A Note to the Readers of this post:
I began an experiment with my Instagram account in May just before Facebook happened to crack down on these giant engagement pods that were in the news and getting in trouble. I will admit it was nice to be on the “other side” of this but I know a lot of people aren’t happy about it. They are still trying to beat the system and share their posts in some form to their groups. I did, however, stop sharing my posts in ALL groups, big and small. I am sharing with you today what happened when I left my Instagram engagement pods.
(Disclaimer: I know there are many groups where people are genuinely friends and just help each other out. I think that’s fine and NORMAL to do. You NEED a support group. I have a small group of other mom instagrammers and we try and like and comment on each other’s stuff but it is NOT EXPECTED. We do it because we are FRIENDS and we WANT to…and you wanna know what!? I’m pretty sure we don’t get to all of the posts we each post).
Basics: What is an Engagement Pod?
An engagement pod is a group of people anywhere from ~10 to 3,000+ people who like and comment each other’s post in return for likes and comments on their own. Some groups are low key and people come and go in them. Some are made with rigid rules and you will be kicked out if you do not abide by them.
I used to be in both of these types. My first one was a small group with a couple other moms. I don’t think it helped anyone very much but it WAS nice to have that added support. Fast forward several months and I learned about Telegram and the “mightier” pods. I did them on and off but they were such a time commitment I didn’t do them often.
So what’s the problem?
Problem 1: People in pods oftentimes don’t contribute an authentic audience. They are there because they have to be. I didn’t see the problem for a long time actually. I thought the groups were a way to support each other. But I realized I wasn’t making friendships with a lot of the people and didn’t even know the majority of the ones in larger groups.
Problem 2: Brands that are looking to work with you don’t know what your raw numbers are.
I’m going to hit some nerves here. It’s not that I want to, it’s just I feel if you are going to look at this from all sides this needs to be said. By you putting your posts into pods and then pitching to companies that you want to work with them or vise versa, THEY ARE LOOKING AT YOUR ENGAGEMENT RATE. Is your engagement rate honest? I want a company to know exactly what they are getting when they look at me. They are investing their time and money into me. These are my numbers. These are the amount of people that like to (not have to) interact with me.
I understand that a lot of people join pods in hopes of beating the Instagram algorithm. If you get enough likes/comments hopefully you will be pushed up in the system and obtain more followers. That was always my mentality. I never thought about the fact that my numbers didn’t reflect what I earned by myself.
Problem 3: I stopped trying to find an authentic audience to engage with. So, I found that WHEN I relied on pods–I relied on pods. I was not using social media to be social. I was relying on the hope that enough likes and comments from random people would bump me up in the algorithm and I would obtain followers. Basically I stopped trying to find a community of people who cared about my work and really thought that I HAD to do pods to get anywhere on Instagram.
Also to quote the business genius, Jenna Kutcher, “What happened to authentic engagement and truly thinking about how to get our audience engaged with our content? This just doesn’t feel genuine to me. This is saying we need others to comment on our content because we don’t think our followers will on their own. “
I honestly thought that if I wanted to grow on Instagram, I had to join pods to get a higher engagement and boost myself in people’s feeds.
The Month of May: Experiment Month and What Happened
My opening stats ~May 1.
Average number of likes: 200
What started it:
One day in April, I was probably already fed up to some degree with Instagram (I think it happens to a lot of us!), I received the most nonchalant comment on a post I had spent SO much time on from someone I was in a pod with. It was clear the commenter hadn’t read what I worked so hard on and I threw my hands up (figuratively speaking, of course) and said, “That’s it! I am done. I’m leaving all my pods. I am not doing any giveaways and I am going to reach 5,000 followers by the end of May.” I have never been a huge giveaway person and only ever did one big one. But with the popularity of them rising and my budget at an all-time low, I was over them as well.
What I learned about engagement:
I had my highest ever engagement on a post. I think overall my engagement is actually up. But when I have a “bad” post, it is obvious. But when I have a good post…oh, the pride is real!!! I remember when I posted,unknowingly, my best post. I was in the middle of a workout with my husband and would check every so often and started happily freaking out as the numbers soared (for me!) super high! Later I later found out it had landed me on the Explore page of Instagram.
(I do want to add, I know someone who stopped her pods “cold turkey” and her engagement tanked. I think because I had gradually been decreasing before my full stop, it worked in my favor. If you are an avid pod user and want to stop, you might want to gradually phase out so Instagram doesn’t think that all of a sudden your engagement just plummeted. )
Also, I can’t emphasize this enough: a good engagement rate is probably a lot lower than what you think! First off, the engagement rate percentage decreases as you increase your following. Here is a site that calculates your engagement rate for you. This post is almost a year old, but I would think the numbers still work. It states that if you have under 1k followers, your engagement rate should be 7% and if you are under 10K followers 3%. The percentage decreases as your followers increase and I think that makes sense!
What happened with my audience:
I made SO many friendships. The amount of people I talk to weekly is amazing. I have met so many REAL people and value our conversations and time talking! I saw an increase in my direct messages on Instagram.
What happened with my collaborations:
I began getting a ton of collaboration requests and they continue. Between companies contacting me personally and using influencer platforms, I accidentally overbooked myself…I guess a good problem to have in Instagram Land.
What happened with getting followers:
Because I was actively engaging with my current and future audience, I saw my numbers climb roughly 100 followers a week. I didn’t follow anyone I didn’t want to. I just engaged through the actions of liking and commenting!
What happened with my content:
I found that I was working so much harder to come up with really good quality posts. It pushed me to do my best and not rely on a pod to give me the likes no matter what. I figured out what my followers liked seeing, used my captions and gift for writing to benefit each post.
My end results on May 31st
Instagram followers: 5,017!
Average number of likes: 200-400 and even over 800 on this one post!
I think at this point it goes without saying, I am done with pods. Even if my page takes a plummet, at this point in time I don’t see myself going back. My desire is to stick to integrity and authenticity. There are people on Instagram telling me how much they love my realness. I also don’t want to give companies false numbers. I want a company to work with me because they like what I have.
And most importantly, my time is precious and my family needs most of it. Not Instagram. I WAS on my phone a lot more in May and my numbers reflected it. If you look at June, my numbers are a little lower and that’s because I have not been as active. Intstagram gives you what you give it, I feel like. Give good engagement and good quality and wait for good results! If you are not seeing good results I would say to ask for constructive criticism (feel free to ask me!) from someone you trust!