When I left high school in 2006, I thought I'd kissed goodbye to the days of not being one of the cool kids. But, 11 years on, I'm back to feeling like the class loser. And it's all thanks to Instagram "pods".
An Insta pod is a secret group of bloggers who join forces in group messages in order to like and comment on each others posts and gain more engagement on Instagram. It's been compared to "a family of dolphins who live together in harmony and support one another...like a group of cheerleaders who help one another on Instagram".
I'm an avid Instagrammer who's thirsty for likes and comments as much as the next person. The notion of a delightful Insta love-in sounded like a dream-come-true. So, I tried to join one. And, it could not have been further from what I expected. An excellent idea in theory, but, put into practice, it feels like a brutal popularity contest straight out of Mean Girls.
Before I embarked on my journey to find love and likes on Instagram, I clued up on a few of the basics. I learned that pods have a maximum capacity of 15 members due to Instagram's group message constraints. Some pods can have 50+ members if the messaging takes place on Kik or WhatsApp. Once you're part of a pod, you have to abide by a set of rules, which can be lax or strict depending on the nature of the pod.
My pod journey
When you're trying to join a top-secret group, it's pretty hard to know where to begin. I trawled Twitter to see if anyone was looking for pod pals. And, to my delight, there were scores of seemingly friendly bloggers.
Since I've been attacked for just liking back on IG, it's an appropriate time to start a IG pod. Anyone want to join? 100% SUPPORTIVE GROUP!
— holly ? (@thekittyluxe) April 17, 2017
"Hurrah! I've made it!" I said to myself. I spoke too soon. Way, way too soon. I fired off countless "me please!" tweets to bloggers asking to join their pods. My requests were met with silence. It was brutal.
As I sent more and more tweets, I began to question myself. Was my tweet too keen? Do I not have enough followers? Am I not cool enough? What's wrong with me?
The first response — a rejection — cut like a knife. I couldn't sit with the cool kids at the back of the bus because "it's full, sorry".
I persevered, switching out the exclamation mark for a more low-key full-stop. But, I was still rejected on the grounds that "all the pods are full."
I was close to giving up, when I finally got an Instagram notification.
The love fest began immediately. I gained two new followers and they both began furiously liking and commenting on my most recent posts.
"Loving your hairstyle ❤️," wrote one of my new followers. "So gorgeous," wrote another.
The likes and comments kept coming. So I reciprocated. But, when I tried to send a photo to my pod, I couldn't find my group in my list of contacts. I had already been ejected without any warning. Brutal.
Clearly not cool enough for the world of Insta pods. I messaged my friend and colleague Brian Wong who took pity on me and added me to one of his pods.
"Alright so my pods are pretty strict lol," he told me, explaining that I would have to explain that I'm researching an article. I accepted his terms and was added to the pod. I wrote a quick introduction and hit send before proofreading it. Big mistake.
"Hey! Thanks for letting me into your pod! I'm doing some research on pods for a feature on IG pods! So far it's been pretty brutal! I've been rejected countless times," I wrote.
As I re-read my message, I cringed. I sounded like a loser. I messaged Brian to see what he thought...
They turned out to be a pretty forgiving bunch. Suddenly I was a part of the pod world.
Brian and my fellow pod pals sent photos that they'd recently published and we all scurried to hastily like and comment. I felt a rush as the notifications came flooding in. I was gaining new followers left, right and centre.
Finally, I'm one of the cool kids.
But, for how long, who knows? Best just enjoy it while it lasts.