Right now, joining or creating an Instagram pod is the cool thing to do.
I see threads about it every single day in Facebook groups for bloggers. Sometimes, multiple times per day in the same group! It feels like the entire blogging community is buzzing about Instagram pods.
For those of you who haven’t heard about Instagram pods, they are basically groups of bloggers who comment and like one another’s posts on Instagram. Typically, this is done through an private message thread directly on Instagram, but some bloggers who run pods also create private Facebook groups.
Originally, pods were just a fun way to connect with other bloggers. Originally.
Today… they have morphed into a way to game the system… and that’s why I don’t join them. I recommend that you are very, very careful if you join an Instagram pod as well, because I highly suspect that it will come back to haunt you. Here’s why…
A little history lesson…
I promise that I’m going to circle back around to Instagram, but in order to explain why I don’t use Instagram pods, I have to tell you about a little about the history of blogging. I’ve been doing this professionally since 2005, so I’ve seen a lot of changes over the past 12 years!
So hear me out…
Back when blogs were first a thing, Google was still pretty new too. Even back then, however, you could get a lot of traffic to your blog if you ranked well on Google when someone searched for terms related to your niche. So, bloggers began to look for ways they could improve their rankings with Google in order to get more traffic.
It started out innocently enough. Doesn’t it always?
People learned that if other sites link to your blog, Google sees that as a good thing. Basically, it is like someone raising their hand and saying, “Hey, I think this blog has really good content. It is so good that I’m going to link to it.” This is still true today – Google will rank your site better if you have more incoming links. So, people began to brainstorm how to get other websites to link to them.
What happened is that people started creating private networks where bloggers would link back to one another to try to game the system. Sometimes they were free and other times you had to pay a membership fee to join. But in both cases, you could get tons of links right away if you became part of a network.
These bloggers weren’t organically getting links. They were trading links and in some cases even selling links. Bloggers would use private networks to get thousands of links back to their blog posts, which would tell Google that their blog was better than other blogs.
Except… these blogs were filled with crap and affiliate links, in most cases. They weren’t deserving of all those links, because they didn’t actually create good content. They just made it look like they were creating good content.
Google figured out what bloggers were doing. And suddenly, the other shoe dropped. Google announced that it was against their policies to buy, sell, and trade links.
Bloggers who were making six and seven figures annually suddenly saw their blog traffic – and income – drop to zero. Google blacklisted many of these blogs, so they wouldn’t show up on the search engine in the future, even if they started getting links organically.
Some bloggers learned their lesson and began to research legitimate ways to drive search engine traffic. They started optimizing their posts (learn more about how to do that here), and more importantly, they created great content that people wanted to share.
But other bloggers didn’t learn their lesson. Instead of doing things the right way, they started to look for ways to hide the fact that they were buying, selling, and trading links. They would create networks where they traded links in a round-robin way. Blog A would link to Blog B… Blog B would link to Blog C… Blog C would link to Blog D… and so forth until the last person on the list would come back around to link to Blog A.
Or they varied how they were linking to one another. Sometimes, Blog A would link to Blog B and Blog C. Sometimes, Blog A would link to Blog D and E. Sometimes, Blog A would link to Blog B and Blog E.
You get the picture.
It worked… for a little while.
Then the other shoe dropped again, and Google slammed the ban hammer down on bloggers doing this. Once again, there was massive panic because bloggers who were making millions of dollars suddenly saw their income drop to zero overnight.
This has happened several times.
“Bad” bloggers would find ways to scam the system, it would work for a little while, and then Google would figure it out and ban people.
So why does this matter to you?
Well, to me, Instagram pods seem a LOT like private blog networks. The engagement you get when you are part of an Instagram pod isn’t organic. You’re gaming the system to make it look like you have really engaged followers.
In turn, Instagram’s algorithm thinks that your photos are more worthy of being shown… so you appear more often in feeds.
But the other show is about to drop. I would bet on that.
Instagram will figure out that bloggers are doing creating pods. They don’t want you to game the system. They want to reward people who actually upload great content that their followers love.
Instagram has already shown their opinion on gaming the system. They will not hesitate to ban you if they think you are doing anything inauthentic. That’s why they have limits on the number of people you can follow and the number of photos you can like in a certain time frame. They are taking small steps to stop people who are joining hundreds of Instagram pods.
It is only a matter of time before they improve their tech to start looking for more indications that people are using Instagram pods. If you’re running a pod through DMs on Instagram, it’s going to be super easy to catch you! Your DMs may not be public, but Instagram can read them. Even if you’re running a pod through an outside source such as a Facebook group, the Instagram algorithm is going to start identifying when a group of people are commenting on each other’s photos.
And then? They are going to stop showing your photos to authentic followers. You might even get banned.
I could be wrong, but I’ve seen this happen before.
The private blogger networks being banned by Google was just one example. Bloggers have been punished on just about every platform for using techniques that are inauthentic. As Instagram pods get more popular, they are only going to get riskier.
I have a confession…
I used to use a form of Instagram pods. I didn’t actually join any pods, but I joined some private Facebook groups which would have follow-for-follow threads. Basically, if you dropped a link on the thread, you had to go back through and follow or comment on every other link dropped by other bloggers.
It was a bad choice.
At first, I was super excited. I was finally growing! I had been plateaued at a few hundred followers for so long, despite posting great content.
However, that excitement was short-lived. I realized that even though my account was growing, a lot of my followers didn’t seem to actually be interested in the content I was posting. They would follow and comment once… and then never again. Most of the time, they wouldn’t even like my photos, and in some cases, they would unfollow me a week or two later, so my follower number stat was like a roller coaster.
I also realized that I had to join a like/comment thread every single time I posed on Instagram, because if I didn’t, the number of likes and comments on that particulate post would be super low. Instagram would see a lower number of think that something was up with the photo, so they’d stop showing in streams naturally.
Plus, not everyone participating in the threads was following the rules. I would spend hours every day liking, commenting, and following people out of obligation, but my estimate is that only about 75% of people were actually doing the same (and that’s in the “good” groups with admins who enforce the rules).
I had gone too far down the rabbit hole. I felt trapped into spending hours every day participating in Instagram follow/like/comment threads.
So… I gave it up. Cold turkey!
As soon as I did, I saw my follower number drop and I started getting fewer likes and comments on all of my posts. But honestly… I feel really good about that decision. Now I know that all of my likes and comments are authentic.
Slowly… slowly… slowly… it is building up again. I’m starting to see more likes and comments and followers… and they are real! They aren’t people who are just engaging with me because they had an obligation. They are people who really like the photos I’m posting.
Instagram “Pods” – The Right Way!
It is super tempting to participate in Instagram pods because right now they do help you get shown in your followers’ streams more often. You get more comments, more likes, more followers… like I said, tempting.
But you can engage with your fellow bloggers in ways that are less risky and more authentic! Here are my suggestions:
- First and foremost, DITCH traditional Instagram pods where you are compelled to follow/like/comment every single member/post. I know it is painful, but do it! You will thank me in the long run!
- DO join “pods” and follow/like/comment threads where you have a choice about how to engage. Instead of having to engage with everyone in the group, you should be allowed to engage with a certain number, based on what you authentically like. For example, if you drop your link in a comment thread, maybe you are required to comment on 10 other links out of the 50+ in the thread. The point is to engage with posts that are authentically interesting to you, not every post on the thread even if you aren’t interested.
- DO check out relevant hashtags and comment/like/follow other bloggers who are posting interesting content. Again, the point is to engage with posts that are authentically interesting to you, rather than joining some kind of tit-for-tat group or thread.
- DO unfollow people who aren’t posting photos that interest you. There are no rules that say once you follow someone on Instagram you have to follow that person forever. If you were a member of pods or joined follow-for-follow threaders in the past, clean out your list. If you see your follower numbers drop, that is a GOOD THING! You’ll see a dip when you purge because some people only follow you because you follow them. What is the point? These followers hurt you in the long run because they do not care about your content. You only want followers who really care!
- DO join groups on Facebook specific to your blog niche and follow Instagram accounts that interest you. Follow them with absolutely no expectation that they will follow you back. Do it because you want to see their content. General blogging groups are so big that it sometimes is hard to find people who are in the same niche. They can give you a unique perspective, but join niche-specific groups too. You’ll find people you actually want to follow and who actually want to follow you.
Again, I could be wrong about Instagram pods. Maybe Instagram will embrace pods and even create back-end options to make it easier to run pods. Look at Pinterest, for example! They actively encourage you to create group boards, and give the thumbs up to Tailwind tribes. (I love Tailwind!)
I’m just seeing the writing on the wall, though… and it looks like things are going in the other direction for Instagram. It looks like they are actively warning us that they don’t like pods or any other schemes that allow you to grow your follower numbers inauthentically. I refuse to be caught up in the potential storm that might be coming. I hope you’ll give it some thought and ditch the pods too.
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