It takes a village, as they say, to beat the Instagram algorithm and boost the organic visibility of your content. A village or — in the case of one new social media trend — maybe a pod.
Since Instagram shifted away from the chronological feed in 2016, users have been doing their best to game the system. In a time where brands are struggling to recoup their organic reach on social media, many are turning to new methods for driving thoughtful engagement to their content. Several tactics, such as buying followers and using bots that automatically like and post based on topics and hashtags, might help to improve your short-term engagement but they don’t necessarily create that thoughtful engagement that Instagram looks for. Enter the Instagram pod.
An Instagram pod is a group of between 15 and 20 users who communicate with each other through an Instagram direct message, liking and commenting on each other’ posts on a reciprocal basis. If done properly, pod participants can see a big boost in their content’s engagement and could reap the benefits of more reach down the road.
The rules are simple: When you post to Instagram from your brand account, share the post immediately with your pod. When a post is shared to the pod, like and/or comment as quickly as you can. Why? Instagram’s algorithm, which curates your feed depending on how you interact, or engage, with other users and their content, values posts with quick, meaningful engagement.
“Photos that are getting a lot of likes and comments in the first thirty minutes will do better,” said Jackie Levine of Boston’s Central Square Florist.
Levine runs her business’ Instagram account and has been able to establish a following north of 24,000 and routinely sees between 500 and 1,000 engagements on her brand’s posts, making her an Instagram all-star.
“I’m involved in a bunch of different local Boston Facebook groups and business owners in other industries were discussing pods, so I joined one with fellow Boston businesses,” said Levine. “I loved it and figured, why not a floral industry-specific pod?”
Levine, a member of SAF’s Next-Gen Floral Pros Facebook group, wrote to the group and suggested forming an Instagram pod. She found a dozen or so interested users, set up the pod and dropped the ground rules. But is it working?
“This post is doing 80 percent better than other posts, according to Instagram,” said Levine, as she displayed a post that she promoted through the pod. “If your pod is actively engaged and you can get this great engagement in the first thirty minutes, after that your post will do better.”
What’s more, Instagram’s algorithm is intelligent enough to recognize the sincerity of comments and can discern between spam and meaningful engagement. For that reason, it’s very important to compose a thoughtful response and not just a string of emojis or a general “Nice!” Failing to engage quickly and thoughtfully just won’t help, and could also get you booted from the pod, depending on what your pod’s rules are.
The big question is, does Instagram condone pods?
However, when you compare it to other more brazen and artificial methods, like bots or buying followers, you can make the case that Instagram pods do drive thoughtful engagement to content that shares a similar context. They have not been officially banned by Instagram, nor has the social network made any specific statement on their usage.
If you’re interested in forming or joining an Instagram pod, start by asking your industry peers if they’re involved in one. If not, create a group of interested members, invite them to a closed Instagram direct message, lay some ground rules and start sharing your content. If everyone plays ball and reciprocates on each other’s posts, you should start seeing a bump in engagement and reach within a matter of days.
As far as the long-term impact that pods can have on your brand, it’s still most important to focus on the quality of your content. Keep in mind that Instagram, and all social media for that matter, will only improve your brand if you can successfully communicate the value of your products and services in a creative and engaging way. While Instagram pods can work wonders for boosting the visibility of your posts, starting with quality, on-brand content will have a much more effective and long-term impact on your digital brand.
Interested in learning more about SAF’s Next Gen Floral Group? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Max Duchaine is the digital strategy manager for the Society of American Florists.