You might have heard some buzz about the latest Instagram marketing trend – Instagram pods. You may have been asked to join an Instagram pod. Or maybe you’re even actively participating in one now.
Since Instagram changed their algorithm, many businesses have not been getting the visibility they hoped for among their follower base. As a result, Instagram pods came about as a way for businesses to work the algorithm in their favor to improve visibility. But do they really work? And can “gaming the system” end up negatively impacting your business?
When new trends come about in the social media marketing world, it’s important to understand how they work before you participate. No matter what your experience with Instagram pods, it’s vital that you get to know what they are and how they work so that you can make an educated decision about using them for your brand.
That’s why we’ve put together some information below about what an Instagram pod is and how it can impact your business. (Spoiler Alert: We don’t think that they are the best investment for small businesses. We’ll explain why below to help you make the best decision for your brand.)
With Instagram pods, you rely on others in your group to comment and like your content as a way to boost engagement and show Instagram that your content is high-quality.
What is an Instagram Pod?
Changes to the Instagram algorithm have reduced visibility for many businesses. Instagram’s goal was to update its algorithm to provide a better experience for its users. The social media platform wants to show users more of what they care about in their feed. However, these changes have also made it harder for businesses to be seen by their followers.
The new Instagram algorithm makes it so that users no longer see posts chronologically in their feeds. Instead, the content that a user sees in his or her feed is based on engagement. Posts with more likes, shares, comments, views, saves, etc. signal to Instagram that the content is high-quality and something that more viewers might like to see.
In addition to rewarding those posts with higher levels of engagement, the Instagram algorithm also takes into consideration the timeliness of the post and the user’s relationship to the person posting. When this algorithm change came about, many businesses found that their followers were just not seeing their content on a regular basis, which caused a decline in engagement and conversions for many businesses that use Instagram for marketing.
That’s why Instagram pods were born. An Instagram pod is a group of like-minded business owners who connect with one another and engage with each other’s posts. The goal of these pods is to increase post engagement so that each account can rank better in the Instagram algorithm. The idea here is that the more engagement the posts have, the more likely Instagram will see these posts as valuable, thus increasing visibility on the platform.
How Instagram Pods Work
Let’s dive a little deeper into how these Instagram pods work…
Instagrammers get together in a group and agree to work with one another to increase their account’s engagement on Instagram. Typically, the pod members will communicate through direct message (DM). However, some Instagram pods will create a private Facebook group. This is how pod members let each other know when they have a new post.
When a pod member tells the group that they’ve posted new content, everyone else in the group will visit the post and engage with it by liking the post and leaving a comment. The hope here is that this “genuine” engagement will signal to Instagram that the post is quality content. And Instagram will push the content out more widely into the brand’s users’ feeds.
Some Instagram pods are small, but others can become quite large. The larger the group, the more potential for increased engagement. However, larger groups can also have issues with people who join but are not invested in helping other members. For instance, they will benefit from the comments and likes on their own content but may neglect to engage with others’ content.
Many Instagram users will also participate in multiple Instagram pods. Though this does significantly improve your potential for engagement, it also requires you to do double the work in engaging with others’ posts. This can become quite time consuming and detract users from focusing on important tasks like developing great content.
Members of Instagram pods will often share or link to their new posts in direct messages, making it easy for other members to view, like, and comment on their content.
Do Instagram Pods really help increase engagement?
So now that you know what an Instagram pod is and how it works, let’s talk about whether or not it actually helps increase engagement for your account. Though these groups were created with the goal of increasing genuine engagement on posts, this engagement doesn’t always help in the way that it was designed to.
The Instagram algorithm looks at more than just overall engagement when deciding which post content will be shown on users feeds. The algorithm also takes into account which Instagram accounts the specific user engages with when deciding which content to show them. This means that even if a post becomes super popular on your page, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be shown to all of your followers.
For example, let’s say that you create an Instagram post about a new product you’ve just launched. You get a significant amount of likes and comments on the post. However, there are still going to be followers who will never see this post in their feed. This is because no matter how much engagement occurs on this particular post, the users who don’t regularly engage with your content are not likely to see it.
With this in mind, Instagram pods are not necessarily helping you increase your visibility and reach the Instagram users who don’t usually see your content. Though you will have increased engagement to a certain extent, this engagement does not magically put your content in front of all of your users.
So do Instagram pods help you increase engagement? Well, yes and no. You are increasing engagement on your posts. However, you are engaging with the users in your Instagram pod group, not potential leads and customers. Essentially, you are spending time building engagement with users that have no plans to purchase your products or become brand advocates.
It’s also important to mention that Instagram pod engagement only really works if the other members in your groups share a similar target audience. If you engage with users who don’t have a similar target audience, then you’re signaling to Instagram that your content is relevant to a different audience than the one you are trying to target.
And if attracting a targeted audience is your goal, which probably is, then Instagram pods will not be a big help to you. Most Instagram pods are made up of users who are in the same niche and market as you are. And probably some of your competitors are in there too.
This raises the question, is this engagement really worth it? For the most part, small businesses can benefit more from focusing on engaging with their actual target market rather than spending time generating irrelevant engagement from other Instagram pod group members. Instead of trying to find a way around the Instagram algorithm, you may instead want to invest in finding ways to engage the users who are most likely to be interested in your products.
Instead of spending your time on Instagram pods, you could spend your time creating more engaging content for your target market.
Instagram Pod: Why We Don’t Recommend Joining One
Though Instagram pods may work for some brands, we don’t recommend that small businesses use this strategy as part of their social media marketing. Here are just a few reasons why this strategy isn’t effective for most small businesses:
1. Instagram Pods are time consuming.
When you take part in an Instagram pod, you aren’t just reaping the benefits of free engagement. You also have to engage with other users content. This can be quite time consuming. Rather than focusing on creating new quality content or engaging with your leads and customers, you have to spend time engaging with the content that the other pod group users are creating.
Not to mention, if you want Instagram pods to work for you, you typically have to take part in large pod groups or more than one pod. Otherwise, the engagement that you get may be minimal, having very little impact on your engagement rates. The larger your pod group and the more pods you participate in, the more time you will have to spend engaging with other pod members’ content.
It’s also important to consider how the time spent on participating in these Instagram pods will impact your actual content. The more time you spend liking and commenting on other pod members’ content, the less time you have to spend developing quality Instagram content. If your Instagram content starts to suffer due to the time constraints, you may end up losing some of your followers who are actually interested in your brand and products.
With our experience as a trusted social media management agency, our professional specialists agree that this time is better spent building and engaging a genuine following. Instead of trying to find ways around the algorithm, your business could be finding new qualified leads on Instagram and working to build real relationships with these potential customers.
Directly interacting with your target market provides far greater return on investment than participating in an Instagram pod. So why not use the limited time that you have to find new ways to engage with your target market instead of commenting on other pod members’ content?
2. The engagement you get from pods is ingenuine.
The goal of an Instagram pod is to increase genuine engagement rates. However, this engagement is based on an agreement that you’ve made with other users. These users are not necessarily interested in your brand, content, or products. They will not become your customers. Therefore this engagement is, for the most part, ingenuine.
Though engagement from Instagram pods may appear genuine to Instagram and its algorithm, the truth is that this engagement results in inflated engagement rates. It will not give your business an accurate idea of how your target audience engages with your content. And it can actually end up hurting your advertising efforts.
For example, if your business invests in Instagram ads, you will be targeting those users who are most likely to be interested in your products. This is based on those users who are currently engaging with your content. This means that if the other pod members engaging with your content are not similar to your target market, you may be spending money on advertising to users who are not a good fit for your brand.
Again, we recommend investing your time in directly engaging with your target audience. Genuine engagement is that which inspires users to like or comment on your content because it is actually engaging. Rather than spending time building engagement with users who are not going to buy from your brand, you can spend your time and resources developing content that your followers actually find valuable. This is the best way to build the kind of relationships that lead to sales and even brand loyalty.
3. They don’t account for all algorithm changes.
As we mentioned before, the Instagram pod does not account for all of the algorithm changes that Instagram has made since 2016. Though general engagement plays a role in helping Instagram decide what is quality content, the algorithm also takes into consideration what actual content the user engages with on a regular basis. And Instagram pods don’t help you in that department.
The algorithm aims to personalize each user’s feed in an effort to deliver more relevant content. This means that it considers which accounts the user engages with and shows the user more of this content. If the majority of the people engaging with your content are members of your Instagram pod, then most of the people who will see your content consistently are those same Instagram pod users.
Additionally, Instagram pods are unable to account for future algorithm changes. Instagram is always looking for new ways to provide a better experience for their users. This means that they will continue to update their algorithm to provide more relevant and useful content to users through their Instagram feed.
Furthermore, the folks at Instagram are smart. How else would they build such a powerhouse social media platform? This means that they are aware of the actions that users might take to game the algorithm. In response, they will make further updates to the algorithm to penalize those users who are not complying with their regulations. (But more about that in the next section.)
The best way to stay ahead of these Instagram algorithm changes is to stay up-to-date with the latest news and recommendations from the platform itself. Rather than finding ways to get around these algorithm changes, your business should instead find ways to respond to these changes by making improvements to your Instagram marketing strategy. Try to understand how these changes impact your business and work to create effective content and employ an engagement strategy that helps you make the most out of the channel.
4. Shadowbans are a possibility.
If you want to use Instagram to grow your business, you’ve got to follow the social media platform’s rules. As with any activity that aims to get around the platform’s algorithm, joining an Instagram pod can result in a shadowban. A shadowban basically renders your Instagram account invisible, restricting your brand from reaching new people on the platform.
Instagram uses this as a way to filter out accounts that don’t comply with their terms. With a shadowban, your current followers can still see your content. However, it is basically invisible to other users. Additionally, your images won’t appear in hashtag searches, which can significantly impact your reach on the platform.
A shadowban can significantly impact your Instagram engagement rates. This is especially true for small businesses and other accounts that are relatively new or have a small following. If you aren’t able to reach users outside of your follower base then you won’t be able to grow your following and connect with new leads on the platform.
Though joining an Instagram pod will not necessarily result in a shadowban for your profile, there is a possibility that this activity can hurt you. Repetitive liking and commenting from the same small group of users on your content might raise a red flag to Instagram that something is up. Similarly, if you are only commenting and liking the same group of people’s content, this may signal to Instagram that the engagement is not as genuine as it appears.
In our expert opinion, anything that puts your business at risk for losing visibility on Instagram is not worth it. There are plenty of ways to grow your Instagram following without going against Instagram’s terms of service. The same amount of effort that you use to engage with Instagram pod user content could be put toward directly engaging with your target market and building real relationships with your leads.
In response to businesses questions about their inability to appear in hashtag searches, Instagram suggests that brands “focus on their business objective or goal rather than hashtags.”
In the end, our goal is to help small business owners and marketers make the best decisions for their business. When it comes to social media marketing, Instagram pods are just not the best use of resources for most small businesses. Instagram pods are time consuming, exclusive, and ingenuine, not to mention they can skew data and even potentially cause a shadowban.
Need help growing your audience and engaging your leads on Instagram? It may be time to partner with a social media marketing agency that understands the needs and challenges of small businesses. At LYFE Marketing, we specialize in working with small- to medium-sized businesses that need to optimize their marketing budgets to get the most out of their investment.