Just to clarify, this post also looks at the good things about Instagram pods and follow trains, but in the name of all things clickbait I've focused on the negatives in the title (ah, what can ya do). If you haven't heard of these sorts of things, they've become increasingly popular in the blogging world, particularly as it becomes more saturated and social media platforms change their algorithms, making it harder than ever to get your Instagram and blog posts seen. Instagram pods are where a group of people agree to like and comment on each other's Instagrams – either every post or a set amount of posts per week or month, and follow trains are where bloggers agree to follow one another on Twitter or elsewhere, sometimes with agreements to comment on blog posts. There are also groups of bloggers on FaceBook who agree to comment on each other's blog posts, or re-tweet them and so forth. It's basically a culture of promoting another blogger's output in return for them promoting yours.
1.) It's faked engagement. You've entered a like for like agreement with one or more other bloggers, and in return for bumping their stats, they're bumping yours. Yes, you may genuinely enjoy their Instagrams and blog posts, and as more people join the pod it can be a good way of getting to know bloggers you'd not previously heard of. But, it's still completely inorganic, it's an agreement with targets to meet. It's also deceitful as brands might think your engagement is organic and want to work with you on the basis of it.
2.) It's a chore. Whenever I've seen bloggers say they've quit an Instagram pod or follow train it's always because they got bored of it, and it was starting to feel like work. As if scheduling tweets and going through blog emails wasn't boring enough, now you've got a whole heap of Instagram pictures to go through and like, and you're obliged to leave comments on blog posts you wouldn't normally be arsed reading.
3.) It's taking the fun out of blogging, and the social out of social media. You wouldn't go to a party and say to someone – okay, you promise to talk to me and laugh at my jokes if I promise to laugh at yours? – so why would you do it on social media? What happened to reading blog posts and scrolling through social platforms for the sheer enjoyment; being inspired and entertained and awed as the mood strikes?
4.) You're going down the wrong road. If you're in an Instagram pod or follow train it's quite likely that you're concerned about numbers, and I'm here to tell you Elsa-style – let it go. Seriously, who cares how many comments and likes you get? So long as you're enjoying your creative output why do the stats matter? Blog growth and increasing social media platform followers are satisfying to see, but doesn't it ultimately mean more if they're there because they like your content and not because they're obliged to be?
1.) Instagram doesn't have any rules about pods, and there's proof that they do work in challenging the platform's new algorithm. The more engagement you have on a post, the more likely it is to be seen by people not following you, so pods work to make sure those posts stand a bigger chance. You need to write comments longer than five words, ones that don't have generic messages ("love it!", "great photo!"), and emojis on their own don't count, apparently. In a way, it's great that smaller fish can take on a huge platform's algorithm and get results.
2.) It's community building. Sticking together in a group and pledging to support one another is kind of nice, even if it is problematic in this context. You might get bored and check out, but you might also form a tight-knit group with a nice bunch of bloggers, and who knows where that could lead? Chances to make friendships in the community are potentially wonderful things.
3.) Having a list of blogs you're obliged to comment on can be a chore, but look on the bright side. You might discover information or advice in a blog post you wouldn't have read otherwise, and you can leave your blog links in comments, potentially drawing people over to your corner of the internet (try and leave a funny/interesting message if you're hoping for that). If regular readers of that blog see your comments enough, they might be curious to check out your own stuff.
So, what do you think? Are you in an Instagram pod or agreement to comment on other blogs? How do you find it? I've been invited to join a couple, but for me the negatives outweigh the positives, though of course I don't judge anyone who is currently podding. What's happened with me is I'm naturally in a sort of Instagram group of bloggers I've met in real life or chat to a lot online, and we tend to like most of each other's posts. Sometimes I think, come on – you're just returning my like, aren't you? You don't actually like that post? But I think that's a social media etiquette that's naturally developed, and no one can be mad at manners. I joined Instagram very late, and made the mistake of running lots of giveaways to get followers. Now I have mostly compers (people who enter competitions as a hobby) following me, some with multiple accounts, and a much lower proportion of engagement to followers. And you know what? I don't give a damn. It's the one area in which I just post for fun and don't even check the likes, and it's incredibly liberating.