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Is SocialDrift Safe to Use on Your Instagram Profile?

Posted by on May 14th, 2018

Sometimes on this site I talk about the perils of automation. Other times I talk about the potential benefits. Sometimes I go over lists of potential apps you can use, and other times I dig into one specific app and give you an assessment of what it is, how it works, and if it’s okay to use. Toady is one of those latter days, where I go over one app in detail. Today, it’s SocialDrift.

What is SocialDrift?

SocialDrift is a gray-hat Instagram growth tool, using automation to replace manual actions in a way that mimics manual activity to avoid bot blocking scripts.

If you think this sounds risky, it’s because it sits squarely in the middle of a risky industry. There are dozens of apps that do something similar, some of which can be used for years without any negative action, and others that will get you banned within a week.

Any time you have a bot that purports to interact on social media in your stead, you have to think about the potential issues it can cause. An app like SocialDrift has the potential of hurting your profile, not just through a potential suspension, but through unwanted actions.

The Issue with Instagram Activity Automation

There is plenty of discussion online about the perils of automation. This article explains it quite well, so I’ll summarize the important points here.

First of all, any time a bot leaves comments on your behalf, you can cause issues with inappropriate uses of comments. Even if you make generic comments, like “Nice!”, you end up with awkward situations. The HootSuite experiment talks about “I’m jealous” as a comment on a photo of a guy mocking an ugly painting, “Damn!” as a comment on a bride’s wedding photo, and “your pics > my pics” on the account of a young boy with only a couple of photos, mostly selfies.

Would you, in any circumstance, want your brand account to be making comments like that, or even be commenting on photos like that?

Instagram Bot IllustrationThis is risk #1: leaving inappropriate comments on inappropriate photos. You have to have a lot of control and oversight over an app to make sure it’s not leaving comments, liking pictures, or otherwise interacting with content you don’t want representing your brand. Maybe it’s safer and more reasonable if it’s a personal account and you’re not trying to represent yourself as a professional, but… even then, you don’t want to come across as a creep.

The second lesson learned is that these kinds of bots often use a variation of the “follow-back” or “follow/unfollow method” to try to accumulate new followers. One of the first articles written for this site was about the follow/unfollow method for Twitter, and how it doesn’t work.

This is risk #2: using a technique that is liable to get an account banned, or at the very least make it much more difficult to use On Instagram, you end up following hundreds or thousands of new accounts in pursuit of dozens or hundreds of new followers. HootSuite got 250 new followers, but followed 1,400 people to do it.

That this means is you end up with a feed made up of thousands of photos you just don’t care about. A sophisticated bot might be able to follow accounts that at least post in the same topics you monitor, but many of them won’t. They target high volume keywords and hashtags, as well as active accounts, just to get as many people as possible targets as it can.

If you’re fine with making Instagram a one-sided feed, where you broadcast your message into the void and don’t care about interacting with your audience, this is fine. Of course, that means you’re not really using your social media as a social network, just an advertising network, and a poor one at that.

Strangers on Instagram

At the same time, the bot relies on an outdated assumption about social networks, which is follow-back culture. Follow-back culture was big when social networks were first introduced; or rather, when one-sided social networks came about. Networks like Facebook, when you friend someone, makes it a two-way relationship automatically. Networks like Twitter and Instagram, a follow is one-sided. For a long time, it was considered proper etiquette to follow anyone who follows you, to make that relationship two-sided.

Of course, this was quickly and extensively abused virtually immediately. Businesses and influencers and even spammers would follow as many people as they could, to get those delicious return follows, and then would either ignore their spam-filled feeds or would unfollow most or all of the people they followed. In this way, they accumulated value, without maintaining their part of the social contract.

That’s why it takes 1,400 follows to get 250 followers; very few people actually follow in return these days. A reputable account starting off will be able to get better results, at least for a while, but eventually that value will drop off when the follow-back fishing becomes obvious or when the follow becomes meaningless.

Now, you can mitigate some of these risks. You can carefully choose a slow rate or specific keywords that mean the bot only has interesting content to abuse and interesting people to follow. You can make sure it only posts the most utterly generic comments to avoid misunderstandings. But that limits the ability for the bot to do any actual work, so you end up paying for less and less results. Even then, you never know how well the bot is representing your brand unless you’re spending time overseeing its actions, at which point you might as well be making the actions yourself.

Third Party Credentials

I am, of course, not the first person nor the last person to cover SocialDrift. They have some fairly strong recommendations.

This Entrepreneur article lists SocialDrift as one of 10 tools useful to social media growth in 2018. AJ Agarwal points out the benefits of machine learning when applied to action targeting, which admittedly can be quite useful.

The CEO of Trepoint wrote a similar list for Inc that includes SocialDrift, citing the apparent fact that McDonalds and other large brands are using it to great effect. I don’t know if McDs is still using it or if they tried it for just long enough to be listed as a client, but at least they trusted it enough to try publicly.

The Drum also listed SocialDrift as one of their alternatives to Instagress, though they don’t really dig into potential risks of using any of the platforms.

SocialDrift’s Unique Systems Pitch

The question, with all of this in mind, is simple. Is SocialDrift just another one of these bots, or does it have anything specifically going for it that can grow your account better than the average bot?

Let’s start off with looking at the SocialDrift homepage. Do we see any red flags?

The first red flag to me is that they claim to use “artificial intelligence” to interact with optimal users on your behalf.

Features and SocialDrift

What kind of artificial intelligence are we talking about here? Because companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft are working on real artificial intelligence, and they’ve barely made progress. Microsoft had to shutter one experiment because it was immediately taught to be racist by Twitter trolls. If a sophisticated experiment from Microsoft is that easy to corrupt, how would some offering from a random marketing company be any better?

When they say artificial intelligence, they just mean some basic machine learning algorithms, which themselves are not very smart. They rely on mass amounts of data coming in to be trained properly, which means you’re relying on all of the other SocialDrift users to know what they’re doing in order to get your bot working right. Frankly, I wouldn’t count on it being very sophisticated at all.

Alright, so that’s mostly just a personal quibble. I don’t like when people conflate artificial intelligence and machine learning, when they’re very different things. Still, that’s more a side effect of marketing terms than it is any actual maliciousness in copywriting.

Second, one of the benefits they tout is that their app will work 24/7 for you to grow your following. Let me tell you, if I was building some kind of anti-bot protection, one thing I would look for is non-stop action. Very, very few companies maintain a 24-hour presence on social media, and the ones that do generally operate in response-only mode. They don’t proactively attempt to grow, they simply sit and wait for incoming communications, usually for customer service reasons. Otherwise, well, most social media managers are 9-5 workers the same as the rest of us, so non-stop operation is typically outside the realm of what a reasonable company is doing.

Instagram 247

A third red flag would be that premium accounts include a web proxy. Why would a bot operating on your account need to use a proxy IP to access Instagram? So if its actions cause an IP ban, it doesn’t ban your business IP, so you can drop the bot and still be able to pick up your account. It’s plausible deniability, so you can claim something was using your account in an unauthorized way, and can get a suspension reversed.

Despite all of this, SocialDrift claims to operate within the Instagram terms of service. I would say that if they do, well, it’s within the letter of the law, but not within the spirit. If you dig into their FAQ a little, you find that they talk about staying within Instagram rate limits, but say nothing about behavior guidelines. On the other hand, they also say they’ve never had reports about accounts being suspended or banned, so take that as you will.

One final red flag is that, since Instagram doesn’t have diverse APIs for user actions – since they want you using the official app, not a third party dashboard – they require you to put your password into their app. Giving your password to any third party is a huge potential liability, and can be an immediate deal-breaker for many brands.

A Look Inside

SocialDrift has a three-day free trial, so if you want to give it a look yourself, feel free. It’s possible things have changed since my experience.

Under the hood, SocialDrift has a very sophisticated dashboard showing what they do. They have four possible actions; liking content, commenting on content, following accounts, and unfollowing accounts. You can enable any or all of them, and toggle them at any time.

While the app is running, the dashboard has a feed of your growth and the actions it has taken. This is especially important if you want to make sure it’s not leaving inappropriate comments, following the wrong kinds of accounts, or unfollowing accounts you wanted to keep around.

You can filter the audience targeting for these actions based on several criteria. You can choose specific usernames of people you want to engage with to fish for a follow. You can specify hashtags relevant to your brand, for the bot to use to engage with users. You can choose specific locations for the same effect, and some other filters besides.

Pricing Plans for SocialDrift

Pricing is at least reasonable. They charge per day of activity, on either a weekly or monthly basis. You can pay for a week for $13, or a month for $39, getting their full premium selection of offerings either way. Obviously, it’s cheaper to pay per month. Charges are also per-account, so if you’re trying to grow more than one account, you will need to pay for more than one account. They offer enterprise pricing for more than 5 accounts, which can be useful for agencies experimenting with the tool.

At the end of the day, though, you just want to know one thing. Is it safe? I would tentatively say yes, with one major caveat. As with any bot, you run the risk of inappropriate actions. SocialDrift can use machine learning to eventually learn to avoid risky and inappropriate actions, but that means it needs heavy monitoring initially until you train it properly. If you’re willing to make that investment, it can be a good tool. However, you can’t just pay for it and let it run with no oversight and expect it to be effective.

Join the discussion:
  1. Home2B

    says:

    SocialDrift is no longer an automated service! They only tell you how to enhance your IG account for 39.99 a month. Is it normal to lose followers after complaining to a service like this and demanding a refund? I went from appox 124 or 74 followers quickly not the normal few over several days. I was under a 3 day trial and they would not issue a refund because I joined Sat and Mon was Labor Day and they were closed and I could not cancel. They have very bad business practices.

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