Bye bye bots
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the people at Instagram were only interested in fabulous outfits, delicious-looking food and unrealistically beautiful toes. But, however lovely things may look from the outside, Instagram is one business you wouldn’t want as an enemy.
And ever since they controversially abandoned the chronological timeline in favour of an engagement-driven algorithm, Instagram has found itself battling its own users.
Recently, Instagram has been scoring some big victories against one of the main methods for manipulating the algorithm – bots.
These bots, whether fully fake accounts or automated commenting and liking functions, were designed to artificially inflate engagement – and therefore enhance a post’s standing in the new algorithm.
But with Instagram already having forced popular bot-enabling sites like Instagress and Mass Planner to shut down (and with the ominous-sounding Shadowban being slapped on regular users behaving in obviously spammy ways) bots no longer seem like the easy answer to inflated engagement they once were.
In the true spirit of social media trend-surfing, no sooner has Instagram managed to throttle the bots, than a smarter and sneakier new algorithm-hack emerged.
Pods are small, private groups of like-minded influencers who have pooled their collective Insta-resources to boost engagement in a more human way.
Essentially, these pods communicate via direct message to let the other members of the pod know when they are posting. The rest of the pod then bands together to immediately like and comment on that new post – taking care to avoid the carelessly fake, bot-style engagement by ensuring their comments feel specific and are longer than 4 words. They’re essentially like dolphins, if dolphins could use a smart phone.
But while pods may be better at disguising their interference with the algorithm, do we really believe that Instagram can’t (or won’t) stamp out this new bit of trickery?
The brand dilemma
The reality is that any strategy designed to solicit engagement and beat the algorithm is going to be on Instagram’s naughty list. And while the more informal, less visible nature of pods means they’re harder to detect than bots, there are already murmurs that Instagram are trying to tackle the pod problem.
Another big question is what pods mean for social media influencing. In theory, pods represent a great opportunity for brands – an added layer of certainty that the influencers they partner with can guarantee content that will reach the top of the feed.
But there is an argument that the pod model defeats the point of turning to social media influencers in the first place.
After all, while brands use influencers for their authentic voice and natural authority, the pod is creating engagement and audiences that are not wholly organic – making it harder for brands to identify genuinely successful influencers. In other words, are pods just bots with nicer shoes?
Of course, at the very heart of the whole issue is why anyone needs to tamper with the fabric of the platform in the first place. And, perhaps sadly, the answer to that lies with Instagram themselves.
After all, a common accusation made against them is that the algorithm is not really designed to improve organic interaction. Instead it is just a way to force more businesses and individuals into paid activity.
But don’t say that too loud. The Shadowbanners are everywhere…