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Instagram Pods and Groups: How They Can Help Your Brand
In June 2016, Instagram’s content algorithm underwent a major overhaul. While the original algorithm displayed content in strictly chronological order, the (supposedly) new and improved version decides what content to present based on the number of users that engage with it and the timeliness of those interactions.
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In theory, this creates a more personalized and directed user experience: Instagrammers are no longer subjected to seeing irrelevant content on their feeds simply because it was posted recently. Instead, they’re presented with content that they’re likely to enjoy and engage with based on its popularity and other social signals that the algorithm takes into account.
Although the switch has been bemoaned by IGers far and wide, the change presents a great opportunity for those willing to learn the new rules of the road. Content’s exposure is no longer shackled to the ticking of the clock — not only are creators able to get their content in front of a more participatory audience by virtue of the new system, but the increased complexity of the algorithm gives influencers the ability to “hack” it and exploit its quirks.
And that’s exactly what savvy Instagrammers did. Meet Instagram engagement pods: the clever new way to grow your following and improve your content’s reach. In this guide, we’re going to take an in-depth look at how these groups can fit into your brand’s content strategy and how to utilize them to their fullest extent.
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What is an Instagram pod?
An Instagram pod is a group of Instagram users who agree to engage with each other’s content in order to help boost its exposure. They will typically be members of the same Instagram group chat and will communicate via the app’s direct messaging system.
Since Instagram factors in how quickly a piece of content racks up engagements after it’s been posted, pods tend to have rules about how fast their members need to like, comment on, or follow the posts shared to the group. Members are expected to be active participants, and failing to sufficiently engage with other members’ content, or “leeching”, can lead to a ban.
The number of people in an Instagram pod varies from group to group. Some pods can have as few as 10 members, while others can have upwards of 1,000 people in the group. Pods of this size often have pre-determined “drop” times — periods of time in which the members are allowed to share content.
In general, the smaller pods tend to be more tight-knit and focused on a particular niche, which means you’re more likely to get sincere and quality engagements from them. They often operate like a small group of enthusiasts who are interested in each other’s work and would be engaging with each other regardless — the group merely provides a way to ensure everyone’s posts are seen.
On the other hand, the large groups often have so many members that even just liking all of their posts within the specified time frame is a difficult task, let alone crafting any substantial or valuable comments. For those concerned with the ethics of gaming the Instagram algorithm, these should raise more red flags — they are much more akin to buying followers and likes than the smaller ones are. That said, they can work well in some cases and each group is different, so your mileage may vary.
How do Instagram pods work?
The M.O. of Instagram pods is pretty straightforward: you post your content, and the other members of the Instagram group need to engage with it within a specified time period. Pods often follow a like-for-like or comment-for-comment policy, where every action requires an equal and opposite reaction.
While it seems easy enough, keeping up with your responsibilities to the group can turn into a pretty big time commitment. Even for smaller groups, you’re talking about 10 or so members often posting multiple times a day — this could mean 40 different pieces of content to like and comment on daily. Members are often required to engage with content within an hour of it being posted, so you’ll need to monitor the group and be ready to spring into action whenever duty calls.
The specific rules will vary from pod to pod, but there are a few common by-laws that most groups tend to follow, with some minor variations. These include keeping the chat strictly business, meaning no discussion or chit-chat is allowed in the group chat, and no “leeching”, which means benefiting from the group without contributing back to it. Failure to abide by these rules can lead to removal from the group.
What are the pros and cons of Instagram Pods?
If everything goes according to plan, Instagram pods can help you beat the Instagram algorithm and get your content in more users’ feeds. In some cases, they may be able to help boost your content onto Instagram’s “Explore” page, which can give you viral exposure.
If you’re a member of a high-quality pod, you may also find that simply staying up to date and connecting with other talented people in your field can be inspiring and a benefit in itself. The members of the more elite pods are often professional Instagrammers, so being in a tight-knit group with them can be a great way to gain insight into and learn from their social media strategy. Even without the increased exposure they’ll help you attain, these types of Instagram pods can be a good way to network with others in your niche.
Unfortunately, Facebook and Instagram are not thrilled about the existence of pods. In fact, Facebook banned 10 large groups that were used to form pods in 2018, making it clear that the social network does not condone or approve of these groups. One former pod member even reported that after joining an engagement pod for a short period of time, Instagram retaliated by blocking her store’s website (see the comments here). Although this story is unverified, if it is true, then becoming a member of a pod can be a pretty major risk for businesses.
It’s important to keep in mind that using some of the larger pods can be viewed as fraudulent to some degree. You are essentially faking a higher engagement rate by exchanging likes and comments, meaning followers that learn of your clandestine marketing strategy may be put off. This is less of an issue with small pods, as there can be a legitimate case made that these members would engage with the other members’ content anyway and are simply using the pod as a way to get notified when something is posted.
What types of Pods are there?
Despite their name, Instagram pods have spread beyond Instagram and now operate in a few different ways that aren’t strictly limited to the photo-sharing network. Let’s take a look at the different types of pods you may encounter.
Instagram DM groups
These are your standard, run-of-the-mill engagement pods that we’ve been discussing so far. They operate via Instagram’s direct messaging feature and are limited to a maximum of 32 members. Because of the fairly low member limit, participants are expected to be particularly vigilant in carrying out their duties to the group as they take up precious space that could be allocated to someone else. This attitude can sometimes lead to better results than other types of groups.
In addition, the small number of members means that you’re more likely to get quality engagements. With fewer posts each day, members have more time to spend commenting on each one.
On the flipside, the scarcity of spots means that these Instagram comment pods are more selective, so gaining access to one isn’t as easy as it would be for a pod with over 1,000 members. You’ll either need to start your own or land an invitation, which you can get by connecting directly with other Instagrammers in your niche.
These pods forego the actual sharing of posts, instead relying on Instagram notifications to signal that members should begin engaging. All the members of the group turn on notifications for each other, and when one of them posts, everyone receives a notification and proceeds to like or comment on the post. These groups may have an Instagram group chat as well, but it’s only used for announcements or to remind people to engage, not to share content.
Telegram is an instant messaging and VoIP app similar to Whatsapp and Viber. All messages are encrypted, which makes it a great place for those hoping to game the system to congregate.
The general idea of Telegram groups is the same as the other types of pods: share content, get likes and comments, then like and comment back. The one difference, however, is that Telegram groups tend to be larger than those you’ll find on Instagram. This is primarily due to the fact that Instagram only allows 32 people in a group chat, so larger groups need to find a different platform. Telegram is preferable over other platforms like Facebook due to its robust encryption technology.
Instagram pods on Reddit don’t actually operate on the site per se, but Reddit is a great way to find pods that may be a good fit for your brand. The IGPods subreddit has dozens of posts both from pods that are seeking members and from users that are looking for a pod to join. Typically, this subreddit is used solely as a recruiting grounds — the actual promotional activity takes place on Instagram, Telegram, or another messaging service.
How can you join an Instagram pod?
In short: it depends. Large pods with thousands of members can be found pretty easily just by doing a few searches — you can even find some smaller niche pods this way. A quick search for “Instagram pod” on Facebook returns a huge number of results:
That one search returned hundreds of groups, some covering very specific niches like drone photography and registered dietitians. The farther down you scroll, the more specific the pods become. To join them, you’ll usually need to be approved by an admin.
The IGPods subreddit can also prove to be a great resource. There are tons of posts looking for new pod members. Just scroll through the subreddit until something catches your attention and follow the instructions in the post to join.
The hardest way to find a pod is to use Instagram itself — going this route will require a bit of schmoozing. As you know, pods that operate on Instagram are fairly tight-knit because of the app’s limitations, so to join one of these you’ll need to make contact with an influencer and ask them whether they’re a part of any pods. Keep in mind that Instagrammers will often be hesitant to provide any information, as letting others know they use this marketing strategy could damage their reputation.
Are Instagram Engagement Pods right for your brand?
Unlike many other promotional strategies, becoming a member of a pod carries some risks. Instagram does not condone the use of pods and there are reports that the social network may even start banning users that participate in them. Because of this, brands that are dead-set on utilizing Instagram pods should steer clear of the large groups on Facebook. Small groups are less likely to encounter issues as they can arguably be viewed as supportive communities. Telegram pods are theoretically the safest options due to the app’s focus on privacy and encrypted messaging.
Related: How to Build a Brand Community
That said, your time and efforts will likely be better spent focusing on more traditional growth strategies. While small pods can definitely be useful, large pods that accept practically everyone are unlikely to get you any quality engagements — it’s difficult to truly connect with any content on a meaningful level when you are forced to like hundreds of posts each day under the threat of expulsion from the group.
If you want to get the most out of Instagram pods, consider reaching out to other brands you respect and see if they’d be interested in forming one with you, or adding you to theirs if they already have one. Being selective makes it a lot more like having a close group of friends who will support you no matter what you post because they respect you and your work as a whole.
Due to the lower number of engagements you’re likely to get from these small groups, it may not end up being worth your while in the end, anyway. However, if you connect with influencers and brands that already have a large following, you may still get good results — quality over quantity, as they say. Getting a comment or like from a big influencer can go quite a long way.
Either way, getting in a tight-knit pod with people who are truly enthusiastic about your work is a good way to make connections and stay up to date with what other people in your niche are doing, even if it doesn’t get you the exposure you’re looking for.
What results can you expect from Instagram comment pods?
According to Emma Brown of Hootsuite, joining two large Instagram pods increased the number of likes on her posts by 1,398%. While these metrics look great, she notes that the sudden uptick in likes compared to her older content comes across as suspicious — it makes it appear that these engagements are fake. She found that smaller pods increased the number of comments she received but didn’t change the number of likes very much. She also saw an increase in followers and comments after joining a pod she found on Reddit but concluded that the growth wasn’t significant.
What’s the bottom line?
All in all, Instagram pods are a bit of a disappointing marketing strategy. Although they can boost engagement with your posts, the increase that comment pods provide is usually only skin deep and doesn’t lead to any meaningful connections. While the idea of teaming up with other brands is a good one, the execution on most pods leaves something to be desired.
Collaborating with other brands is definitely a strategy that can grow your following, but you need to do it in the right way: by building meaningful partnerships and connections over time that will get you high-quality engagements, not superficial increases in metrics.
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