Recently, Instagram started using an algorithm to reorder how posts are viewed in your home feed. This means that you’re no longer seeing images in reverse chronological order and instead the algorithm overrides chronological order to show you posts that Instagram thinks you will “care about most.”
In March 2017, Instagram posted about the new algorithm: “To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most.” What are the metrics for “caring” that Instagram thinks are common to all users? Timeliness of the post, relationship with the person posting, and the “likelihood you’ll be interested in the content.”
Some Instagrammers have lower engagement on their posts and think this is a result of the change, so they are taking actions that they believe will help them fight against the gravity of the algorithm that is pulling their posts down.
One popular option to buck the algorithm is to join an “Instagram pod.”
What are Instagram pods and how do they work?
Instagram pods are known by different names. You might hear about an “Instagram engagement group,” for example. An Instagram pod comprises people who are willing to engage on each other’s Instagram content to help boost posts in users’ feeds.
Once you have joined a pod, you are in a community of Instagrammers that are focused on helping each other. They like each other’s posts or even leave comments. This, they believe, will help keep posts in the algorithm’s good favor and result in views from more followers than wouldn’t see the post otherwise.
How to set up an Instagram pod
There’s no one right way to set up an Instagram pod. You can start by reaching out to others in your same topic area. This might be done on a one-by-one basis so that you can invite those whose brands are in line with the niche, or topic area, of your brand.
Some users are more public in how they look for community members for their pod. For example, Glamour and Giggles tweeted an image addressing “bloggers and influencers” asking for their Instagram handle and niche. Then, she lists the reasons for joining: “boost engagement,” “beat the algorithm,” and “meet other Instagrammers.”
— Glamour and Giggles (@priyanka91_) June 10, 2017
One Instagrammer posted a public request to Quora, asking, “Who wants to join an Instagram pod within the health and fitness niche?”
Others choose a private and exclusive method for forming a pod, sending direct messages to Instagrammers asking if they’d like to join a group.
How to join an existing Instagram pod
The exclusive nature of Instagram pods make many hard to find. They can take the form of private Facebook groups or Instagram group messaging, for example, which are hidden and not searchable by those who would like to join.
They are also frequently invite-only and admit only those who fit well with a specific topic. For example, an Instagram pod might have all travel-related Instagrammers. Moritz von Contzen notes that “accounts of similar sizes participate in the same group.”
If you want to join an Instagram pod, you might search for more public requests, but there are other ways to join a pod. One way to increase your chances of finding or being invited to a pod is to network regularly with businesses like yours that use Instagram because connections can happen offline.
Also, engage with similar brands on Instagram and make them aware of you and your Instagram content. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to like your competitors’ posts; you can find non-competitors in the same space.
For example, if you are a real estate agent trying to build your brand on Instagram, engage regularly with interior designers in your area. Those that run pods are more likely to invite those whom they know and trust. For example, some pods that take the form of a Facebook group only let new members join who are endorsed by current members.
What are the benefits of joining a pod?
While the immediate benefit, and purpose, of the Instagram pod is to increase the percentage of your followers who will actually see your post in their feeds, there are other benefits to being a part of a pod. One is community. You’re in a group of people who are supporting each other’s efforts to be successful on Instagram and ultimately in their businesses.
What are the downsides of joining a pod?
Gaming the system
Some people feel that joining a pod doesn’t feel right. One Instagrammer who is a travel blogger (and who asked that her name not be disclosed) mentioned to me, “somehow it doesn’t seem like a very genuine thing to do. Gaming the algorithms just so your photo is more visible to people is not something we set out to do when we first joined Instagram. And I get it that people want traffic, visibility, and views…but through these methods, you’re engaging with that small group as a means to an end, and it doesn’t even seem like genuine engagement.”
Damaging to your brand
Charlie Terry warns users that Instagram pods are not the best strategy for long-term success. An Instagram pod, in his words, “is essentially a fake engagement. If the account is a business account I would be careful as you could damage your engagement long term. A better strategy would be to engage naturally and build a loyal relevant community, instead of a fake one that has no real value.”
The easiest way to keep track of comments and engage in real conversations on Instagram is to use a social media management tool like Agorapulse to keep track of all your relevant conversations.
Recently, I interviewed the owner of a clothing business that has over 40,000 followers on Instagram. She told me that joining an Instagram pod or engagement group gives a false sense of confidence because pod members cause a boost in engagement, but that it doesn’t actually cause many additional people to like, comment, or buy. “It boosts my confidence,” she said, but she stopped joining pods when she realized it wasn’t helping to increase her sales.
Do you engage in Instagram pods? Have they helped or hurt your business? Share your experiences!