Approaching two years ago now, Instagram made a major change to the activity feed of every user. Once showing images in chronological order, the feed was modified to show images in order of popularity according to a secret algorithm. Essentially, a post or account that receives better engagement than another post or account, is shown higher in the feed than the post with less engagement, even if this post was uploaded more recently. The algorithm is designed to ensure that each user is exposed to the best quality content as defined by what they engage with, leading to the best possible experience.
If you’re the account with greater post engagement, the algorithm is GREAT! But, if you’re the smaller user attempting to grow, the algorithm can be hiding your creative and appealing content, reducing reach, impressions, engagement and thus, sales.
Enter pods. A pod is a private group usually containing 10-20 Instagram users, all with a similar target market. All members follow each other, and communication as a group occurs via Instagram DM. Each time a member of the pod posts to Instagram, they also make the other pod members aware of the post through DM, so that the members can engage with the post however has been agreed to by the group. Engagement will often include liking the new post, as well as leaving an authentic comment. Each pod will have different guidelines, but generally, an authentic comment is not a line of emojis, nor something basic and overly short.
Why bother committing to pods? As stated, engagement is now used by Instagram to sort the order of posts, as it is considered by Instagram to be an indication of post quality. Early engagement with a post leads to a better algorithm ranking (higher positioning in people’s feeds), opening the door for even more post reach and engagement. If your post does well enough, it may make it onto the explore page, which can result in a significant increase in reach, engagement and new followers. For smaller accounts/brands, pods make it possible to compete with larger established accounts, rather than falling victim to the algorithm.
Eager to join a pod? You have two choices. The first option is to create one of your own, which will give you more control over the number of members, what is expected per post and more. This can be time-consuming, depending on the size of your account, your content’s appeal, and how you search for members to add. Don’t expect everyone to want to join a pod with other members that have poor content, or content that is not relevant to their brand. Searching for accounts to add to your pod can be done manually with Instagram’s search tool, or you can use one of the many online tools which can have filtering options, information about an account’s engagement and more. Members of tSBN could also use the network’s filtering capabilities to rapidly search for appropriate brands to create a pod with.
If you don’t form your own group, you must wait to be added or request to be added to an existing pod, either through Instagram-focused groups on other platforms or word of mouth. Just make sure, whether you create one or join a pre-existing group, that the accounts you join up with have a similar audience to yours. This will help to ensure that your post and account are displayed in front of people that will be genuinely interested in your content.
What you should have also recognised by now is that regardless of the pod you manage to become a member of, you must give as much as you get. A group with a greater number of members that post even just once a day, might be a considerable challenge to manage. If you’re not passionate about growing your following and engagement, and don’t have much spare time in a day as it is, a pod may be the wrong move for you, at least a large one with regular demands.
Is there any downfall to pods? Depending on the quantity of engagement by pod members on each of your posts, organic followers which are real users with a genuine interest in your brand, may over time recognise that the followers frequently engaging with your posts are actually ‘fake’. If your organic followers do notice this, they may lose trust in you (important for brands aiming to grow through social media), resulting in a loss of real engagement. However, there is no guarantee that your pod’s activity will be uncovered, and there are many strategies your pod can use to reduce the possibility.
For the Instagram users more familiar with the intricacies of the platform, there is little belief that Instagram will punish you for attempting to ‘cheat’ the algorithm, as it can for users of bots. Pods are made of real people, providing real engagement, which for the meantime doesn’t appear to be a big problem for Instagram.
Are you, or have you previously been, a part of an Instagram pod? Was it a worthwhile or worthless commitment? Have you got any advice that we haven’t given in this blog? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!