Influencer Pods: What You Need to Know

Sam Wormser
By Sam Wormser

You may have heard about it before: an influencer “pod,” but what does it mean and what should you know? Forget the notion that influencers are purchasing likes and comments, which yes, is still happening, but instead, think about an influencer reciprocating a like or comment (or even both) in order to get more engagements and if that’s really just as bad as purchasing. Let’s jump right into the first question…

What Is an Influencer Pod?

In the Instagram world, influencer pods have started to pop up over the past year in particular and more and more pop up every single day. This is something as an influencer marketer or brand working with influencers that you should be aware of. An influencer pod is a group of influencers who share when they have published a new post, followed by the other influencers in the pod going and engaging with that post in the form of likes, comments, views, or saves – sometimes it’s all of the above. The goal of the pod is to boost engagement in the form of comments and likes for everyone in the pod, elevating their overall engagement and making it appear like they have a highly-engaged audience.

Pods on Instagram involve a group message with up to 15 different users. So, this could result in an additional 15 comments and likes on each person’s post. Doesn’t seem too bad, right?  

Unfortunately, that’s wrong. That’s because some influencers are involved in one pod that might be close friends who are influencers, while others may be involved in multiple pods that encompass multiple groups of 15 people that inflates way more than just 15 comments or additional likes.

Moreover, there are also third-party platforms for group messaging and even people using Facebook groups with hundreds or thousands of influencers where an influencer could be inflating their engagement by hundreds or even thousands of disingenuine likes and comments.

Yikes, thousands of inflated likes? Are you paying attention now?

For some background on pods so you can understand the goal better, let’s hop into why pods started in the first place.

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Why Did Pods Start?

Influencer pods really started to take off when the Instagram algorithm updated in 2017 and Instagram was only showing content to a percentage of your, mine, and influencers’ followers. This meant that if your post performed well right away (or within minutes), getting engagement in likes, comments, and saves, Instagram would then show your post to more of your followers as it was gaining traction. Essentially a post that got immediate engagement and started scaling quickly would mean that you end up with better visibility and better engagement.

What happened when this update launched from Instagram? Engagement rates of influencers tanked and influencers were full of fear that they were no longer going to get the same brand collaboration opportunities that they had before. With posts only being shared with a small fraction of an audience, of course influencers were going to get less engagements, especially if it was posted at an “off” time of day where engagements aren’t as high because less users are on Instagram.

Intro… the engagement pod. Pods, or groups of influencers who support engagement, were created by influencers themselves because it gave influencers the change to notify other influencers that they have a new post up so they could rapidly boost their engagement and the post would get more visibility. It is like the influencers are banding together and working as a team to drive each other’s posts for more engagement, as a reciprocated favor.

Since then, pods have stuck around. Why? Because they work to drive engagement and because brands haven’t caught on yet. Essentially, they’re fooling brands into paying them more with them generating less value. It also removes the pressure off the influencer to perform and gives them at least a percentage of guaranteed engagements.

Why Are Influencer Pods Hurting Your Brand?

Influencer marketing can have a huge impact on your brand when done right. Unfortunately, influencers involved in pods can appear to be something they are not, especially if they are involved in pods with large number of other influencers and influencers in completely different niches. Recently, I have noticed influencers with upwards of 60,000 followers on Instagram whose comments are all reflective of being in massive influencer pods. It really makes you think, do they truly carry any influence?

Don’t fall into this trap of working with influencers who are not actually influential but just appear to be from engaging in pods!

Here are a few ways that influencer pods may be hurting your brand:

1) False Engagement Rates

Pods inflate the number of likes and comments and can results in inflated engagement rates. We look at engagement rate (average likes + comments / number of followers) to assess if someone has purchased followers that don’t engage with their content. We identify 2% as the very bare minimum engagement rates for influencers, and that rate is higher (4%+) when looking at micro-influencers’ engagement rates as a baseline. We look for higher engagement rates when an influencer’s following is smaller because they tend to have a more cultivated and less random audience that typically engaged with most posts. If the engagement rate is inflated from a pod, that engagement rate might look fantastic but is not really authentic.

2) Inflated Sponsored Rates

As if sponsored rates weren’t hard enough to navigate, thow pods into the mix and it’s even more challenging to negotiate and figure out if it’s really worth the value. Inflated number of followers and engagements in likes and comments mean the influencer is probably charging more for sponsored posts because they are looking strictly at the numbers (and so are the brands) but the influencer is not providing an increased value in what they are providing you. If you think someone is over-charging and it looks like they are involved with pods, then don’t do it!

3) Wrong Target Audience

This is also a doozy. You could be wasting money on influencers who don’t have an authentic audience, but instead are followed and engaged with by other influencers or bloggers or even more so influencers who may not even be interested in their content. You may think the influencer falls within your target audience, but if the “average Joe” is not the one engaging, you’re not going to convert with their followers.

Spotting Influencer Pods

Now that you know what a pod is, why they started, and how they could be hurting your influencer marketing campaigns and not driving results or driving revenue, here’s how to spot an influencer involved in a pod that you most definitely want to avoid working with.

There are a number of ways that you can spy if an influencer is involved in pods. There are many red flags we see every day when we’re communicating with influencers and when we’re trying to negotiate sponsored rates. Sponsored rates and navigating negotiations is the most important reason for checking an influencer for involvement in a pod because you’re not going to be driving sales or a return on investment if you are marketing strictly to other influencers.

If you have other reasons for working with influencers, say, generating user-generated content, then you may still want to work with those involved in pods, but you shouldn’t let that drive your decision for their sponsored rates.

You want the audience to be one that is authentically cultivated and captivated by the content the influencer is sharing. Also, other influencers seeing the content might just mean they will reach out for a collaboration opportunity that may open more doors, but they will most likely not drive the sale volume you want.

Here are a few tricks we use to verify if an influencer’s engagement is authentic or if it’s originating from being in an influencer pod.

1)Look at the accounts commenting on their posts

The first step is to look at the accounts commenting on the influencer’s posts. Simply go to their profile and scroll through the comments. You will learn A LOT from these comments. The first thing you will learn is who is actually engaging with the influencer. If it’s only other bloggers or influencers, or it’s other accounts that have nothing to do with the type of content the influencer is sharing but they themselves have a decent size following, that’s a red flag.

2) Look at the quality of the comments on their posts

Next, move onto what the comments actually say. Here are a few red flags to keep in mind while checking out the comments that signal an influencer pod:

  • Single emoji comments
  • Comments with one word
  • Generic comments like “cute,” “pretty,” “cool pic” … you get the idea
  • Comments that don’t make sense or sound like broken english if the influencer is based in the U.S.

Basically, if the comments look disingenuine, they probably are.

3) Ask yourself, are the same people commenting on every single post?

If the answer is YES, then they are probably in a pod with those people. Sometimes the same people will comment on every post because they are friends or have potentially networked, so this should not fully rule that person out but is one red flag to take into consideration.

4) Look at how many comments they are getting on average

If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. I typically find that influencers under 100,000 followers will get anywhere from 10-100 comments on average per post. Sometimes that will spike and they may get more, but if an influencer only has 10,000-20,000 followers and is getting over 100 comments on every single post, that’s a big red flag. Again, this is another red flag that is not the case 100 percent of the time, but if they have other red flags outlined below then they are probably using pods to inflate engagement.

So, are Pods Like Buying Followers?

In a way, kind of. They’re certainly not authentic, but at the same time another influencer engaging with content is not always at the same level as a bot or fake account overseas that someone purchased just to follow them and inflate their number of followers. You ultimately could convert.

I would caution you that being in pods does not always mean something bad, it really just depends on the type of pod and if every single engagement they are getting looks like it coming from an engagement pod. Not all pods are created equal; some are full of hundreds of completely random accounts that post different content and live in different areas of the world, which is the worst kind of pod. Some pods are small groups of influencer friends that don’t over-inflate engagement. Use your best judgment here!

If you’re screening your influencers and paying close attention to the types of engagements they are receiving, then you should be able to identify if the influencer is involved in pods and at what level they are active with pods.

If you are looking for more direction on your influencer campaigns and don’t feel comfortable with having to navigate the world of pods, buying followers, and finding authentic influencers, this is something we do every single day and have influencer marketing down to a T. Don’t hesitate to reach out and get a completely free assessment.

In the meantime, check out these 5 lessons we learned about influencer marketing in 2017 these 5 must haves when looking for a solid influencer to fit your brand.

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Samantha is a PR manager and account manager at Power Digital where she executes on everything from top tier media relations, to SEO outreach and social media influencer outreach. After spearheading the influencer marketing arm of the PR department, Samantha has created strategies and partnerships with social media influencers to elevate both brand awareness, engagement, and ROI for our clients. Outside of the office, she's obsessed with all things food and exploring the outdoors.