A couple of days ago I was scrolling on Instagram and something caught my eye. The comments exploded on a post of an Instagram account I follow. Out of curiosity I went to check out the profile… At first, I thought that this account was just on fire🔥, but then I’ve noticed that it was impossible to get so much comments in proportion to other engagement like followers and likes. Some comments consisted of just one emoji or something that did not make sense to me – the quality of the comments was low. Then it hit me: this account is using an Instagram engagement pod.

What is an Instagram engagement pod?

An Instagram pod is a private group of a bunch of folks who are in a common industry like fashion, food or fitness. All pods have the same goal: to increase the engagement on Instagram, with different strategies which can vary in getting likes, comments or both. But it’s not as easy as it seems… All pods have time-consuming rules. For example, if you want to participate in a pod, you need to complete an action first, like commenting on the latest 24 posts in a 24/7 pod or following all the admins of the pod. Then, when a user posts something new in the pod, they share that post in the direct message and everyone in the group is required to like or comment. The engagement pods are invented to beat the algorithm of Instagram.

How does the Instagram algorithm work?

The first time I’ve heard about Instagram pods was back in 2016 when it was super popular with influencers and aspiring influencers, because Instagram changed its algorithm to eliminate a feed full of chronological posts. The algorithm started prioritising content from accounts that already have high engagement, and guess what? The Instagram engagement pods were born. 

The Instagram algorithm determines who actually sees the content you publish and who doesn’t. It’s really hard to reach the ‘Explore Page’ of Instagram organically (not paid), let alone to go viral. According to Instagram there are 7 important factors that influence the algorithm.

  1. The Instagram algorithm predicts your interests
  2. Your relationships are important for the Instagram algorithm
  3. The Instagram algorithm cares more about recent content
  4. The Instagram algorithm checks on frequency
  5. The Instagram algorithm checks who you are following
  6. If you use the app often, the Instagram algorithm works harder
  7. Personalise the Instagram algorithm with insights under the ‘Following’ tab

1. The Instagram algorithm predicts your interests

Based on your previous behaviour Instagram predicts how much you care about a post. What you get to see on Instagram is not only based on the accounts you follow, but also on what and who you engage with. If Instagram algorithm thinks that you will like a certain post, it will rank higher in your overview. You can control this a bit by engaging with the content you wish to see more often in your overview. According to Instagram, the most important engagement for ranking are likes, comments, shares and video views. Keep this in mind when creating your posts. 😉

2. Your relationships are important for the Instagram algorithm

More and more people are joining the Instagram party and in order not to drown in irrelevant content, the algorithm looks at the relationships you’ve build with other accounts. That way the algorithm can prioritize what it shows to you, like the content from your friends and accounts that you like. 

If you engage a lot with your bestie by commenting on posts, sharing content and send dm’s, then the algorithm will most likely figure out that this account belongs to your ‘friend and family’ category. Instagram can figure out who you engage with the most based on how you use the app. 

3. The Instagram algorithm cares more about recent content

Instagram wants to serve the latest posts. By checking the time in your stats when most of your followers are online, your chances to get more reach and engagement are much higher. Dive into your Instagram insights and find out when your audience is most active.

4. The Instagram algorithm checks on frequency

The algorithm not only pays attention to your engagement, but also how often you open the app. It wants to serve you the most relevant content. If you’re a frequent scroller, the content on your overview will look more chronological, but if you check Instagram less often, then the algorithm caters you the content it thinks you’ll like.

5. The Instagram algorithm checks who you are following

If you follow lots of accounts, you probably already noticed that you don’t see everything from every account you follow. The more accounts you follow, the more choice the Instagram algorithm has. That’s why the algorithm only highlights the content it thinks you’ll find interesting. 

6. If you use the app often, the Instagram algorithm works harder

The Instagram algorithm calculates your app usage and digs deeper into its catalog when you are a frequent user, to cater you fresh and interesting content. If you scroll down the feed just a couple of minutes per day, then you’ll only see the highlights of that day.

7. Personalise the Instagram algorithm with insights under the ‘Following’ tab

Recently Instagram released a new feature under your ‘Following’ tab. The two new Instagram following categories allow you to see which Instagram profiles are most shown in your feed, and which you least engage with. If you want to create a feed that works for you or your brand and personalise the algorithm to match your interests, just adjust the ‘Most Shown in Feed’ and ‘Least Interacted With’ categories. To check out this new feature, tap the ‘Following’ count on your Instagram profile. 

Smartphone Mock-up Isolated
Smartphone Mock-up Isolated

Where can you find the pods?

The Instagram algorithm learns and changes constantly by adapting and improving based on new data, for example to beat users who outsmart it like the Instagram pods, that’s why you should adjust your strategy on the platform to evolve with the new rules and requirements. To be honest I thought that the Instagram pods were extinct after the several purges on Instagram in march 2019, but it seems that they’ve survived it all and shifted from Facebook groups and Instagram DM’s to Telegram – a similar app like Whatsapp. Which is super clever, because Zuckerberg owns Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp, that way the big social media bunch can block, delete and ban the pods. 

I’m not going to give bad advice and share the exact links where you can find the pods. Because the obsession of getting those fake likes and comments to win the endless war with the algorithm is simply not worth spending your precious hours on liking and commenting back in order to get more engagement. Besides that, I also don’t want you to get shadow banned and having your engagement killed for approximately two weeks.

Do engagement pods actually work?

Engagement pods can boost your exposure and the idea of getting popular on Instagram is appealing, but the algorithm is getting smarter every day because it’s powered by machine learning. The truth is that fake engagement you get from pods just messes with your goals and analytics. I’ve explained earlier how the algorithm works. By entering the pods you keep building relationships with your competitors instead of your target audience. And for your analytics, you can’t see if your posts are doing better because of the content you’ve created or the engagement pod. Therefore you cannot analyse and adjust your Instagram strategy properly. These are just a few examples.

Reading tip: How to write longer, catchier & stronger captions on Instagram. [5 tips]

Want my advice on beating the algorithm? Post 4-7 times a week, use all the (new) features like IGTV and Stories. Build relationships with your target audience instead of your competitors. Don’t waste your life on Instagram engagement pods, but spend your time wisely on learning how to create awesome and authentic content. And above everything, just have fun! 🥳

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Want to increase your engagement on Instagram?

Freelance creative Aksana Mikhalap