Instagram Pods: Can Engagement Pods Beat the Algorithm?


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If you’ve been on Instagram since 2016, you probably know that Instagram’s algorithm update really turned things upside down. Without a chronological feed, you’re now clamoring for attention in a world where the Instagram posts with the most engagement win. 

That’s why Instagram pods, which claim to easily boost engagement and follower growth can be extremely tempting!

Could they be the secret to gaming the system- and are they worth the risk?

We wanted to know the answers to these questions with hands-on research- so we enlisted the help of our marketing intern!

Calla went undercover into several Instagram pods to get the lowdown on how they work, what engagement pods accomplish, and if the engagement was really all that great.

Curious to see what our investigation uncovered? Take a look for yourself!

Want to grow your Instagram followers faster? Get this free checklist for 16 quick, easy wins you can immediately use to build an audience.

What is a pod on Instagram?

Instagram engagement pods are groups that trade likes and comments on Instagram posts.

Members have to engage with other posts in return for engagement on theirs. 

Pods range from a handful to thousands of members, depending on the host platform.

screenshot of an engagement pod on Instagram

What do engagement pods for Instagram do?

Instagram pods began to appear among influencers as early as 2016, as a result of the algorithm change.

The idea is to trade follows likes and comments on Instagram content in order to send a signal to Instagram that the post has high engagement.

The algorithm will then show the post to more followers, and potentially place it on an Explore page. This skyrockets reach for posts and helps the post perform better and better!

In theory, anyway.

How to Find Instagram Pods

There’s a ton of different Instagram pod styles across many different platforms like WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook groups and more! Usually, a search for “Instagram engagement”, “Engagement Group” or similar terms will reveal groups on each of these platforms.

Some smaller niche pods are more well-hidden, and you may have to know someone involved in one or discreetly ask around to join an Instagram engagement group.

Types of Instagram Engagement Pods

Some common types of engagement pods we saw in the course of our research are:

  • Niche pods, where all members are part of a distinct industry or niche
  • Like pods, where all members interact by liking posts (the popularity of like pods has fallen off ever since Instagram removed likes!)
  • Comment Pods – Where all members interact by leaving comments rather than liking posts.

Each Instagram pod may work a little differently, depending on the platform, size and purpose of the engagement group.

For example, many smaller engagement pods are managed in Instagram group DMs!

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 work with different rules. And, they’re often bot- moderated

You’ll usually find:

  • 5X Groups, you must interact with the last five posts before tossing out your link into the chat.
  • 10X Groups, you must interact with the last ten posts before posting your content. 
  • 24H Groups, you must interact with every post that has been linked in the last 24 hours before linking your own.

If you miss engagement once, you’ll receive a warning. If you get warned multiple times, you’ll be booted from the group!

a bot warning from a large engagement group on instagram

Speaking of getting booted – did you know Instagram could ban your account for violating the Terms of Service if they catch you using pods?

The Risks of Using Instagram Engagement Pods

In 2018, Instagram announced its commitment to reducing inauthentic activity on Instagram by cracking down on spam, bots, fake accounts, and artificial engagement. 

And if you think they aren’t serious, Facebook put the Instagram pod community on notice by suspending 10 Instagram engagement groups.

There’s no way around i… Instagram pods= banned. And you’re running a real risk of being banned from the platform yourself if you use engagement pods.

After all, fake engagement is against Instagram community guidelines.

Brand Risks with Instagram Engagement Pods

Here are some of our other top risks and inconveniences that make Instagram pods kind of a hard sell for us:

  • 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.
  • Pods are challenging to find and can be filled with spammy material and unsafe content. You run the risk of being hacked.
  • In most groups, you’re not allowed to chat or network meaningfully in the chat.

Using Instagram Pods to collect inauthentic likes and comments also negatively impacts your long term 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 target audience. 📊

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 will be measured. And that includes building engagement, boosting traffic, or increasing sales

And it may also determine whether you continue to receive those opportunities! The last thing you want is a hit to your hard-earned, valuable reputation. 🏅

And believe us if every comment on your posts is filled with typos and repetitive, “Nice feed!” comments, people WILL notice. 🤥

But still, thousands of Instagram users swear by them! So is there a chance could they be worth the risk?

That’s what we tested some out for ourselves below! 👇

Instagram Pod Experiment #1

Our intern Calla bravely went undercover in the name of Instagram science to investigate engagement groups and find out:

  1. If they’re easy enough for the average Instagram user to utilize
  2. If they actually work!

First, Calla found a 10x engagement group on Telegram. This is a popular messaging app for managing engagement groups, but there’s some pretty sketchy stuff on there.

She followed the Instagram pod rules, engaging with the last ten posts before posting her own link. Here were her results:

  • Likes: Same range of likes as normal
  • Comments: 10 comments, significantly more than normal!

Before you get too excited, you should know that the quality of the comments was pretty terrible.

A lot of the pod members and copy and paste the same comment regardless of the content subject.

And yes, that includes typos!

A sample of comments from the Instagram engagement group

Calla’s grand total of likes and comments for her first Instagram pod experiment? 37 likes and 10 comments. 😕

Instagram Pod Experiment #2

We were pretty underwhelmed with the results of our first experiment. So we tackled a 24-hour pod group Instagram channel next. (Remember, this is where you must interact with every post before yours for the previous 24 hours). ⏱

Calla liked and commented on all 51 Instagram links before posting her own link. It took nearly an hour of work to tackle all of them!

And what kind of return did she get on her time investment? 17 likes and 5 comments from the pod. 😑

The good news is her regular followers gave 44 likes – over double the number she got from the engagement pod! 👍

We took the risk to join Instagram pods and engagement groups and were truthfully underwhelmed.

All signs point to this being a cheap workaround to the algorithm, but it’s not even easy!

It seems like you would be better off investing that time and effort into growing your reach and following with the algorithm, not against it.

Safe Ways to Boost Your Engagement on Instagram

Wnt to boost your engagement without risking your account for a handful of likes and some pretty annoying comments? Here are our recommendations!

1. Perfect Your Hashtag Strategy

Relevant hashtags are still one of the most powerful ways to get your content seen by new audiences.

Carefully choosing your hashtags based on what’s in your image or video and captions is a surefire way to get attention from the Explore page. Research and create a hashtag strategy full of niche, good, and competitive hashtags for your best bet.

Want to make researching the most effective hashtags for your content and style easy? Use Tailwind’s Hashtag Finder! This handy tool populates a mix of relevant hashtags for you in real-time as you type your caption.

When you’ve found your perfect mix, you can even save all your new hashtags into a handy list to add to your content in the future. Talk about a major time-saver!

Go ahead, take it for a test spin! Grab a free trial of Tailwind for Instagram today – no credit card required.

Want to 2.5x your Instagram likes & comments? Perfect your hashtag strategy with this free guide. Get it now!

2. 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!

Instagram Contests

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.

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!

a comment with a CTA to engage on Instagram

3. Schedule Your Instagram Posts for Peak Times 🕑

If you want to increase your engagement, you need to put your fresh content out when most of your followers are online and scrolling through their feeds!

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 and engage.

Or, we can do it for you 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.

Start a Free Trial of Tailwind for Instagram!

Sign up with Instagram

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.

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, why not try a different method?

Flex your Instagram strategy muscles 💪🏻 by planning your feed, carefully selecting hashtags, starting engaging conversations with your followers, and scheduling Instagram posts when your followers are online!

Pin For Later: 📌

Frustrated by Instagram's algorithm? Instagram pods are a tempting workaround, but do they really help? We put pods to the test to draw our own conclusions!

Kristen Dahlin is a Content Marketer at Tailwind — an Instagram marketing tool, scheduling tool, hashtag finding tool, and analytics platform. Kristen lives in rural Oklahoma with her husband Kyle, daughter Sophie, boxer Lila, and a very temperamental flower garden.

16 thoughts on “Instagram Pods: Can Engagement Pods Beat the Algorithm?

  1. I couldn’t agree more! They’re NOT worth it. And I’ve even had to sign influencer contracts that explicitly state that I am NOT in an engagement pod… interesting!

    1. Hi Caroline, That’s so interesting! We did notice in the course of our research that many of the posts in the pods wound up being ads or sponsored posts. I wonder if this is a common frustration with brands because of that reason! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 🙂 – Kristen

  2. I was in a small pod of 8 persons with like niche (healthy seasonal food) but all but 2 have dropped out. I started a 2nd pod with 6 others, also with like (vegetarian recipe) content. We are down to 4. There is no rule that we must follow–though we agree to like and comment on each other. My IG likes and comments remain stagnant with most comments come from the pod folks. We certainly see each other’s feed often–and often before we see that they have sent a message with a comment alerting other members that you’ve put up a new IG photo/post. Do you think we are being penalized? What are the odds?

    1. Hi Letty, great questions! I would say that you most likely see each other’s posts higher in your individual feeds because you have a history of interacting with each other consistently (liking and commenting on each other’s posts), which would inform the algorithm that your pod members content is highly relevant to you. If your engagement has dropped really significantly and abruptly, that could potentially be a sign. If likes and comments seem pretty status quo and just aren’t growing, it might be time to play around with different hashtags, content pieces or ways of engaging more followers to boost your reach and build up your following! -Kristen

  3. Oh boy this is super relevant. I literally ended up in a pod yesterday. I didn’t know what it was because there’s so many contests etc out there and this one seemed like if you join the hashtag and use it you get a chance to be a guest host of the hashtag at some stage. So I joined. Now it says in PM that I need to like and comment on everyone’s post every Wednesday at 6pm along with posting my square. It’s seems harmless, just a once a week boost and all girls in the same field as me, trying to support each other. But you’re saying I could lose my insta account for doing this? It’s a small account but taken a year of sweat tears and frustration to get over 1,000 followers. Now I’m paranoid I’ll loss it… but don’t want to offend these girls who have been giving me good suggestions about hashtags etc:(

    1. Hi Willow,

      Thanks for your comment! That’s a tough one – groups of like-minded folks in the same profession can be a huge resource and inspiration for content, strategy, etc. The trouble is when any effort is made to trick the algorithm or trade likes and comments back and forth in order to boost engagement – that’s what can be construed as violating the community guidelines we mentioned. Ultimately, you’ll have to decide if it’s worth the potential risk to your account. Perhaps there’s another way you can continue a relationship with this community you’ve found without participating in the pod itself?

      I totally understand your frustration, it sounds like a tough choice to make! I’m hoping it all works out for you. 🙂 -Kristen

  4. I agree, total waste of time and not worth the risk. It’s quite sad that nowadays people feel they have to do this due to our reach being limited more and more.

    I also think people should stop caring so much about likes and engagement because Facebook and Instagram have all the control and are making it worse all the time.

    Guess maybe we should enjoy our lives outside of our phones more eh? 😄

    1. Hi Mike,

      Thanks for your comment! It’s definitely a trial to gain traction on Instagram and Facebook with the algorithm pages, and there’s an element of not being in control that can be really scary for marketers! In my view, likes and comments are a signal that your deeper marketing efforts are succeeding (or aren’t). They’re a great way to assess if you should fine-tune the foundational pieces of your social media marketing, but collecting them shouldn’t be the end goal! -Kristen

  5. Kristen, you’re timing is impeccable! I just had a client ask me about these, and I too was skeptical. I plan to share your post with all my clients so they understand the negative effects of Engagement Pods!

    1. Hi Kathy, That’s awesome! I’m glad this is timely information for you and your clients! Thanks for your comment, I’m so excited this is beneficial and can prevent a lot of extra work and low (and even negative) return on behalf of your clients and yourself! – Kristen

    1. Hi Carol,

      Absolutely! I’m glad you have more time to spend on Instagram marketing strategies that will actually be beneficial! 😊 – Kristen

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