Engagement pods. Are they good or bad?

Engagement pods – you may have heard this term being used across the social media world. You may be in an engagement pod already without knowing it. The purpose of this blog is to bring to light the reasons why engagement pods should be avoided on all channels, and what to say to your friends and colleagues if you’re asked to join or partake in a pod.

What is an engagement pod?

Picture the scene – you’re in a WhatsApp group with colleagues or peers. Someone in that group posts a message with a link to their latest Instagram or LinkedIn post, and asks you all to ‘like, share and comment on it to get extra reach’. The aim of this is to get more eyeballs on the post, using forced engagement which upset the platforms’ algorithm. Most people, if they had the time and inclination, would just hit the link and go straight to the post and engage with it (it only takes a few seconds, right?) True – it does only take a few seconds – but what could the cost of this interaction be to your profile or account?

We’ll explore that in a moment, but for now – have you experienced this before? Have you engaged on someone’s post after they asked you to do so? Read on to find out why this practise is not only putting your profile or account in danger, but why the algorithms hate engagement pods and why you should steer clear.

Why are engagement pods bad?

The truth is, when you ask for engagement on a piece of content, it’s not true, authentic engagement.

Platforms such as LinkedIn and Instagram thrive from pure, natural, organic engagement from its users. If you read the platforms’ terms of service really closely, you’ll see that most of them include a stipulation that all engagement must be authentic, and they may also state that any attempt to encourage other users to act inauthentically is against the terms of service.

This also applies to password sharing/multiple user logins from the same IP. The platforms are on a mission to combat inauthentic engagement caused by pods, bots and other third party interactions like lead generation software. These third party applications often handle the outreach (connection/follow requests and outbound messaging) for you on platforms like LinkedIn and Instagram, and there are very few of these applications that are endorsed by the platforms. By using one of these applications, or being part of an engagement pod, you are in breach of the terms of service that you would have digitally signed on creating your account with the social media platform.

As such, the platform is quite within its rights to ban you from the platform for a period of time, de-prioritise your content (you won’t get a notification of this, you’ll just notice suddenly that your impressions, reach and engagement drops off a cliff), or in the worst of cases, your account will be removed indefinitely. Can you risk that happening? Most social media users can’t take that risk, especially if a vast majority of their business takes place on social media. For these businesses, the implications of having their account removed could be catastrophic. 

By using engagement pods, you’re actually holding yourself back from gaining organic engagement. By repeatedly promoting your content to the same bunch of people, you’re squashing your reach and subsequent engagement to a very concentrated group of users. Sure, you’ll cultivate a low-level hum of engagement across your content but it won’t help you attract new followers.

Battling against the algorithms is a tough job, and when an important message goes under the radar, it’s very frustrating. But if you’re just looking for vanity metrics, that’s a problem within itself. 

Although engagement pods originated on Instagram, they soon fed through to LinkedIn. In a LinkedIn blog post from 2017, LinkedIn’s Engineering Team outlines changes meant to “Keep the LinkedIn Feed Relevant.” The post outlines the steps all posts go through to determine quality.

The important steps for this conversation include:

  1. Posts are reviewed by bots: This happens immediately, and is meant to flag anything that is spam.
  2. Content is scored by the algorithm: Quality is assessed based on the reactions (or lack of reactions) from the post’s first viewers.
  3. Posts are then reviewed by actual (!) humans: People employed by LinkedIn hand-pick posts to distribute beyond the poster’s own network.

 

How can I decline an invitation to an engagement pod?

Most social media users don’t realise that the use of engagement pods are a breach of the platform’s terms of service. So, now you know how the platforms feel about engagement pods, you can educate your peers, friends and family on the dangers of getting involved. By simply stating that this kind of activity is a breach, it should be enough to deter people from asking you to inauthentically engage on their content again. 

The truth of the matter is – if the content isn’t engaging enough on its own to generate authentic engagement, the creator should go back to the drawing board and test some other techniques. Social media success is trial and error and constant testing – so if you find your content has bombed, change one element next time, and then check the stats to see if impressions, reach and engagement have improved. Keep testing different techniques and practises to see what works for your business. The magic formula/s will be different for every business on each platform, so what works for one business won’t necessarily work well for another. 

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