Podghazi: Instagram influencers use comment collusion to game the algorithm

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Comment pods are growing in popularity among Instagram influencers — established and upcoming — and are causing some consternation among advertisers.

Instagram comment pods are a relatively new phenomenon. Essentially, they’re groups of up to 30 Instagrammers (the platform allows up to 30 in a group chat) that work with each other to comment on each other’s posts on a daily basis. The idea is to hack Instagram by increasing engagement. Because of the way Instagram’s algorithm works, this leads to Instagram “favoring” pods, which means influencers in pods often appear in the Explore tab, leading to more visibility. Pods emerged because influencers were left scrambling to keep their work visible when the Instagram algorithm debuted — the relationship between posters and users as well as timeliness determines what is seen. 

“For brands, working with an Instagrammer that is part of a pod may mean their own numbers are wrong,” said YouTuber and editor Zach Bussey. “If you had hoped to get your message in front of X number of people, if you subtract other pod members, that number is dramatically reduced. That said, it’s not impossible for those pod members to be interested in the message — it’s just not their reason for being there.”

SwellShark, an indie media buying agency that works with clients including Applegate and pet food brand Wellness, said it is working with attorneys to put language in contracts with influencers to disclose if they are part of a pod. CEO Nick Pappas said pods can and do skew results. For example, say the company was working with a client that wanted to reach mothers who are into clean eating. When contracting with an influencer, it did research on the demographic of that influencer’s follower base to…

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