Those who don’t hang out in a lot of Facebook groups may be unfamiliar with Instagram engagement pods. In short, engagement pods are either groups on Facebook or chat groups within the Instagram platform within which all members have agreed to like or comment on each other’s posts every day.
The technique was considered a great way to game the Instagram algorithm, creating consistent engagement on the involved pages, thus resulting in more exposure. An organic Instagram post, much like a Facebook post, is only shown to a percentage of the page’s followers. Once a post receives likes or comments, the algorithm score determines whether or not to show it to even more people.
Sounds good, right? Wrong. There’s not a social media platform out there that likes hearing that people are gaming the system, using black hat tactics to increase visibility to the detriment of users who are creating content, posting it, and promoting it naturally and within the rules.
Engagement Pods are Out
That’s exactly why Facebook, which also owns Instagram, just started cracking down on engagement pods. During the first week of May, Facebook suspended and removed at least 10 large groups that were serving as engagement pods. Most of the groups that were suspended had at least a few thousand members, with a couple ranging from 25,000 to 200,000.
According to BuzzFeed News, which takes credit for reporting some of the groups to Facebook, the engagement pods contained threads in which members were able to coordinate engagement exchanges. Some of the threads encouraged users to like each other’s accounts, while others coordinated likes and engagement on specific posts. Sometimes users shared links in the group while other groups encouraged users to create “pods” within the Instagram messaging platform.
Why is this so bad? The fake likes and comments boosted the perceived popularity of the posts in the Instagram algorithm, boosting some of the posts to the tops of news feeds when they did not deserve to be there.
While alluring to many users, this type of engagement baiting is against the terms of service of Instagram. Facebook cited TOS as their reason for banning and removing the groups in question, but BuzzFeed noted that Facebook hadn’t seemed to notice or care about the groups, which were all clearly named as engagement pods, before they were pointed out to them. And while those first 10 were deleted, there are likely many others with more creative names that continue to exist.
Try Not to Be Weird and Scammy
Alright. So what can you do to boost the engagement on your Instagram posts without being unethical about the entire process? It may take more time to do it legitimately, but this is what usually works best for me.
Do Not (Ever) Use Bots
If you are using them. Stop. Bots are used to automatically follow accounts, follow back, unfollow, automatically like posts, automatically comment, and even delete posts. They seem like helpful time savers, but Instagram can recognize them and utilizing them will tank your numbers. Stop. Now.
Come Up With a Strategy for Hashtags
Don’t use the exact same set of hashtags over and over again. A couple may be important to your brand, but the rest should be shaken up a bit from post to post. You’ll also need to keep an eye out to make sure you aren’t using banned hashtags, which is hard to do since there isn’t an actual list backed by Instagram. You can tell if a hashtag is banned by searching for it on Instagram. Banned hashtags will have a message about community guidelines.
Experiment with Video
People love videos. Go live on Instagram from time to time. Upload a 30-second (maximum) pre-recorded video clip. Use an app to turn a still image into a 10-second video. Add a little music and you’ll instantly brighten up your feed. Don’t forget to utilize closed captions and subtitles to make your videos more accessible to all users.
Create High-Quality Content
One of the biggest mistakes Instagram users make is posting inconsistently. Set a schedule and stick to it, whether it’s 3 times a week or daily. Remember, though, that quality is more important than quantity. If you can’t create enough quality content to stick to your schedule, scale it back a bit. If you start posting junk, your fans will likely keep scrolling past you. Too busy to maintain a regular schedule? Find a scheduling tool and upload your content in advance.
Incorporate a Call-To-Action (CTA)
Every post should encourage engagement without saying, “please like or comment on this post.” Ask a question about the picture. Ask what color paint they would have used on a craft project you finished. Ask what their favorite ingredients are for a certain recipe. Making cookies? Ask them what their favorite kinds are. Inquire about what they’re up to for the weekend, or how they like a new book or TV show. Natural engagement is key.
Use Instagram Stories
Make sure you are using the Instagram Stories feature. Regular users have found that those who get engagement within their stories also see higher engagement rates on the posts in their regular feed. Make sure you add text to your story so that those who are looking without sound still know what it’s about.
Encourage User-Generated Content (UGC)
If you’re marketing a brand, ask your users to participate by sharing their own content. Create a custom hashtag for your promotion and ask your followers to use it in their own posts. You’ll be able to monitor the hashtag for engagement and curate some of the best content for use in your own campaigns.
Instagram is a fun, visual platform with a ton of potential – if you stay on it’s good side. Take your time using ethical techniques to build you your brand’s visibility and you will find, over time, that Instagram will become a very valuable part of your branding and marketing strategy. And don’t forget, I’m available for consulting if you need a hand.