Ever since Instagram removed chronological posts, users have been scrambling to find a way to “hack the algorithm.” Some turn to bots while others swear by hashtags, but the pro Instagrammers? They’re joining forces to fight the algorithm together, with their own hidden hack: Instagram pods.
What The Heck Is An Instagram Pod?
If you’re not part of one already, you’re probably wondering “what is an Instagram pod?” Instagram pods are private groups of 10-15 Instagrammers, bloggers, or businesses that have similar audiences and the desire to increase their Instagram engagement and get more followers. Instagram pods communicate with each other via Instagram DM’s, and every time someone in the pod publishes a new Instagram post, they share it in the group message thread. Instagram pod members will then click on the post, like it, and leave a genuine comment which encourages other, regular followers to engage with the post too. No spammy comments here!
It’s hard to tell when Instagram pods first came on the scene, but it’s safe to say they’re a direct result of Instagram’s infamous “algorithm-altering” change that had bloggers clutching their gold iPhones in 2016.
“Ever since they introduced the non-chronological feed, Instagram is supposedly only showing your posts to the followers it deems as ‘highly engaged with’ or ‘important’ to you,” Stephanie Gilbert of Small Talk Social, who’s a member of two Instagram pods, told us.
As we’ve shown before (How to Hack the Instagram Algorithm Like a Teen), the more likes and comments your post receives shortly after posting, the better your post will perform in the algorithm. High initial engagement signals to Instagram that you’re posting quality, engaging content and as a result, your post can move higher up in people’s feeds (and potentially go viral through the Instagram Explore page).
Instagram pods are a hacky way to work together as a team to beat the Instagram algorithm. “As long as your ‘pod people’ are adding thoughtful comments to your posts and stamping their seal of ‘importance’ on it,” said Gilbert of being an Instagram pod member, “I think that you’re going to be getting the same benefits of added exposure in the feed (regardless of how many followers you currently have).”
How To Increase Your Engagement With Instagram Comment Pods
Now you may be wondering, what exactly does being in an Instagram pod entail? Here’s the basic rundown: First, you’re added (or you request to be added) to a closed Instagram group chat. Usually this happens through word-of-mouth, but you can also find success finding the right Instagram pod for you through various Instagram-themed Facebook Groups (like Instagram Marketing Mastermind Podsby Alex Tooby or Instagram Comment Pods) Once you’re in, each group has their own rules and stipulations to reaping the benefits, aka engagement.
And if you want to join a general Facebook group about Instagram marketing, join the Later Community group!
As Gilbert put it: “If you’re thinking of joining or creating one, the main thing to remember is you’re expected to give as much as you receive, and that can be a lot of work! It’s a commitment.”
This means adhering to the group’s “like for like” and “comment for comment” rule, which typically means once a person pings the group that they’ve posted, everyone must go to the post to like and comment on the group’s deadline.
Of course, this can feel overwhelming to the novice Instagram users just trying to get their social media footing right. Gilbert said that it definitely requires an enormous amount of upkeep, and is “not for the faint of heart.” We can confirm this, having participated in an Instagram pod for a week and found that keeping up with the Podders was a round-the-clock investment in our feed.
“I was actually added into a pod — previous to the one that I created and I’m currently in — and it was way too much,” she said. “The users were posting multiple times (3-4) per day, and I think there were like 20 or more people in it, so it was like the Wild West.”
That’s when she decided to start her own pod of 14 members, which include niche creative industry accounts aligned with her audience.
As for the constant stream of notifications, she’s created a solution for that, too. “We have a rule that you can catch up at the end of the day of you’re too busy to comment immediately (or within the first hour).” And so far it’s working out well for the group, with only one person saying she needed to leave the group due to her inability to keep up with the responsibility.
At this point, Gilbert is a seasoned Instagram pod pro, and advises those interested in joining one to check out The Gram Gang group on Facebook for a good fit.
Instagram Pods For Beginners: How To Get Started
But what about those who are just starting out?
“At first it was a bit intimidating for me as I was new to all the blogging world and was confused as to what was expected,” she said. “But once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty cool. The group I’m currently in is pretty small. I’m sure with larger groups it can get a little crazy.”
As for the benefits she’s received from joining an Instagram pod, thus far it’s been hard to say.
“I’ve only been part of the group for a very short time. I’m pretty new to blogging so as far as boosting engagement for my blog, I’m still not seeing much results.”
As far as Instagram goes, she said, she’s getting new followers daily but can’t honestly say at this time that’s it’s due to joining this Instagram pod. “I try to stay active and involved with my followers and that’s what I believe is making a big difference.”
Instagram Comment Pods: An Ethical Dilemma?
And what about the ethical side of soliciting engagement through an in-app strategy?
Some think that “at the end of the day, engagement is engagement,” Gilbert explained. “I don’t see it as unethical if you’re creating or joining an Instagram pod filled with people you’d actually engage with anyway.”
She likened it to the Instagram feature giving you the option to be notified when certain users post — but instead, it’s all happening inside of a DM conversation.
And Marketing Strategist Jon Westenberg agrees, to an extent.
“All’s fair in love, war and social media engagement,” he joked. And the fact is that it’s always a battle to get people to pay attention to your feed these days. “So if you can find a way to make that happen, then all power to you!”
However, Westenberg also believes that it’s important to think long-term, saying that if an engagement-soliciting strategy takes advantage of an app’s feed, it probably won’t be around for long.
Are Instagram Pods The Way Of The Future?
As for the longevity of the Instagram pods trend, “It feels like a movement that will either get pushed down by Instagram for trying to game the system, or will be superseded by a feature of some kind that makes it redundant,” he explained.
For Gilbert, the engagement equation is a simple one when it comes to Instagram pods, which she defends by pointing to the factors that pushed power users to resort to them.
“We all hated the changes that came about with the introduction of the algorithm,” she said. “This is our way of rolling with the punches, sticking together and ensuring that our universal goal to grow our businesses through the use of the platform is still met. It’s an adaptation.”
As for the advantages it gives pod members over ones who don’t use it?
“Does it give us an advantage? Probably. But it’s an option available to anyone — so it’s not my fault if they don’t take it,” she joked with a winking emoji.