In case you missed it, there has recently been yet more Twitter drama, this time relating to Instagram. In a nut shell, there have been stirrings for ages about people buying followers, playing follow/unfollow and using bots to falsely grow their accounts. For some reason, this all came to a head about a week ago and a few people on Twitter decided it was time to name and shame.
I have to admit, I really wasn’t impressed with how the whole thing went down. While, in principle, I have no issue with calling someone out when they’re in the wrong, this whole debacle turned into a bit of a witch hunt. The methods that people were using to decide who was guilty of falsifying their following weren’t always scientific or logical, but based on instinct or hunches. This led to people claiming they had been falsely accused and it all get very messy, very quickly.
Now, whoever is in the right, one thing that cannot be denied is that people are getting increasingly fed up with Instagram and its infamous algorithm. Users are being forced to find more and more sneaky, roundabout ways of boosting their influence, as Instagram itself is certainly doing nothing to help.
While most people are agreed that buying followers and using bots is underhanded and fake, a few grey areas have been thrown into the mix, such as offering like-backs and joining Instagram pods. It didn’t take long before people started attacking these, saying they were just another form of falsifying engagement and were just as bad as using bots.
For those of you who don’t know, an Instagram pad is a private group chat, with up to 16 bloggers. Every pod has its own rules, but basically you can share your photos with the pod and they will all like and comment on each photo. In return, you like and comment every photo that other bloggers share.
If it all goes to plan, you should be guaranteed at least 15 likes and comments on each photo. This, in turn, should help boost your status in the Instagram algorithm and ensure you appear in more feeds, therefore further boosting engagement. It’s a wonderful theory. But does it work? And is it dishonest?
While I have never bought followers (who the hell can afford that nonsense?) or used a bot (I’ve seen iRobot – I’m never trusting an AI to work for me), I have been a member of three Instagram pods, although I have since left one of them.
The first I ever joined was organised through Thirty Plus Blogs and features a range of beauty, lifestyle and food bloggers who I’ve never met. The second is a smaller group of East Midlands bloggers who I met at an event back in March. We all got chatting and decided to start a pod to help support each other and keep track of all of our Instagram accounts.
I have definitely noticed an increase in engagement, but for someone who on average got 20-30 likes and maybe 2 comments that really wasn’t going to be difficult. I do occasionally feel dejected at the idea that they aren’t genuine. These people don’t leave comments because they were inspired to do so by the content, but because we have an informal contract that they will do so.
Likewise, I worry that I’m being fake, leaving comments that I might not have done otherwise. I do try hard to make sure my comments are relevant, not just “Great photo!”, but it can be hard to find new and original ways to say ” That’s a really pretty lipstick that I will never, EVER be buying”. It does sometimes feel a little false.
A while ago, when researching how to boost social media, I found checklist after checklist of things you should do to increase engagement on Instagram. Post twice a day, like at least 20 photos, comment on ten, follow five new accounts. When you think about it, that’s pretty contrived and false in itself, but I bet lots of people do it. It’s a strategy and in the current climate, people do what works for them.
For me, the real difference between bots and pods is the amount of work involved. Where a bot will do all the leg work for you, keeping with a pod take a lot of time and hard work. If everyone in my pod posts two a day, that’s about 35 photos a day. So for me to leave a genuine, thoughtful comment on each one takes some considerable time and effort. This is not just a quick fix to get more followers. It’s a commitment to support other bloggers and in return, they’ll support me too.
One definite downside of this is that I do spend so long commenting on my pods, that I almost never remember to scroll through my main feed to comment on other pictures. Having said that, most of the time my feed is full of the same old sponsored posts from three days ago, so I don’t feel I’m always missing much. I tend to turn notifications on for all of my favourite accounts, so I don’t miss the posts I really want to see.
As with any group effort, there will always be people who are trying to get an easy ride and don’t play fair. There’s always that one person who posts three times a day and hardly ever comments back. However, these cases are rare and they tend to become unpopular very soon. I left the only pod where I didn’t feel everyone was playing by the rules.
Now, I’m just left with two pods full of lovely ladies who I’m getting to know pretty well and even if someone eventually leaves the group we all keep track of each other’s accounts. I’d really love to meet up with my pods one day, as inbetween the photos we have some great chats.
As with many things, there are certainly pros and cons to using Instagram pods. Yes, they can sometimes feel forced and they take up a lot of time. On the flip side, they’re a great way to connect with new bloggers and I feel like I’ve found some lovely accounts I might not have otherwise. I definitely don’t see them as cheating.
If you don’t like them, don’t use them, but I certainly intend to stick with mine for some time yet.