In a world where every other post you see on feeds seems to be berating the all-seeing all-knowing and, apparently, all-evil ‘algorithm’, it’s no surprise that Instagram users are coming up with new ways to try and beat the system and up their engagement.
It was back in 2016 that the image-sharing social network scrapped its previously chronological feed order, and instead, presented users with what it deemed the most appropriate content for them, based on who they follow along with a whole host of other metrics. This very quickly sparked ‘grammers to create new ways to boost their likes and comments, complaining that the algorithm just didn’t show their content to their followers anymore… and one such popular method still lives today: the Instagram Engagement Pod.
So, what actually is an Engagement Pod?
An Engagement Pod, or Engagement Group, is a group of Instagram users who band together to increase engagement on each other’s posts. This is done with the initiation of a chat group – usually on Whatsapp, Telegram, Facebook Messenger or other messaging program, but sometimes on Instagram itself – and each member posts in the group whenever they publish something new to the platform.
The rules of Pods vary, but usually, they involve following, liking, commenting on, and/or saving the post they’ve shared. Some require this to be done in a set time frame and others set an amount of posts to engage with before users you can post their own. Pods come in all shapes and sizes, from those with thousands of members to those with just tens. Many smaller Pods describe themselves as niche or friendship groups, but if engagement is required, it fits the bill as an Engagement Pod.
Why do people use Engagement Pods?
With the chronological feed having long disappeared, there’s a common misconception that the Instagram algorithm prioritises only content with high engagement levels to the top of the feed: and so, having content with lots of likes and comments from the get-go thanks to a Pod helps elevate a profile’s visibility. Whilst engagement is one metric with which Instagram judges the value of content, it is only one – and it is fast falling in importance. Those in Engagement Pods will say that they always see the high engagement posts high up in their feed, but that’s because they interact with the other Pod members so frequently, it deems them relevant content.
If you can find one to join that’s not full of spammers and bots, Engagement Pods are considered a quick and easy way to give profile numbers a boost without having to invest in all of the planning, scheduling and creation time most have to.
Why shouldn’t you use Engagement Pods?
The engagement gained from the usage of Pods may look impressive upon first glance, but it’s not genuine. Persevering with niched quality content takes a long time, and the numbers don’t often look great from the ‘off but the end result is an authentically engaged and receptive audience.
Engagement from a Pod is fairly easy to spot, particularly if the group involved is small. The same ten or so usernames may pop up with a swift like and comment on every post and the interactions quickly grow same-y or stale. Savvy brands with decently-resourced marketing teams are able to identify such interactions easily, and those with access to various social media monitoring software can pick up on it quickly. Businesses looking to work with influencers or other social media users in a meaningful way want (and need) them to have a genuinely engaged audience to build relationships, and in turn, sales. Certainly many assume that an influencer needs tens of thousands of followers and mass amounts of likes, comments and shares to work with brands – but that’s simply not the case. Plenty of social media users are able to secure brand deals on the basis of their hard work and quality content with just hundreds of followers. Indeed, artificially inflating engagement in this way is classed as ‘influencer fraud’ and is likely to have accounts blacklisted by relevant agencies and businesses in the industry.
What’s more, Engagement Pods work against Instagram’s standard user terms and conditions and its Community Guidelines. In 2018, the site announced its intention to crack down on inauthentic engagement and activity, and it’s been doing so by writing new code into its algorithms and back-end systems ever since. Wherever the same groups of users interact consistently with primarily each other’s content, the system sees and acknowledges it, and punishment can come in the form of limited organic reach or even the shutting down of accounts with no warning. This is happening with increasing frequency and can see creators banned immediately with no way of recourse.
Do the numbers really matter?
Of course, no one wants to feel like they’re creating something and it’s falling into an empty space with no visibility or noise. But followers and engagement levels should never impede on the happiness and contentment of the creator. Realistically, a business owner may only have 2,000 potential customers to sell to; so if they hit a following of ten times that, just 10% of their engagement may be of any tangible business use to them anyway. Instagram is not the only way to make sales, to build a brand or to publish quality content and is by no means the be all or end all.
That said, those with bigger followings tend to suffer lower engagement than those with smaller. A good engagement rate for a celebrity with hundreds of thousands of followers may be just 1%, but for someone with a few thousand, 3 or 4%.
Indeed, businesses looking to work with influencers rarely now only focus on follower numbers – and if they do blindly follow the stats with no recall for their authenticity, their marketing efforts will falter for it. Those with genuine engagement are more likely to boost their profile and sales than those with large followings but lots of Pod engagement.
I’m in a Pod already. Now what?
Unless you’ve been in a Pod for just a few days and given very little engagement to others, then chances are, Instagram has already sussed you. However, that’s not to say you can’t recover. Remove yourself from the Pod and continue posting well-niched content that fits your target audience. You’ll probably see a large decrease in numbers and engagement to begin with, and Instagram may well punish you with limited reach, but consistency and continued effort will eventually see you break through the barrier and continue on. It’s not the end of the world, but it may seem a lot of effort compared to how things were before. Remember: it’s the authenticity that counts, and that the algorithm truly values.
How do I succeed with my Instagram content without joining an Engagement Pod?
Work hard! Those wanting to succeed on Instagram to build a brand or business, or to ‘influence’, need to niche down, produce consistent high-quality content that fits with their target audience and engage (genuinely) with others in their niche. It is rare for a business to succeed on Instagram alone – imagine if the whole site was removed tomorrow?! – but those looking to do build their understanding of the platform and its opportunities can do so with the help of various professional development groups.
There’s no one-size-fits-all plan to score big on the ‘gram, nor a golden ticket to easy viral content, but you’ve heard the phrase ‘content is king’ before and that’s for good reason. Stick at it, if you like it. If you don’t… try something different.
The header image on this article was created by Georgia de Lotz, for Unsplash.