Back in 2016, Instagram changed its algorithm, and users have been scrambling to adapt. Basically, the platform moved away from populating your feed with posts sorted by chronological order to an algorithm that favored heavily engaged posts. So if you wanted your post to be featured on top, it had to have certain level of engagement. Additionally, it also had to have immediate engagement. Even if a post received likes and comments, if those came a few hours after posting, the post probably wouldn’t get anywhere near the top.

In a way, the change was beneficial to the end user. After all, we’d all like to see posts that our friends are commenting on and liking. But it’s unhelpful for brands trying to reach a wider audience. In fact, it makes the uphill battle brands go through to grow their audience twice as difficult. So how do brands get around it? There are some pretty shady tactics out there, like bots and buying followers. But those do nothing about growing a loyal following around your brand and are, ultimately, a waste of money. A better alternative to these are Instagram pods.

What are Instagram Pods?

So what are Instagram pods? At its core, an Instagram pod is a direct message group of around 15-20 people who are in a similar industry as yourself. While the specifics vary, you essentially message each other whenever a pod member posts something new. The other members of the Instagram pod are then required to like and comment on that post, thereby allowing the post to rise on user’s follower’s feed. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement for the pod member, as it works on a like for like and comment for comment basis. And no spammy comments, either! Most Instagram pods require unique, multi sentence comments. The end result is added exposure on the feeds and potentially new followers.

If you’re wondering what being in an Instagram pod entails, in a word it is commitment. Different pods have different rules, but most have a strictly reciprocal arrangement. It usually begins once you’re added (or ask to be added) to a closed Instagram group chat. Once a pod member notifies the group of a new post, members are expected to go to the post to like and comment, often with a deadline. Depending on the number of fellow “pod people” and the number of times they post daily, this can potentially involve an enormous amount of upkeep. Keeping your Instagram pods small and sticking to people of your particular niche can go a long way in managing the workload, but you will need to commit to investing some time to make it work. Many pods have evolved rules that help cope with the responsibility, such as allowing a member to “catch up” at the end of the day if their schedule prevents them from engaging immediately. Ultimately, it’s up to the individual pods to reach a consensus regarding how they handle the workload.

The Ethics of Instagram Pods

For people looking to join an Instagram pod, it’s worth keeping in mind that a lot (if not all) groups are pretty exclusive and mostly keep it on the down low. It will take a bit of effort to find one. Most brands prefer to not advertise their pod involvement and keep it a secret from the general public. It could, after all, be potentially damaging to a brand if people find out they use Instagram pods, as it implies that their engagement isn’t authentic.

Which brings us to the question of how ethical are Instagram pods (and soliciting engagement, in general)? For most brand marketers, it’s a case of “engagement is engagement”. For them, an Instagram pod is just a more strategic, efficient, and convenient way for your post to up its engagement. If you’re engaging with people in your pod that you’d likely engage with anyway, that what’s the harm? While this makes sense, it’s worth noting that these tactics are all meant to “trick” Instagram’s algorithm, which is against its terms of use. There is also the issue of Instagram pods skewing your metrics. It becomes difficult, after all, to accurately gauge your audience’s reaction to your content if you’re not sure where your likes are coming from. Do they like your posts because your content resonates with them, or because you asked your pod to like and comment? As someone trying to grow your brand, this is something you need to consider.

While Instagram pods are undoubtedly useful tools for anyone looking to grow their brand online, authentic engagement is still the best method for the sustainable, long term growth of your brand. While they most definitely contribute an initial boost to your engagement, which can be extremely helpful for a struggling new brand, you need to balance that with the accurate feedback unsolicited engagement gives your metrics.