This is a guest post by Abby Zufelt, a digital marketing director at the digital marketing agency, Markitors, where she helps build the relationship between brands and audiences.

Unsolicited direct messages, comments that don’t make sense, a spree of likes to your account. No, it’s not an odd Instagram malfunction. I’m referring to the B-word we all love to hate (or hate to love?): bots.

It’s no secret that Instagram is trying to cut down on bots and spam. With multiple API restrictions announced just this year alone, the social media giant is looking for ways to make Instagram “spam-free again.” And the bot usage by brand accounts is finally starting to catch up to them. But some accounts are still riding the bot train with zero desire to get off.

What is a Bot?

Bots come in many forms. The least invasive would be those that like photos for you. Photos can be liked based on hashtags specifications or account names. You put in your specifications and, voila, your bot will go around the Gram liking away. The most invasive bot example would be one that sends automated direct messages plus performs a daily dose of following and unfollowing. If you haven’t experienced this, consider yourself lucky.

The Bot Effect

Bots are great at reeling people in, but getting your audience to stay and engage is a completely different story. I once worked with a client that was set on using bots to direct message other accounts to inform them of their product and services. Along with the message, a follow request would be sent. The follow only lasted for a limited time and then the bot unfollowed the account.

As mentioned above, this is one of the most invasive forms of what I call “bot marketing.” Despite many warnings, they were blinded by the follower growth that the bot brought in and insisted on using it. The bot was turned off when Instagram announced new API changes that took effect in July. As a result, the account’s followers started decreasing massively, losing over 400 followers in one month. Engagement was also at an all-time low.

Bots can bring in followers, yes, but because of the lack of genuine human interaction, bots are connecting with people that may have no interest in your account, products, or services. No matter the specifications and constraints you put on your bot, you do not know exactly what it’s up to.

Why Bots are Bad

First, bots are spammy. From a brand stand point, they are damaging. Your account looks illegitimate and bot messages are, frankly, annoying. Social media is supposed to be about building a community and creating connection. A bot will never be as genuine as true human interaction.

Second, say a bot does gets someone to convert as a follower. There is a chance they will stay and be engaged (actually liking and commenting), but more often than not, they may never engage with your content whatsoever.

So, Do Bots Work?

I’ve seen companies increase audience numbers thanks to bots. But as they say, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Bots CAN help grow your numbers; there’s no denying that they create exposure for your account.

However, if you’re looking to have an active audience for the long-term, a bot will not get you there. Bots breed instant satisfaction, not long-lasting engagement.

Vanity metrics are not the point, or the profit, of social media. Alternatively, the ability to influence, engage and spark action should be prioritized when it comes to measuring social media success.

What to Expect When you Stop your Bot

Losing followers is a main concern when you stop using bots. Chances are, you will lose followers. But guess what? That’s ok!

As for the people that unfollow you, you may not want them anyway. If you have 15k followers but only a 1% engagement rate, do you really have 15k active followers? At the end of the day, real social media influence comes from measuring engagement.

We all want to grow our accounts and there’s nothing wrong with that. More followers means more opportunities for your content to be seen. But don’t sacrifice your brand and your Instagram account by cutting corners with bots.

Generate growth the right way by engaging with the your existing audience and putting out great content. It may take longer, but your audience will trust you, stand by you, and engage with your content, which is what I call true influence.