‘Insta pods’ and the soul of influencer marketing

‘Insta pods’ and the soul of influencer marketing Colm is the editor of MarketingTech, with a mission to bring the most important developments in technology to both businesses and consumers.

You may not have heard of ‘Insta pods’ if you don’t operate in the world of influencer marketing, but they are currently the topic of many a spirited debate in agencies across the world.  

An Insta pod is a group of no more than 30 Instagram influencers (as that is the maximum number that the social media giant allows in a group chat). These loyal group of insta-friends agree to follow each other, and to constantly like and follow every new bit of content that a fellow member posts.

Why are they doing this?

In June 2016, Instagram began the rollout of its new algorithmic timeline, changing the way that posts are ordered in user feeds. The new ordering privileges the popularity of posts or, more specifically, the relationship between the poster and the user and the timeliness and likely interest of the post.   

Instagram influencers have complained that this change makes it harder to grow user numbers organically, so they decided to band together in pods. The coordinated nature of the pods means that the Instagram algorithm tends to favour pods and each influencer becomes more visible.

So what do the influencer marketing experts think? Do Insta pods skewer engagement figures and drive prices up? How can marketers know if an influencer’s engagement stats are genuine?

Michael Richeson, Social & Content Strategy Director, Mechanica:

“The real problem is that ‘Instagangs’ take influence and corrupt it through black hat tactics. In turn, that creates a growing sense of confusion, apathy and outright hostility toward anything resembling an ad. It’s quick gains at the cost of enduring trust, which brands must protect. So, what does this mean? Is influencer marketing dead? No, but it is getting more difficult.

“Trust and genuine partnerships will be more important than follower counts and fake engagement rates. Brands looking for solid returns through influencer marketing – and on their own channels – will have to play the long game by forging real relationships and creating value for audiences. They may even have to do the unthinkable on social media: be social.”

Stefania Pomponi, co-founder at CLEVER:

“Influencers banding together to promote each others’ content has been around since the earliest days of blogging. In fact, some influencer networks were founded on the notion of doing exactly what Instagram pods are trying to accomplish. At CLEVER we have always felt that real people aka our influencers tell the best brand stories and that quality content–whether visual, video or written–stands on its own.

“Thoughtful, creative, compelling content doesn’t need “gamification” in order to help it catch fire. We also believe in authentic engagement. One of the criteria for which we vet influencers is to ensure they have authentic followers. We check for “bots and bought”. At the end of the day, while Instagram pods may not be in violation of FTC guidelines, they are not an authentic way of garnering engagement for content that should be able to stand on its own.”

Amber Zent, vice president / director of social media, Marcus Thomas LLC:

“Influencers who aren’t part of a pod may have smaller, but authentic, engagement numbers, while appearing less valuable to a brand than an influencer who has used a community to bolster their engagement.

“With Instagram pods currently the hottest topic in the world of social, brands will likely begin more extensively vetting influencers’ post engagements prior to beginning or continuing a relationship, and require that they disclose any pod activity. And, hopefully, when it comes to measurement, there will be an increased focus on how influencers are impacting meaningful business objectives, like sales, rather than solely how many comments their posts receive.”

Rachel Mercer, SVP, Head of Digital Strategy & Invention at Deutsch

“It is a natural, visceral reaction to feel deceived when reading about these Instagram Pods. But this is not a new behavior. In the past several years we have seen bots that auto comment on content “like for like” to bots that automatically like all of your friends posts. Influencers are in a unique space because they are essentially emerging micro media companies.

“They are fundamentally in the position that they’re in because of their creation of quality content for a specific demographic who shares that interest set. It is in their best interest and strengthens their relationship with their audiences if they work with and engage other influencers that share similar content. To me, it appears overblown that a small network of 30 individuals drastically inflate engagement.”

Brian Salzman, Founder of RQ:

“Today, the majority of influencer partnerships are rooted in a harmful, transaction-based, pay to play model. As a result, influencers are partnering with brands without having any affinity or understanding of that brand or its product. Once viewed as personable, authentic sources of information, they now move from brand to brand, leaving inconsistent, digital footprints. Consumers have caught on, and we’re at moment in time where influencers and brands are losing credibility.

“To start, brands need to start approaching influencer marketing in the way that a friendship is made – authentic relationships are built gradually over time, and they start with mutual passion and shared interests. Fixing the broken system is entirely possible, but it will require brands to 1) start owning their relationships, 2) start learning to recognize real influence in both the digital AND human spheres, and 3) start putting a system in place that facilitates organic relationship building between the brand and the influencer over time.”


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