As long as there are algorithms, there will be a resistance.
As long as social media networks go public, they will make their money off of advertising dollars. Nothing is more important to investors than how much a company brought in and looks to bring in. Whenever money is prioritized over user experience, there will be black and gray hat tactics that hustlers, influencers, and gamers use to get around the system in order to avoid spending advertising dollars. The system that everyone is trying to work around is the News Feed algorithms. Enter Influencer Groups or Instagram Pods.
What is a pod?
At its very core, an Instagram Pod is a small group of users that internally vet one another and then promise to interact with each other’s content. These groups aren’t anything new. When I first started off in SEO and social media, I remember knowing how to navigate groups that could promise you to get on the first page of reddit. While that wasn’t a fight against a pay-to-play model, it is in many ways the genesis of what we’re talking about here.
The problem with algorithms is that they’ll inherently provide certain types of users an advantage over others. When posts are no longer shown in chronological order, our job becomes to figure out what makes you rank and manipulate that system in a way that helps our client’s content show up. For influencers, they are concerned about their own content. After all, it is the reach and engagement numbers that allow them to get paid by brands. They unite to fight the system together.
How does it work?
Different pods are set up in a number of different formats. For many, it is a running group DM where people share their posts in order to alert the others. You can only get into the DMs if you are invited or approved by the leaders. I have friends who have run a few pods with different criteria for entry. Sometimes, it is about creative branding. For some, it is about proximity or similar industries. The one thing that’s always true though: you need to have followers. Many have a minimum follower count of 75K or more.
Once you’re in the group, you agree to engage along the specific criteria outlined. You almost always must like every post shared. There are often comment or shout-out agreements in place. If you notice that one of your favorite insta-famous model is doing a lot of shout outs, they are probably in a pod.
Pods are their very own…
Why was it doomed?
When brands, even personal ones, don’t pay; Instagram doesn’t make money. When Instagram isn’t making money, they spend money to make sure that brands do pay said money. They often argue that this is for user experience but Instagram’s own algorithm update proved that they were not as concerned with keeping the community pure as they were building an advertising model that worked. I’ve previously written and spoke on that topic multiple times.
The second reason that pods were doomed is that they lived inside of the network that they were gaming. The reddit groups quickly moved to Facebook and shutting them down took a lot more effort than simply noticing DM groups of 15+ that all have similarly influential people in them. When you run cross-sections on engagment with those groups, it doesn’t take long for Instagram to figure out what is going on.
In recent months, Instagram has taken hard stances against various pods. Some people have seen an algorithmic penalty while some have been straight up flagged as spam. The whispers are going out among the communities and soon, major influencers will be too scared to join pods.
What’s next for pods?
Slowly, influencers will get more creative. Rarely are these people ignorant. After all, many of them built their empires on gaming the system. Whether these pods and influencer groups are villains or the resistance against the tyranny of money-hungry social media monsters…that’s all a matter of perspective.
As long as there are publicly owned social media platforms and algorithms though, there will be pods. They will simply evolve over time.