Oh Instagram, the app we are all trying to maneuver with grace and ease but behind the scenes we’re pulling out our hair, spending way too much time Googling things, and agonizing behind every image and caption — and don’t even get me started about things like hashtags and IG stories, am I right? You guys LOVED our episode last week where we compiled all of our top Instagram tips into one show and so if you haven’t gotten to listen to that one yet, go tune into Episode 241 and then come back to this one!
As someone who has educated thousands of people on how to use the app better, I wanted to take a little time to tell ya the three trends that NEED to stop because they are hurting you, not helping you on the platform. So trust me when I say, this isn’t an episode telling you to do MORE, it’s one shedding a light on some frightening trends that are robbing you of actually seeing results on Instagram. Are you ready? Let’s talk about the 3 things you need to stop doing on Instagram.
Trust me when I say: Instagram pods are NOT helping your business, in fact, I believe they are HURTING IT… Like it’s in my bone marrow how much I believe that and for some reason, I keep seeing people doing them. So hear me out: I did a FULL episode on this, episode number 65 from a few years ago and still, every single day I watch people in Facebook groups try to form new pods and it makes me want to pull my hair out because guys, this is NOT the way to beat the algorithm. They first came on the scene when the algorithm dropped two years ago because people thought they could outsmart it — but word to the wise: you can not outsmart Mark Zuckerberg, okay?
An Instagram pod is typically a group of 10-20 accounts that have similar businesses and interests. These accounts then join together and agree to promote or engage with one another’s posts by committing to liking one another’s content by leaving comments when each others posts go live. Before I explain why this doesn’t quite work, let’s unpack how the algorithm works (and recognize that it’s constantly changing and evolving the parameters it uses to rank posts and decipher which posts will be seen!)
Pods and the Algorithm
I’m sure you remember the good old chronological days where your feed just showed things in the order they were posted. Things were pretty straightforward then and brands (including myself) would post numerous times a day to hit different audiences and make sure their posts were being seen. But Instagram realized that not all posts are created or engaged with equally and so in order to keep you engaged, the algorithm started to take into account factors like which accounts you like best, which posts you engage with the most, and which posts were attracting the most likes and comments from your friends. Instagram’s big goal? To keep people ON their app longer so they do that by showing the most RELEVANT content to you in hopes you won’t click away.
So, back to Instagram pods: Essentially you have people ready to engage on your posts to help get others to engage and to hopefully get into more feeds. This strategy attempts to beat the algorithm by proving to Instagram that their content is high quality and worth showing in their followers feeds. Maybe you’re thinking: well, that doesn’t sound SO bad, what’s wrong with that idea? Let me share a few reasons why this isn’t helping you out at all!
Firstly, let’s just talk about your most important non-renewable resource: TIME. It’s taking up your valuable time that you could be spending on growing YOUR business and forcing you to engage with profiles that you might not actually want to engage with, thus showing Instagram that those are the posts that are most valuable to you and flooding your feed with images only from other pod members or posts that look similar to those. True, pods can do some amazing things like keeping you consistent in your posting, create community that provides you with support from others. But group dynamics can really make this hard by creating pressure and taking a lot of your time to log into the app and comment distracting you from other things that are more important. And what happens next? You get sucked into everything else that’s happening on the app.
Speaking of getting sucked in, when you’re in a pod, you’re far more likely to get sucked into the comparison game that leaves you hating the app and feeling burnt out. I see so many threads in Facebook groups of people looking for others in their field that they can “support” but they don’t realize the risks they are running when they do this. Are your peers paying the bills? Are they adding inspiration to your life or sucking the life right out of you? Are you sure you can consume all this content from your peers and still stand out in a way that only you can? If you are constantly engaging with your peers, what is that going to do? Speaking from my own experience, it’s going to make an impact on you and affect your confidence, vibes, the content your sharing, the way you’re feeling about your work and life. We’ve heard the quote “Comparison is the thief of joy” and I believe Instagram pods will have an adverse affect on your mental game.
When you are used to engaging with other people’s accounts or consuming “like” content it can impact how you are speaking on the platform. So instead of asking what your followers are looking for and how you can speak directly to them and focus on serving your audience, you begin to worry about what your peers are going to think when they see your posts. So you’re no longer speaking to your dream clients and are speaking to your competition instead and your competition isn’t going to pay your bills! Simply joining a pod because you want to see the number of likes and comments increase is not going to put more money in your bank account guys. If anything, I would make a pod with people who’s accounts AREN’T the same or same industry of mine but even then, I fear that this idea of “beating” the algorithm isn’t a real solution, the algorithm wasn’t meant to be beat, it was meant to help connect followers to relevant content so instead of spending time in a pod, maybe you could spend time thinking of how you can create more relevant content that SERVES the right people!
Instead of Pods, Try This
- Engage with your audience (instead of your peers) and sincerely comment on their posts, think about your ideal client and not others in your industry.
- Think about ways you can invite them to engage with your account genuinely with call to actions, what action do you want them to take on each post you publish?
- Hang out on the app, set a timer and log on for the sole purpose of engaging with the people you follow and the ones following you!
Let’s get back to the heart of the app and focus on serving our ideal clients as best we can day in and day out. There are ways to try to cheat the system, but I think the developers behind the app are smarter than our band-aid approaches to try to beat the algorithm.
The Follow-Unfollow Game
Let me preface this and say: this is the worst game known to man and especially known to Instagram. There are people out there teaching this “technique” and I say the word “technique” with quotes because it’s not a technique, it’s an icky scammy way to attempt to grow your following.
Basically what they tell you to do is find a number of accounts to follow and engage with and then once they follow you back, like AS SOON as they follow you back, you unfollow them and continue doing this each day to prey on new people who think they have a genuine connection only to be left high and dry because you don’t actually care about them as much as you care about the number under your name.
So it’s essentially appearing interested in an account so they become interested in you and then bait and switching them in an evil twist of events. I mean, we’ve all been on bad first dates, right? This is THE worst. It’s kind of like pretending you’re interested in someone only to ghost them. This method kind of makes me sick to my stomach because it feels so dishonest and it also sounds like it requires a lot of energy and time that could be sent actually engaging with other humans in a meaningful way instead of a conniving one.
Now, not only is this slimy but it also has another downfall, if you are falling prey to it, it can be so disheartening to watch your number of followers climb and fall day in and day out. I see so many people who lose hope in humanity because they are working so hard to grow a true, engaged following on Instagram and yet, the only sort of engagement they seem to be getting is through people using the follow/unfollow technique and so they start to wonder what they are doing wrong, if they should employ these strategies, or if they should just throw in the towel.
Don’t Follow-Unfollow, Try This
It’s important, if you’re really looking at Instagram to get you results, to think about your IDEAL CLIENTS and not your peers. This is going to change how you’re seeking out new people on Instagram. A lot of times we end up engaging with our peers when we should really be thinking through how we can reach the people who are most likely to turn into clients. A few ways to change your approach include: researching which hashtags are truly providing results for you and then spending some time in those hashtags engaging with other posters that are using those tags!
You can also spend time engaging with the people who are already following you! When is the last time you spent ten minutes looking at the last 10 people who followed you and liking their content and commenting on their posts? Just showing people that you acknowledge that they are choosing to follow you and that you’re willing to spend some time supporting them back can change the game. If you aren’t already, make sure you are replying to any and all comments on your posts, even if you get a single comment on your post. You are NEVER too big to do this, so take some time to show people that when you use a call to action, you genuinely appreciate them taking action. People will see you’re active and be more likely to respond to your call to action the next time.
Use tools like Instagram Stories to engage with your current followers! Ask questions, invite them to ask you questions, respond to DMS, share a poll. When you do things like this, it helps you get a pulse on who is following you, what they will engage with, what they love seeing and more! This will help you to continue to serve your audience well and trust me, when you do this, they will come back and bring friends!
When we think about the algorithm, engagement is the name of the game. So if you are employing tactics like the follow/unfollow method, you’re likely growing that number under your name but it’s with people who are only following you because you first followed them (and then probably unfollowed them) so it’s not an organic way to actually grow true engagement. More and more these days people are paying attention to the % of engagement over your total followers, so having an engaged following is going to make it easier to grow because your posts will be more likely to show up in the feed. And I’m not talking about engagement just because you’re trying to grow your number, but actual engaged people who care about your content and what you’re sharing.
There is no short game here, you have to be in it for the long haul and using things like the follow/no follow method of growing your following is only going to leave a sour taste in people’s mouths about you and grow your account with the wrong people. You want to look at Instagram in a way that allows you to sustain growth and grow with the RIGHT people, so frankly, stop doing the follow/unfollow game and spend your precious time actually growing a true community.
Don’t COMPLAIN ABOUT ENGAGEMENT WITHOUT ENGAGING
What is the number one complaint I’m hearing lately? People keep telling me that their engagement is down — the number of likes and comments just “poof” went down and they aren’t sure what happened or what to troubleshoot. It’s frustrating if you go from 10 likes to 3, or from 100 to 30… or whatever those numbers look like for you. I could blame it on a new algorithm drop that might be getting sorted out or the time of year but I usually start with one really simple question: “ARE YOU ENGAGING?” Because if you’re looking for engagement, chances are, the people you follow and those who follow you are also looking, hoping, waiting, and wishing for engagement, too. And we’ve all heard that sweet quote to “Be the change we wish to see in the world” and so what if instead of complaining, we started there… WE started engaging.
Inside my program, The Instagram Lab, I review my students feeds in our Facebook group and share the videos so my students can learn from one another and a lot of times when I see someone talking about how their engagement is down, I jump in and look for a few key things that I likely won’t find on their account:
- Call to actions in their posts: What ACTION do you want someone to take after they read your post? Do you want them to comment? Do you want them to share something? Hit “like”? Visit your website? What do you want people to do?
- Are they responding to anyone and everyone who is engaging with them? I mean, c’mon, I can’t take you seriously if you’re complaining about engagement but you’re not actually engaging yourself, right?
- Are they posting content that’s relevant to their audience?
All the Engagement Secrets
Are you engaging? Let me explain how this will not only help you feel like you’re actually using Instagram for something other than just marketing but how it will help you GROW! If you’re currently struggling to get your posts seen and subsequently struggling to get likes and comments, then YOU engaging can be a really simple way to change that.
If you’re hanging out in the comment threads of people you’re following, other people might see your comments and discover your account. Did you ever consider that? Just by commenting, people are exposed to YOU and your content. And don’t you think they will be more likely to follow you if they see that you’re actually an active participant on the platform and not just a poster and a ghoster?
Sign on for a set amount of time… think like 10 or 20 minutes where you literally set an alarm and don’t just sit and mindlessly scroll or watch Instagram stories but where you spend time commenting, encouraging, engaging with other people on the app. Not only will you feel awesome that you’re supporting the people you love following but you’re setting yourself up to be found easily by THEIR active followers who are also commenting on their posts.
As humans, we are prone to complain about things but we often are complaining about other people’s behavior. We can’t change other people’s habits or what they do or don’t do but what we can change is OUR approach and the way we show up. When I am more intentional about engaging on the app, I feel like people are more likely to engage with me. They don’t feel like my call to actions are empty, they trust that I am active on the platform and wanting a genuine connection with them. It’s not empty attempts to beat the algorithm or outsmart Mark Zuckerberg, it’s an honest attempt to grow an actual community of active users.
The Big Picture
Instagram can be a place where you build, serve, and inspire a community of humans just through pushing buttons on your phone! So next time you start to run into those limiting mindsets around Instagram like, “It’s all about the number under your name,” or, “People only care about my products or services, they don’t care about me,” and, “I can’t crack the code, no one is engaging and the algorithm screwed me,” or you’re tempted to employ weird strategies that are mere bandaid attempts at fixing a problem, I want for you to really refocus your thoughts on the power of one. If you have ONE follower, you have influence. You, my friend, are an influencer. If you get ONE comment, pour into that commenter and create true connection. If you login to the app, do so with intention, give people the same level of engagement you desire on your own posts. I promise, the more you give the more you will receive, so show up and serve your people, they will stick around and they will bring friends!