In case you’ve been living under a rock (or don’t use Instagram much), a lot of people are falling out of love with the platform. About a year ago, Instagram broke the news that they were changing to an algorithmic feed. This basically means they’ll order posts based largely on popularity, instead of chronologically. It’s not anything new, Facebook has been doing it since 2011. However, Instagram’s change seems to be hitting honest bloggers and small businesses the most.
For a lot of us being online is a day job and Instagram is an integral tool. A lot of creatives and small business owners use the platform to find sales. If you haven’t noticed a difference then consider yourself lucky. Engagement has significantly dropped for some to frustrating lows. If you follow any bloggers on Twitter, you will without a doubt have seen them complain about one or more of the following:
- Follow count rising and dropping frequently
- An influx of spam comments
- Engagement dropping to an all-time low
- Their posts not being seen by followers
- A rise in people buying followers
It’s becoming nearly impossible to get seen by your own followers, let alone any new ones. Unless your posts are being interacted with as soon as they go live, it’s likely they’ll get buried. If you managed to successfully build your following before the algorithm, you’re doing better than most. Influencers and big brands are pretty much favoured, even if their engagement has dropped. They’ve obviously been hit too, but it’s even harder for people with under 1k followers to grow their account organically.
So, how are people trying to combat this? There has been a rise in attempts to beat the algorithm, one user even wrote a whole article on it. The most recent trend has been taking part in comment pods. As both a blogger and a social media manager, I thought it would be interesting to go through the pros and cons.
So what is an Instagram pod?
A pod is basically a group message where people let one another know when they have just posted an image. The idea is to boost engagement and hopefully get your content seen. In order for Instagram to recognise your comment as ‘engagement’, it needs to be at least four words long and emojis don’t count. There are a lot of general groups you can join as well as ones that are more suited to niches (i.e. beauty blogging).
I’ve taken part in a few and here are some things I have noticed.
People often don’t play by the rules
I guess to some extent rules can take the fun out of things. Social media is the last thing we all thought we’d need rules for, but like I said it’s becoming more and more of a business tool. In order for a comment swap to be beneficial to all, people need to stick to the rules. A lot of people join them and become inactive soon after. With people uploading sometimes multiple times a day, it’s easy to fall behind. A lot of us end up putting the work in and don’t see it reciprocated. It’s hard to raise this without being called petty, but rules are rules.
Comments get less and less genuine
When people start to get annoyed by rules, comments deteriorate too. I try to leave comments in one sitting and save it for when I’m in the mood for it. When I was in a number of pods, I was getting so many generic and half-assed comments. I was also getting three word long comments and a bunch of emojis, which as I said above wouldn’t be seen as engagement. People couldn’t be bothered and in turn I would leave an equally lazy comment. I recently decided to leave all the pods I was in because I couldn’t see how this was benefiting any of us.
They don’t really work for brands
I have only seen bloggers talk publicly about the use of Instagram pods. Brands with huge audiences don’t really have to worry about engagement because a) their content is favoured and b) they probably have big budgets too. Where does this leave businesses with virtually no following or worse brand new accounts? I can’t imagine business owners/CEOs or social media managers are willing to start or participate in comment pods for their businesses. There’s got to be a better way to grow your account that doesn’t involve buying followers. It’s frustrating seeing clients get disheartened and it’s hard trying to explain why no strategy is working.
You could actually be hurting yourself in the long run
Okay this sounds dramatic, but hear me out. Whatever way you look at it, these comments still aren’t organic. You may be boosting your engagement, but it’s not real engagement. It’s fun and definitely addictive, which often leads to joining more pods. For me personally, it was getting to a point where I was spending all of my time on Instagram in pods. I had no time to browse the explore page, search within hashtags I was posting in, or find new accounts. I wasn’t really engaging. It’s also worth noting that it’s quite obvious when somebody uses an Instagram pod. As somebody who does outreach on behalf of clients, I look for genuine engagement.
They’re definitely not a long term solution
I see Instagram comment pods as more of a quick fix kind of thing. They’re not a long term solution at all because you’re not really using the app correctly. Admittedly it’s slow, but organic growth is still there. If you want to get a head start, I think Instagram pods are a great start when working on your strategy. They might help you get seen but in the long run, you won’t see any real growth with them. I guess it’s all comes down to how patient you are or what you use the platform for.
So, how do I grow my Instagram organically?
With great difficulty! I’m not going to lie to you, it is hard. It took me a year to reach over a thousand followers, but the point is I did. It is doable, it just takes some time.
I think the key is to focus on quality, people are really starting to up their photography game now. A lot of people now use images taken on DSLRs as opposed to phones. That’s not to say you can’t get good photos using your phone’s camera though. Get creative with it, I’m sick of seeing the same flatlays. Change it up a bit!
Like anything else online, consistency is really important too. I recommend switching to a business account and taking a look at your insights. Find out when your posts perform best and stick to that time every day (or however often you post). I think it’s important to check your insights after you stop using comment pods. Your posts might be doing well at a particular time where people in your pod are online. It makes more sense to track your organic growth instead.
If you want to ditch Instagram pods, browse the hashtags you’re using and engage with users you don’t follow instead. I’d recommend doing this just after you post. Don’t just leave comments for the sake of it though, otherwise you might as well be back in a pod. Take some time to actually read the captions and don’t leave a generic comment like ‘nice [emoji]’ or ‘great feed’. I mark those as spam! Another popular thing to do is to have an Instagram ‘theme’, but again I never see anything that particularly stands out. Personally, I think there are more trouble than they are worth. I like to follow accounts that are different but if you think that’ll help you post consistently, go for it!
As somebody who manages a range of Instagram accounts, this is just based on my own personal experiences. For my own Instagram, I’ve reached a point where I just don’t care anymore. I post what I want and I’m only really focusing on building my client’s. Since paying more attention to my insights and leaving pods, my engagement has actually gone up!
If you want to use Instagram comment pods by all means do. I think in order for them to really work, you need to find super niche comment pods. I just thought I’d offer a different perspective and some other things to think about.
Do you use Instagram pods? What do you make of them?