If you’ve been marketing on Instagram for any length of time, you’ve likely found that Instagram’s algorithm turned things upside down. Instead of an equal shot at a chronological feed, you’re clamoring for attention in a world where engagement rules and the posts with the most likes win.
Given the challenges, Instagram pods which claim to easily boost engagement and follower growth can be extremely tempting, indeed. Could they be THE secret to finally beating the mysterious Instagram algorithm?
What is an Instagram Pod?
An Instagram Pod (also called an engagement pod) is a group of people who trade likes and comments on Instagram posts. Depending on the pod rules, members are expected to interact with other members posts in exchange for likes and comments on their own.
Pods vary in size from a handful of members to tens of thousands, depending on the platform its hosted on (Instagram, Facebook, Telegram, etc.). The Instagram Pod pictured below is a group of 10 users who trade likes on new posts.
These Instagram pods, or “underground groups” exist to beat the above-mentioned algorithm change from 2016.
Trading likes and comments on Instagram content increases engagement, thereby increasing distribution of members’ content.
Finding a shortcut to improve your reach is totally tempting – we get it! That’s why we enlisted the help of our marketing intern Calla to go undercover into a few Instagram Pods and get the low down on how pods work, and what they’re supposed to accomplish. 🕵️♀️ Most importantly, we wanted to find out if the return on pods was worth the risk of using them (more on this later!)
Curious to see what our investigation uncovered? Grab your best magnifying glass 🔍 and take a look!
How do Instagram Pods Work?
Each Instagram Pod works differently, depending on the platform it’s on. For example, many smaller engagement pods are managed in Instagram group chats. 10-15 users will comment when they’ve put up a new post, and each group chat member will go interact with the post.
Large groups with members running into the thousands exist on other platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram. These groups are often split into different tiers:
- In 5X Groups, you must interact with the last five posts before tossing out your link into the chat.
- In 10X Groups, you must interact with the last ten posts before posting your content.
- In 24H Groups, you must interact with every post that has been linked in the last 24 hours before linking your own. If you think this sounds like a lot of work, you’d be absolutely right! 😰
Most of these groups are moderated by bot systems that ensure you’re engaging with other members posts. If you miss engagement once, you’ll receive a warning. If you get warned multiple times, you’ll be booted from the group. Here’s a screengrab of our first ever pod warning! 😬
Speaking of getting booted – Instagram could ban your account for violating the Terms of Service!
Is Instagram Banning Engagement Pods?
In late 2018, Instagram announced its commitment to reducing inauthentic activity on Instagram. While the platform hasn’t explicitly banned pods, it’s clear that Instagram and Facebook (who owns Instagram) are cracking down on spam, bots, and fake accounts.
The plot thickens!
In fact, Facebook made waves earlier last year when it suspended 10 groups dedicated to gaming Instagram’s algorithm and exchanging likes, comments and follows among members.
Many social media platforms are ramping up their efforts to fight fraud and algorithm manipulation, so you’re running a real risk of being banned from the platform if you use engagement pods. After all, being in a pod and falsely creating engagement could easily be interpreted as being against the community guidelines:
“Help us stay spam-free by not artificially collecting likes, followers, or shares, posting repetitive comments or content, or repeatedly contacting people for commercial purposes without their consent.”
Instagram Community Guidelines
But since so many thousands of Instagram users swear by them, could they be worth the risk? Thankfully, we had a marketing intern-turned-Super-Sleuth on hand to put a few of these Instagram groups to the test.
Read on to find out if they’re really worth the risk – and the hassle! 🔍
Are Instagram Pods a Good or Bad Way to Beat the Algorithm?
Our intern Calla bravely went undercover in the name of Instagram science to investigate engagement groups and find out:
- If they’re easy enough for the average Instagram user to utilize
- If they actually work.
(Meet Calla! She’s an OU student and social media intern who loves cracking cases in her spare time.) 👩💻
Her first impression?
Sketchy… As… Heck!
Calla’s first foray into Telegram, a messaging app where many Instagram engagement groups are managed was anything but delightful. In fact, the first engagement group she found seemed to be sharing dark web and NSFW content. 😱
That was a dead end, but a good detective perseveres! ↩️
Next, Calla found a G-rated 10X group and followed the rules, engaging with the last ten posts before posting her own link. What were her results?
“As far as likes go, it was basically within the range of what I usually get. I did receive 10 comments which is significantly more than normal! Before you get too excited, please understand that the quality of the comments was trash! A lot of the pod members copy and paste the same comment regardless of what the picture was (typos and all)!”
Calla’s grand total of likes and comments for her efforts? Drumroll, please… 🥁
37 likes and 10 comments. 😕
Elementary, you could say. 😏
Unsure if this low number was because she participated in a group that only required you interact with the last 10 posts before yours, she then experimented with a 24-hour group (remember, this is where you must interact with every post before yours for the previous 24 hours). ⏱
If you’re wondering how many posts could pile up in 24 hours, the answer is 51! 😩Determined to crack the case, Calla liked and commented on all 51 links before posting her own content. This took nearly an hour! What kind of return did she get for her effort?
17 likes (from pod members) and 5 comments. 😑
In contrast, her regular followers gave 44 likes – over double the number she got from the engagement pod! 👍
Besides a relatively low return on time investment, there are a few other reasons we’d pass on engagement pods in favor of strategies to build authentic engagement on our platform:
- You have to like and comment on posts in the group to post your link, regardless of whether the content is in line with your brand or views. You could end up liking some seriously sketchy posts! 😞
- Pods are challenging to find and can be filled with spammy material and unsafe content. You might even run the risk of having your account hacked. 😕
- The rules are difficult to follow, and you have a limited number of warnings before you’re removed. 🙁
- You could lose your Instagram account for violating the Terms of Service. ☹️
- In most groups, you’re not allowed to chat in the chat. Networking is nil, and you’re just there to like, throw out a generic comment and move on. Not being social in a social media group? #NotFun 😭
Using Instagram Pods to collect inauthentic likes and comments also negatively impacts your Instagram marketing strategy. For one, fake likes and comments skew your organic engagement, which makes it hard to figure out what content is really resonating with your followers. 📊
For another, fake engagement does nothing to help you sell your products or services. This is, of course, bad for your bottom line, but can be catastrophic for collaborations, takeovers or branded deals! Your ability to deliver on your promises and help build engagement, boost traffic, or increase sales will determine whether you continue to receive those opportunities in the future. The last thing you want is a hit to your hard-earned, valuable reputation. 🏅
And believe me, if every comment on your posts is filled with typos and repetitive, “Nice feed!” comments, people WILL notice. 🤥
Thankfully, there are a ton of alternatives to using pods that boost your engagement naturally and organically. Here are three of our favorite options!
Algorithm-Busting Alternatives to Instagram Pods
Using these three alternatives to Instagram pods can help build your following and increase engagement in a way that meaningfully impacts your bottom line – without violating Terms of Service!
Sounds like a win-win, right? We think so too!
Ninja Hashtag Skills
Hashtags are your secret weapon in the fight for more visibility and traction on Instagram. By carefully selecting hashtags that are relevant to your content and your brand identity as a whole, you can put your content in the search streams of people who are just waiting to meet someone like you! 🤩
When choosing hashtags, use these guidelines ( or skip down to the “Easy Way to Choose the Best Instagram Hashtags” 😎):
Avoid Ultra-Competitive Hashtags.
These are more general hashtags that have millions of posts. When you use these, your content is more likely to get lost in the fray and won’t gain as much traction. Instead, aim for hashtags with under 100,000 posts. These hashtags are popular enough that lots of Instagram users are searching for and interacting with them, but not impossible to score a top post slot in!
Don’t Choose Hashtags With No Traction.
On the flip side, you’ll want to avoid hashtags that have very few posts – think, only a couple hundred or a few thousand. You can probably score a top post with these hashtags pretty quickly, but their low count signifies it’s not a hashtag people are frequently searching. This means even if you do score that top post spot, no one will be around to see it. 👀
Don’t Use the Same Hashtags All the Time
Once you find your perfect mix of hashtags, make sure you change it up occasionally! If you use the same hashtags on every post and they’re not relevant, you run the risk of appearing spammy. Instagram combats spam with account suspension or decreased reach. Ouch!
Research Your Hashtags Carefully
You can do some hashtag research by searching under tags on Instagram search. Check out our screenshots to find out exactly where to look!
1. Open the Instagram app and tap on Search (the magnifying glass icon at the bottom of the screen.)
2. Tap on Tags (second from the right under the search bar).
3. Begin typing in the hashtag you’d like to search, and make note of the number of posts below the hashtag in each search result!
4. Click on your desired hashtag to check out the top posts in that hashtag. You also have the option to Follow the hashtag and see relevant posts each week!
The Easy Way to Choose the Best Instagram Hashtags
Or, you can let Tailwind do it for you with our Hashtag Finder! This handy tool auto-populates suggestions, and ranks hashtags by competitiveness to help you find your just-right combination. Plus, you can save lists of up to 30 hashtags to drop into your posts anytime!
Get Your Followers Talking
If you want to boost engagement with your followers and snap up likes and comments like they’re going out of style…give your followers something to interact with! 🗣 Here are our favorite examples!
Everybody loves to win free stuff, and a lot of people also like to talk about winning free stuff! Instagram Giveaways and contests are a fast way to get likes and comments, especially if these are built into contest rules. Check out the post below to see what we mean. rug_culture asks participants to follow the page, tag friends in the comments, and like the post!
Strong CTAs in Your Captions
Calls to Action (CTAs) don’t always have to be super sales-y. Calls to Action can also ask a question or contain a prompt for your followers to answer in the comments. If you make time to engage with your commenters and reply, it’ll encourage more people to comment and interact with you.
Plus, it’s fun! Just look at Helene Sula’s post below. She starts off with a question, and tells a story that her followers can relate to!
Schedule Your Instagram Posts for Peak Times 🕑
Our last tip may seem deceptively simple, but it makes a massive difference in your engagement. Schedule your posts for when most of your followers are online and scrolling through their feeds!
For example, if you post at 6 A.M. (why are you even up this early?) most of your followers are probably still snoozing. 💤By the time they get to scrolling through their feeds mid-day, your content will be a few hours old and may not appear near the top of their feeds. Bummer!
However, if you anticipate times that your followers will be scrolling Instagram (lunch break, just before bed) and post during those times, your followers are more likely to see your post more quickly and engage.
You may need to do some research to determine precisely when the best times for your followers are, and what the patterns of their days are like. Or, you can make it easy with Tailwind’s SmartSchedule!
When you draft your post and load it into Tailwind, we’ll automatically populate the best times during the day for you to post based on your following. You can even adjust these windows depending on how many times a day you’d like to post! Super easy, and it takes the guesswork out of scheduling your posts, which gives you more time to engage with your followers.
Can Instagram Pods Help You Beat the Algorithm? – Our Conclusion
Any way you look at it, Instagram Pods aren’t worth the time and effort required to manufacture engagement on Instagram. Some of the main reasons are:
- Liking and commenting on other Pod members content is very time-consuming. ⏱
- Some of the content you’ll be engaging with might not fit your brand identity or might be NSFW (what would your followers – or your mom – think? 🤦🏼♀️)
- Instagram could ban your account for violating Community Guidelines. 🚫
- The actual engagement you get from large pods (even some with thousands of members) is pretty mediocre. 😕
- The comments you get are low-quality and spammy – which might make your real followers and potential brand collaborators suspicious. 😒
- Pod members who like and comment on your feed aren’t interested in your product, service or content, and almost certainly won’t become your customer. 🙅♀️🛍🙅♂️
Instead of spending heaps of time liking and commenting on random posts in the hope of capturing some engagement that ultimately won’t offer meaningful return, we suggest you flex your Instagram strategy muscles 💪🏻by carefully selecting hashtags, starting engaging conversations with your followers, and scheduling your posts when your followers are online.
In fact, Tailwind can help with all of this. Check out the link below! 🤩
Start a Free Trial of Tailwind for Instagram!
- Schedule photos and videos directly to your Instagram feed with Auto Post.
- Optimize every post for more engagement with SmartSchedule and Hashtag Finder.
- Automatically hide your post’s hashtags in the first comment to keep your caption clean & clutter-free.
- Make your posts more discoverable with user tagging & location tagging.
- Analyze what's working across every post and profile with smart analytics.
Pin For Later: 📌
Kristen Dahlin is a Content Marketer at Tailwind — a Pinterest and Instagram scheduler and analytics platform. A recent graduate of OU with a degree in Entrepreneurship and Venture Management, Kristen is living in rural Oklahoma with her husband Kyle, daughter Sophie, terrier Kerouac, and a very temperamental flower garden.