In 2016, Instagram scrapped its chronological news feed for an algorithmic timeline. Naturally, many users bemoaned the change, complaining that it’d make it even harder for posts to reach audiences. 

Now, it appears Instagram communities are attempting to fight the algorithm by forming Instagram pods.

But what exactly are these pods – and what do they mean for brands and influencers alike? Here’s a break-down of the situation so far.

What are Instagram pods?

Instagram pods are groups of people who join forces to increase engagement on posts. Essentially, they do the same thing as Instagram bots - liking and leaving comments to ensure posts appear higher up in user’s feeds. 

There are certain rules involved so that this engagement appears natural, such as not posting single emojis or leaving comments that are under four words. Members of the pods turn on notifications in order to like and comment on a post as soon as it is published – a vital factor for increasing visibility on the platform.

It’s not that easy to become a member, apparently. Each pod is formed on an invite-only basis, with members hearing about the opportunity via Instagram direct messages or on other platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

Who’s doing it?

It seems the majority of pods are made up of influencers or micro-influencers wanting to improve their presence on the platform, mainly so that brands will sit up and take notice.

Sounds a bit shady, right?

Interestingly, I’ve noticed some suggestions that pods are just another form or an extension of online communities. If bloggers and social media influencers tend to show support for one another anyway - surely pods are just another way to facilitate this activity? 

What’s more, can you really blame influencers for fighting against (what they see as) an unfair algorithm?

Perhaps, yet the biggest problem with Instagram pods is that they make it harder for brands to see which influencers are naturally succeeding. As a result, potential partnerships formed on the back of fake engagement will only lead to skewed data – certainly not a reflection of real success or consumer favour.

Ultimately, pods seem to go against the very reasons brands want to work with influencers in place of traditional advertising – the notion that they are authentic and naturally influential on social media. 

By juicing engagement, influencers could also run the risk of harming their own reputation in the long run.

Will Instagram find a way to stop it?

So far, it doesn’t appear as though Instagram is doing much to prevent pods. However, that is not to say it will be happy to leave them be.

Back in 2014, the ‘Instagram rapture’ ended in millions of fake spambot accounts being wiped out – much to the dismay of users who suddenly lost a large chunk of their audience. 

Ultimately, it demonstrated that Instagram is not willing to let fake accounts impact the user experience for everyone else. If so-called Instagram pods continue to grow in popularity, perhaps we will see a similar crackdown on fake engagement in the near future. 

More on influencer marketing:

You can also download the Rise of Influencers report for further insight

Nikki Gilliland

Published 11 May, 2017 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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