You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. That's the vibe in Instagram "pods" — the secret communities trying to fight the platform's algorithmic timeline, one like at a time.
In June 2016, Instagram began rolling out its new algorithmic timeline which changed the order of posts in people's feeds, favouring popular posts over chronology. Faced with this new algorithmic challenge, Instagram bloggers have been complaining that it's becoming harder to gain followers organically. So, they're fighting back. In pod-form.
According to Instagram blogger Meggan, who runs the account @CardiganJezebel, a pod is "essentially a group message on Instagram". Members of the group follow each other, and constantly like and comment on one another's posts to keep pod members' posts showing up in other people's timelines. After Meggan became part of a few pods through Facebook groups and Twitter, she says she's been getting better reach and engagement on her Insta posts.
"These groups help push our pictures up a little bit on the timeline."
"The new algorithm kind of ruined a lot of smaller Instagram accounts. It made it impossible for our photos to be seen. These groups help push our pictures up a little bit on the timeline in the hope more people can see them and interact with them," she says.
Amanda Rose — an Instagram blogger who works in digital marketing — is part of eight pods which, have been helping her bolster her position on her followers' timelines.
How do Insta pods work?
According to Rose, pods are formed by creating group messages on Instagram, usually formed of around 10 to 20 users. The users in Instagram pods are mainly bloggers, influencers and content creators, with the occasional businesses in there too. Users are expected to follow one another in the group. Once that's done, they send over a photo they've just posted so that other pod members can like and comment on it.
The hope behind the pods is that the increased engagement from comments and likes on the posts will make them more likely to appear higher in their followers' feeds. Since joining the pods, Rose gets around 120 likes for each picture she posts within the space of a few hours. She also gets around 40 comments per post. "Prior to this I was getting around 30-40 likes, 60 on a good day! And only 1 or 2 spam comments," she says.
There are, of course, some ground rules, but these depend entirely on the nature of the pod. Some groups are strict and expect you to be a very active user, posting at least once a day and expecting you to like and comment posts soon after they're posted. "For others it’s a bit more relaxed as long as you can catch-up before you post your own picture," says Rose.
Strictly by invitation only
Amanda Bootes, a lifestyle blogger who works in PR, is part of four Insta pods. She says the pods are strictly invitation-only. "You need to be invited into them from the creator, or by someone that is already inside. You will normally be accepted based on your content and if you fit the theme, such as beauty, food, fitness."
There's a sense of solidarity among pod members, says Bootes, who has met some "incredible" bloggers and Instagrammers through the pods, that she wouldn't have otherwise met. "For me, it shows that bloggers and influencers will always do what they can to help support other people’s content," says Bootes.
That said, it's not always fun."There are times when you are unable to upload, or want a break from social media but still feel obliged to like or comment on other people's [posts]." Nonetheless, for Bootes, the benefit of "helping other people by something small like this" far outweighs the negative.
If you're serious about your Instagram following, the benefits could be well worth the burden. Besides, what are a few likes and comments here and there?