43% spend 6-plus hours a week, while 63% of business owners spend 1-5 hours a week on social media. At a glance, for a 40-plus hour work week, this may not seem like a lot. But add it up over a month and you’re spending 24 monthly hours (or more if you spend more than 6 hours a day). While being active on social media accounts is important for apparel businesses, as the business owner, you typically juggle several different roles. Time is your most valuable asset; the time you can’t afford to waste manually sharing social posts and analyzing your social media traffic. But, it’s critical to grow a following and generate revenue from your social platforms, especially Instagram where as of June 2016, there were 500 million monthly active users. And according to a 2014 Pew Research study, the media sharing platform saw an increase in followers at more than 400%, most notably in the apparel category. Not to mention compared to other social platforms, Instagram provides brands with 25% more engagement. Instagram is an apparel brand’s best social media marketing friend. Your other best friend? Instagram automation.

The Good

The good, or maybe best, part of automating is saving time. There are various Instagram automation software systems that will do the liking, following, and content sharing for you. But perhaps the most used automation feature is using Instagram automation tools to schedule your Instagram updates. Real-time posting is what Instagram wants. It’s what consumers want. It’s what you want. But, real-time posting doesn’t work for everybody, especially busy ecommerce store owners, all the time. If you want your social media marketing strategy to work, then you have to be active on the social platforms of your choosing. But being really active (or even slightly active) is really time-consuming, whether you’re a big or small company. Scheduling social posts in advance is essentially the most necessary part of social media automation. The time you save is the time you can spend actually engaging with customers and potential customers on Instagram, plus doing all those other roles you juggle every day. Another good feature of Instagram automation is boosting your following with real people and accounts, rather than buying fake followers and spam accounts like some sketchy companies do.

The Bad

Most everything in life has a good side and a bad side. In this case, certain Instagram automation tools that auto comment on posts and follow accounts can cause unwanted, questionable situations. One guy tried Instagram automation on his personal account, set up good targets (or so he thought) and let the tool he was using leave comments for him that matched the parameters he set. Unfortunately, it had him leaving certain generic comments on the wrong type of photos—awkward. Another downside is totally wreaking havoc on your Instagram feed. A tool that auto follows people may gain you hundreds of new followers in a few days, but the automation system will likely have you following more than that, maybe even thousands in just a few short days. That makes your feed unbearable. It’s just too much; too chaotic, too messy and filled with a bunch of crap posts. And ultimately all those extra posts in your feed end up burying the accounts you might actually want to easily keep tabs on and engage with. You may think, “That’s Ok. I don’t spend a lot of time on my feed, and I can just search for the accounts I want to interact with more.” Well then yes you get a large following, but followers don’t translate to engagement. Engagement is necessary to be effective with social media marketing. Also, even when you set up specific targets, automated systems still aren’t humans and can’t tell the difference between a real person or company’s account and spam, so half of those 100 new accounts you follow could be spam accounts.

The Ugly

The ugliest part of automating Instagram is using Instagram bots to follow accounts and like posts for you goes against Instagram’s Terms of Use. And you wouldn’t want your business’s Instagram account terminated—Instagram is too valuable a social platform for your industry. That’s why it’s best to be careful the automating services and features you use, and to always remember there’s still need for a human to daily check in, answer questions and engage with accounts.

The Tools

But, you’re still one person trying to run a successful apparel business. And there are only so many hours in a day for you to do everything you need to do. So while you should regularly do some of the likings, commenting and following yourself, you can still automate a large percentage of your activity. And here are the tools to pull it off right:
  • Crowdfire: Easily grow and manage your followers and who you follow.
  • Social Insight: Your go-to Instagram analytics tool that monitors engagement, interactions, and follower growth as well as shows you the best time to post based on your post history and engagement.
  • Iconosquare: If you want a web-interfaced analytics tool to optimize your performance, then this is the one you want.
  • Later: The highly-favored scheduling tool that allows you to plan and schedule posts, including photos, videos, and captions from any device.
  • ScheduGram: Another scheduling tool, except this one, is web-based and actually posts for you instead of sending you a reminder about a pre-scheduled post.
  • Repost: An easy way to repost your favorite photos and videos as well as from other Instagram accounts.
  • SocialRank: Effortlessly identify, organize and manage your Instagram followers.
  • Flipagram: How you can show a series of photos in a quick slideshow. This tool is perfect for apparel retailers to show off their new season collections in one post rather than 5 individual ones. (Here’s a cool example from a clothing retailer.)
Automation will never replace the need for human touch. No tool out there will replace a human personally responding to comments and questions left on posts. But automating things like scheduling posts isn’t really automation—it’s simply practicing good organizational skills. 82% of apparel brands have embraced Instagram. Have you? And if you have, are you making the most of it by utilizing Instagram automation tools so you can better allocate your time?]]>

Greg is the founder and CEO of Stryde and a seasoned digital marketer who has worked with thousands of businesses, large and small, to generate more revenue via online marketing strategy and execution. Greg has written hundreds of blog posts as well as spoken at many events about online marketing strategy. You can follow Greg on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.