What happens when the most well-known bot service for Instagrammers shuts down? The rise of the Instagram Pod.
An Instagram Pod is a collective of similar niche Instagrammers that help each other appear more engaged. The hope is that with enough engagement, the Instagram algorithm will introduce their content to new audiences. Each Pod works like every other one, but there are some unique rules that each creates for themselves. For starters, they contain between 10 to 50 different users, all who agree to be active. Each member must like and comment on each other’s posts. The comments are encouraged to be ‘real’, avoiding bot cliche’s like ‘Love this!’ ‘WOW!’ and ‘(100 emoji, thumbs up emoji)’.
While the basics above are staples, each Instagram Pod does have some variation. Some groups only allow members to ‘promote’ one post a week, while other groups allow up to SIX posts per day! There are also pods only for likes and others to follow-for-follow, but most are about comments. While most Instagram Pods stick with a niche (fashion/travel etc), others are reliant on size, in which case you must be +/- 50% of everyone else. (10K-15K or 100K-150K).
How an Instagram Pod Communicates
The way that Instagram Pods interact with each other has changed. Initially, it was within Instagram itself – but, they shifted off the platform to avoid tipping off Instagram of the pods’ group activities. Today, pods exist on platforms outside of Instagram. For example, private Facebook chats, Twitter DMs and other group-based messaging platforms. How they communicate is also pretty interesting. Some groups share the link to the post they want the Instagram Pod to interact with. But, there’s a growing suspicion in the Pod community that Instagram is tracking this behavior and hurting their profiles as a result. This is also why they shifted off the platform for messaging. As such, instead of linking, codes are common such as sending an emoji. If you drop an emoji in the group chat, members should go ‘organically find’ the image and interact with it on their own.
But how did the Instagram Pod take off?
Death of a Bot, Rise of the Instagram Pod
Instagress was well known by Instagrammers, starting in 2013. You can read in detail how it worked here, but essentially, it automated your interactions. 24 hours a day, it targetted select hashtags and commented generic things on those photos. The hope was that people would follow you as a result of your comment on their image. Instagress was the most public secret among Instagrammers, and its usage was significant. Rumors of its demise started popping up in late 2016 leading to the rapid rise of the Instagram Pod. Eventually, the rumors came true and Instagram was shut its Instagram automation service.
When Instagress shut down on April 20th, 2017, it left a gap in a lot of Instagrammers lives. Their growth and engagement decreased almost immediately. One Instagrammer I spoke to under condition of anonymity said: “A lot of people were exposed [as fake] in May…. losing followers and getting no comments or likes on posts.” But as panic set in, people rallied around Instagram Pods to help limit the damage. “Pods were supposed to be temporary until Instagress came back.”
Instagram Pods are not a ‘new’ concept. Facebook Pods have existed for years as a way of improving organic reach and growth. On Facebook, pods would convince the algorithm to show your content to more people. Considering Facebook owns Instagram, the hope is for a similar result. Yet, there’s at least anecdotal evidence that it’s not likely to work the same way. As such, being in an Instagram Pod may actually be a placebo with no actual growth. Well, at least from an audience perspective.
The Instagram Pod and Influencers
Where it gets a little dodgy is when we talk about Instagram Pods and influencers. Presumably, most people in Instagram Pods are doing so to grow their platforms. That’s not a problem in and of itself because it only affects you. But, if you are doing so with the purpose of working with brands, there’s a serious breach of ethics occurring. A brand that pays you to promote their product is doing so based on your following, engagement, and perceived influence. Instagram Pods inflate this data. When I asked several people in Instagram Pods about sponsored content, they said:
- “It’s a brands responsibility to research me and my followers. If they choose not to do that, that’s on them.”
- “I disclose that I partake in ‘growth strategies’ to brands that work with me.”
- “Brands don’t care – they just want to see a big number, so many people do this.” Editor Note: This one, is disturbingly true.
- “Not something anyone cares about.”
Universally, it seems that the ethical problem here is dismissed. Most either don’t care, or don’t perceive it as a problem they need to worry about. In fairness, they aren’t wrong. Brands should be doing DEEP dives into the content creators they choose to work with. Considering partaking in growth strategies comes with no penalty, why would they care? In fact, faking it has only been rewarded over the last few years. Though, in saying that, the rewards may be short-lived as Instagram appears to be dealing with it. They are active in deleting faked, tweaking the algorithm and the much-feared (yet pervasive) Shadowban.
Deep Vetting on the Horizon
But, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. In speaking to a couple PR people and brand marketers, they are aware and are looking into avenues to address it. While the term “Instagram Pod” was new to some of them, they are starting to look deeper into influencers. It starts with looking at their followers and using tools like SocialBlade. It’s something one called ‘deep vetting‘. While deep vetting is a new process, chances are it will take off. As influencer marketing grows, so too will the checks and balances.
So, to all the Instagrammers that have avoided these tactics – stay the course. While the allure of faking it and Instagram Pods may seem enticing, your time is about to come. And there will be more money for you than there ever was for those that have faked their way into it!