast, Jordan Powers interviews Tyson Wheat, who talked about the early days of Instagram. Back then (2011), he says, “You just needed 10 or so likes within 5 minutes to get onto the popular page.” ¬†When I heard this, I realized Instagram was gamed from the beginning. This isn’t saying that without enough hard work, luck and skill you couldn’t use Instagram in 2011 to launch a career. It’s just that already in 2011, you’re competing in the Tour de France with somebody that’s doping, or you’re in a sport where you’re competing with somebody on steroids. Instagram was never fair. The superb photos that ended up on the popular page back then sure had me fooled, though.

The first screenshot I have of Instagram from October of 2011
The first screenshot I have of Instagram from October of 2011


Hey, spamming likes to gain follows worked back then in 2011


By 2012, you could see that something was wrong in all social photo apps. People were gaming the system.


Hardwork and talent were still wonderfully rewarded on Insta back in 2011/2012.

In 2010, Sean Ellis coined the term growth hacking. Andrew Chen goes on at length in this classic article on what it means to be a growth hacker. For me though, growth hacking is finding flaws in the system and exploiting them in ways very similar to how the Russians tipped the 2016 election using hacking. So how did folks take advantage of the growth hacks on the popular page? In a similar way that diggs got monetized (Remember Digg?) the popular page on Instagram got monetized. According to Phil Gonzalez, a consortium of shady Turkish marketers would report a photo that naturally got to the popular page so it would get taken down, and then replace it with a post that got 100s of artificial likes from fake accounts within minutes.

But the popular page really didn’t help that much. I got on it once by posting around 8pm at my silent reading book club back in 2012. A few hundred likes and a score of follows rolled in finally pushing me above 100 followers. I had been stuck at below 100 for a year which is laughable now, but I’d have to say those first 100 followers were all awesome people and really great photographers. Eventually, Instagram would replace the popular page with the explore page, and basically had the algorithm dictate which photos got shown to whom on that page. But crappy photos selling the scam of the week (pills or bitcoin depending on the year) always seemed to find a way there every now and then.

What really helped grow accounts was becoming a suggested user. Instagram could choose anyone and let them be suggested for at least two weeks to years. This meant that when people first signed up, the UI would strongly suggest that they follow the suggested user. You could grow at a rate of 10,000 followers a week as a suggested user.


How’d this dude get suggested on the bottom? His photos are so so.

The second way to grow would be to get a suggested user to follow you. This is where some shady paying for follows came in.

The 3rd way was doing a free for all where you gave photos to people, asked them to do their best edit, and you would choose photos to feature as long as they tagged you in the photo of yours that they posted.

The 4th way, way back in 2012 was botting by using follow and unfollow. Companies like Massplanner which Instagram has now shutdown would sell these services for around 50 to 100 a month depending on how many followers you wanted. It’s not as shady as fake accounts since all you’re doing is suckering someone by following them, and then unfollowing them. Lots of folks have used this strategy from 2012 to 2016 to grow from 0 to 100,000 in a year. The downside is that your engagement is real low, and now that everybody is clued into it, your account just looks fake. The problem is folks who got suggested user back in the day, or coat-tailed off of them look just as fake. What’s even worse is that the algorithm for awhile gave the advantage to folks that botted. Here’s a chart showing that.


In blue @kingy_kings legit working hard to grow; in orange, @jackson.groves doing follow/unfollow by botting. The algorithm has them neck and neck, but then eventually the algorithm fails and rewards the cheater.

However by 2018, the algorithm would actually take away followers for botting, and it did this by feeding the botters to the botters as you can see in the chart below:


@teresa_ on Instagram is the worst. She’s botting and losing followers. lol

From 2016 to 2018 people would try the following to grow:

  • power likes, getting a like from a large account
  • paid features on huge accounts (1 million real followers or more)
  • DM groups – these really help lots with engagement, but sentiment analysis can reveal who uses fake comments. This is true if you don’t shoot bangers. I’ve seen accounts with 1000s of cake photos, and each cake photo is the best cake photo that someone’s ever seen. The idea behind this is similar to the hack Tyson mentioned above. Get 5 or so comments in 15 minutes to get way more likes than if you didn’t get the comments.
  • contests where you have to follow 20 to 40 people in order to enter
  • contests that offered a free camera if you followed them
  • follower networks where people grow multiple accounts to like and follow each other
  • The Gary Vee 2 cent hack; this got killed when the algorithm detects this and just makes sure the Top Page you see is the same as the Recent Page
  • getting a free feature from a large account
  • I’d say that the only strategy that works now is the last one which is just another way of saying “going viral.” Someone prove me wrong here, please.

    The result of all this is that:

    1. people take the same photos as everyone else, i.e. InstaRepeat
    2. people take crappier photos than before
    3. people are taught by Instagram to game the system and society

    This means Instagram is contributing to the downfall of society.

    What should you do if you care about photography? Delete the app. Go back to making zines like I have. If you can’t bear to delete the app, just use it for the DMs.

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Announcements iPhone Dev Mobile Apps

What happened in the last 12 months?

I’ve been spending most of my free time working on my photography. You can see see some of it at Bracket This, and a ton of it on my Instagram account. Right now though, I’m starting to focus on tech again. I’ve been learning Swift to make an iOS app while working with a really awesome designer, Andi Galpern.

Anyways, expect to see more posts about Swift and mobile app development.

Categories
iphone Mobile Apps Social Media TechBiz

Instagram Flexes Its Marketing Muscle with CommunityFirst

Instagram hit 200 million users a few months ago.

Of those 200 million users how many can Instagram engage?

cfirst

The marketing team at Instagram sent out boxes to select users. Users with follower counts as low as 188, and as high as 679,450 got these boxes. These users posted photos to the #communityfirst hashtag. I created a list of likes and followers.

In the first 24 hours here are the stats:

117 users posted photos of what they got in these boxes
3506478 followers were a potential audience for the #communityfirst hashtag
78230 people liked the photos posted
2 percent were engaged

If a like is a “click through” which is highly dubious, a 2 percent CTR is about average.

Categories
blogging How-To Mobile Apps TechBiz Webalytics

How to Get More Instagram Followers Free Honestly

We now know that you can get fake followers and brands won’t know the difference. These brands give tons of money to fakers. We also know that Googling “autolikers” will show us a bunch of apps that can be used to game around 200 followers per day. What does honest engagement look like?

A network graph visualization will easily show fake followers. In Gilad Lotan’s article linked above, more purple means more fake, i.e. accounts that follow exactly 2000 and are followed by less than 20.

Honest engagement *cough* might look something like this chart below which you should please click:

account_growth_3

1. If you drop followers are dropped, if you have good content you shouldn’t have mass un-followings. I dropped 449 followers and only lost 30.

2. If you stop adding followers, like I did around November and December, and just focused on engagement through adding photos, about 25 per month, then you can get follower growth.

3. Do you have to post almost everyday? It turns out that if you add 5 followers per day, spend 15 minutes in the morning and evening liking every good photo in your feed, and do 15 photos per month, you can get about 75 followers per week.

These stats aren’t hard and fast rules, but seem to be true for my account.

I’m going to dig in more and get better stats via the API in an upcoming post.

Categories
Mobile Apps Social Media TechBiz

A Social Media Guide to Growing Engagement on Instagram the Hard Way

We have clear, big data analytics from Curalate about what an engaging Instagram photo is. We can now create duck-face selfies, with lots of background and blue tones, at will, and get more likes.

I just hit 1000 followers a few weeks ago and average about 200 likes per photo. That’s an engagement of 20% that’s much higher than many of the brands or those on the suggested list.

How did I get here?

Well, thanks to those 1000+ followers, I grew engagement the hard way.

There are 3 reliable ways to do this.

1. Be engaged on Instagram: Like and comment positively on as many photos as your aesthetic sensibilities will allow you to. A good amount of time to spend reviewing and liking photos is 30 minutes a day split in the morning and evening. Think twice about leaving a critical comment since that isn’t really the culture of Instagram. If you are wondering where 30 minutes stacks up to the average user, it is 3 times more time than the average user. Like I said, this is the hard way.

2. Post really awesome photos: When you post a photo, post an awesome photo and use at least 11 hashtags. Here is a good sample of 11 hashtags to used based off of my interests and Statigr.am, a personal Instagram analytics site and viewer. This is the most effective method of getting new likes and follows within Instagram according to Curalate. When people comment on your photo, thank them or engage with them back in a positive way.
On weekends, participate in the Weekend Hashtag Project. If you have a personal brand that you are building and not a corporate one, you might get recognized by Instagram HQ from the Weekend Hashtag Project in a blog post. This will create even more engagement. Follow the Instagram account for announcements.

3. Best and funnest of all: go to the Photowalks. My Instagram account was stalled at around 200 followers for 2 years. It wasn’t until I started going out and meeting other Instagram users that I finally got to 1000. After every Photowalk, you can gain followers you met face to face, and then followers from those followers. Here’s awesome advice from a diehard Instagramer, Christian Beccara aka @throughthetinylens who has gotten lots of engagement, buzz, and met lots of folks on trips, recently to New York City:

For me it is about getting involved with the community, going out and shooting whenever possible, acknowledging other peoples comments and staying humble.

Great idea!

Categories
Mobile Apps TechBiz WebApps

3 Alternatives to Showing Photos on Twitter after the Instagram Yank

If you post a photo with text from Instagram to Twitter, your photo will no longer show up on Twitter. Lots of blogs have already covered this story. Some have even gone so far as to defend this decision.

If you’re looking for photo services that haven’t yanked Twitter cards. Here are 3 that are cool to use.

  1. There’s Camera+ which has lots of filters and photo editing tools. The main feature that I like about Camera+ is the light box that allows you to select and arrange which images to edit.
    Here’s an example of Camera+ embedded into Twitter.
  2. Path is okay if you don’t mind blasting your closest friends with Twitter updates. The iPad version of this app is really beautiful and lots of thought went into the UI. Here’s its embed.
  3. Via.Me* is hands down the best for power users that need to post images to both Twitter and Facebook. Your photos also show up Pinterest-like on the app’s web page for leisurely desktop viewing. Below is Via.Me in a Twitter card.

* Disclosure: I work on the API at Via.Me.

Categories
Mobile Apps TechBiz

Instagram Introduces Lower Rate Limits

I just triggered a rate limit in Instagram by liking photos. It seems that once you trigger it, you are limited to 8 likes per minute. It seems that the rate limit is at 30 per minute to trigger it the first time.

Has anybody else run into this?

Categories
iphone iPhone Dev Mobile Apps TechBiz

Lots of Phones to Test At AppDevAndMarketing.com

We test so many phones at App Dev + Marketing because we are exploring the issues involved with tackling cross phone performance issues.

MyChamberApp is an app we created that works on

  • Android
  • iPhone
  • Blackberry, and
  • Mobile Web.

It leads to a lot of late nights and heartache but when you hear from a customer like the Vicksburg Chamber in Mississippi saying how pleased they are it makes it all worth it.

Right now I’m wrestling with Android issues which hopefully me and my team will fix tonight for our partners, Target Marketing aka Chamber Maps.