The influencer marketing landscape seems to shift on a weekly basis, so it comes as no surprise that 2017 has delivered yet another hurdle—this time, it’s the rise of the Instagram “pod,” an admittedly clever hack devised by platform users to fight back against the dreaded algorithm. Read on to learn about pods—how they work, what you should know, and how to make sure your influencer marketing dollars are going to the right talent.
What is an Instagram pod?
Technically speaking, an Instagram pod is a group of up to 30 Instagrammers who coordinate via group chat to like and comment on each other’s posts. But more to the point, pods are a way for users to boost engagement on their posts and try to counteract Instagram’s algorithmic challenges.
How does it work?
When a pod member uploads an Instagram post, they alert fellow members to quickly like and comment on it via the group chat. In some cases, pods are composed of Instagrammers with shared interests—food bloggers, for example, or travel photographers. But you’ll also find pods advertised on Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms that simply want active participants—no common interest required.
Most pods have strict rules; a comment has to be at least five words long—not just “So great!” or “Love this!”—so that the platform treats it as an authentic engagement. Most pods frown on emoji-filled comments, and pod participants are expected to respond quickly when their fellow members post so that the interactions feel as organic as possible. The end game? Posts with good engagement are more likely to be favored by Instagram’s algorithm—and users that get higher engagement on their posts are more likely to be chosen by brands as influencers.
What does it mean for brands?
The concept behind the pod isn’t completely new: After all, bloggers have been forming groups based around supporting each other’s efforts since the early days of blogging. And even though pod members aren’t necessarily a brand’s target consumers, they are still real people taking the time and energy to engage with another user’s content—not robots or bought-and-paid-for followers.
On one hand, pods can be leveraged for a brand’s benefit. For example, food bloggers who produce great, engaging content might utilize a pod to ensure that their posts appear higher up in their followers’ feeds. They might also deploy the pod to help promote a sponsored post, essentially “boosting” the post without any additional spend. In this case, think about it like quality organic content that’s being optimized for visibility.
But, naturally, there’s a flip side. Participating in a pod can result in significant follower boosts—we’re talking gains in the hundreds of thousands, according to some pod members. And while the numbers are impressive, and the engagement rates are high, it begs the question: If the users who are driving up likes and leaving comments aren’t actually influenced by the content, does their engagement with a post about your brand actually mean anything?
What can we do to address pods in our influencer marketing strategies?
Within HZ’s marketing department, we’re taking several steps to ensure that the influencers we work with aren’t relying on pods to create the illusion of a robust, engaged following. First and foremost, we consider the influencer’s content: Is it beautiful, compelling, innovative, or otherwise impactful? Is he or she producing best-in-class creative that feels aligned with the brand? In other words, if the influencer has a sizable following and lots of engagement, does it feel warranted?
Next, we take a deeper dive into the engagement on an influencer’s page. We review comments, gauging whether the influencer is interacting with commenters by answering questions and responding to comments, or the conversation is happening in a vacuum. If we’re working with a micro influencer, we try to determine if the most frequent commenters showcase similar interests on their own pages. For example, if we’re considering a baking blogger, we’re more likely to partner if the most engaged followers also have an interest in baking.
Finally, in the negotiation and contract phase, we ask influencers to disclose whether they participate in any pods. As mentioned previously, being in a pod isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it doesn’t disqualify an influencer for a partnership—for some influencers, it’s a useful tool to optimize good content. What we strive to avoid are Instagrammers who use pods to create the outward appearance of a desirable influencer account, without the substance.
The process can be tedious and time-consuming, and we don’t anticipate Instagram taking measures to combat pods any time soon. After all, on the face of it, pods are just Instagrammers using the platform exactly the way it was intended: to discover and engage with other users’ content. The burden rests on the brand—or in our case, the brand’s influencer marketing team—to not be swept away by impressive numbers; to seek out influencers who feel like a natural fit based on the content they create and the audience they attract; and to look at engagement from a qualitative, not just quantitative, standpoint.
Want to learn more about influencer marketing? Start here.