Within the broader conversation of fake followers and influencers, influencer pods represent a technique often used to inauthentically increase influencer engagement rates.
Influencer pods can be tricky. Some influencers see positive results from working in these pods. But at the end of the day, influencer pod activity deceives brands about what’s actually happening on an influencer’s page.
What are Influencer Pods?
Influencer pods are groups of influencers that work together to boost one another’s engagement in a quid pro quo relationship.
Because getting high-paying brand collaborations frequently depend on high engagement metrics, these influencers intentionally raise each other’s likes, comments, and shares. They typically operate in a social media group, such as a closed group or direct group message.
Are Influencer Pods the Same as Fake Followers?
Because influencer pods involve real people managing their own accounts, it is not technically the same as fake followers.
However, the influencer pod model subverts content authenticity in most cases. Most of these pods recognize that the engagement that they receive is not authentic – merely an agreed-upon favor to everyone in the group.
Fake followers are not real people. The individuals, bots, and agencies that create fake followers do so to manufacture follower counts and engagement metrics. Influencers that use fake followers are by default fake influencers. By comparison, influencer pods – though not altogether genuine – are made up of real influencers.
How are Influencer Pods Created?
To build these “pods,” influencers agree to come together and support each other with engagement amongst one another’s posts. In theory, a group of influencers liking, commenting, and sharing on everyone’s posts will trigger the social media algorithms to feature their content more frequently.
In GRIN’s 01-100 Chapter 2: Finding Influencers, MVMT’s Manager of Influencer Marketing Ethan Frame talks about the challenges of identifying these influencer pods.
“Influencers are in these DM [direct messaging] groups where they have 10-20 people in there, and there’s a rule: whenever someone posts, they share their post in the group, and everyone is supposed to like, comment, or share their post so that it drives up the engagement.”
Influencer pods don’t represent the typical “fake follower” model where agencies create fake/fraudulent social media accounts to illegitimately drive influencer follower counts and engagement. Fake followers are usually easy to spot – their profiles have little or no content, profile pictures are stolen, and fake follower comments usually lack substance.
But influencer pod engagements don’t always look “fishy.” User profiles belong to real people (influencers), and many of the pod-generated comments are specific and conversational.
How to Spot an Influencer Pod
Influencer marketing managers started discovering these pods after closely examining post comments from certain users. Almost by chance, marketers noted that a single commenter would perform the exact same action on multiple other influencer posts.
Similarly, the influencer who received the comment replicated that action on multiple other influencer profiles. Marketers put “two and two” together and realized that this particular group of influencers had a clear equal exchange arrangement.
As a brand, influencer pods can skew performance metrics for your influencers and campaigns. Since the success of influencer campaigns depend upon authenticity, using inauthentic tactics to raise engagement forces your ROI to take the hit. In other words, you’re not getting what you expect or hope for.
That’s why it’s important to know where influencer pods exist and how you can spot them.
The most efficient means of spotting influencer pod activity is through social media artificial intelligence. And that’s why Instagram and other channels have started tweaking their algorithms to identify and punish posts using influencer pods.
But marketers can spot influencer pods by looking for like for like engagements among a select group of users. If you know what to look for – commenting one another’s posts consistently – you’ll be able to see a pattern. After you’ve identified the pattern, you can spot other influencers within that pod and avoid recruiting them unless you feel confident that you can manage them.
The Pros and Cons to Influencer Pods for Brands
From the brand’s perspective, there aren’t many pros to influencer pods. Many influencer programs try to assess the value of an influencer based on their engagement metrics, and if many post engagements aren’t coming from engaged followers, then the brand will get the wrong idea about that influencer’s ability to convert.
Nevertheless, influencer pods do carry some value for the influencers that use them. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the pros and cons of influencer pods.
- Influencers with similar values and interests connect and exchange ideas. Some of these pods may include a certain amount of mentoring, not just engagement favors.
- In many cases, influencers within a pod enjoy more exposure to lookalike audiences.
- Increased comments and likes from other influencers within a pod can attract other users to engage those posts also.
- Influencers that are commenting, liking, or sharing may not be genuinely interested in the content. It’s common for influencers to follow other influencers that they admire and enjoy. Pods force participants to engage content whether or not they want to.
- Instagram and other social channels are actively adjusting their algorithms so as to not let influencer pod activity increase newsfeed appearances. In many cases, the platform might penalize the post.
- Engagement metrics resulting from pod activity are not accurate. This reality deceives brands about what they can expect in terms of influencer performance during a campaign.
- Overall, brands look down upon influencer pod activity. Influencers that use pods may become “blacklisted” by leading influencer marketers.
How to Manage an Influencer that is in an Influencer Pod
If you uncover an influencer that participates in an influencer pod, you may not necessarily want to stop using them, especially if they’ve demonstrated that they can convert customers. But there are a few things you can do to successfully manage influencers from influencer pods.
Once you realize that your influencer is a member of a pod, it may be a good idea to talk to them about your concerns. Novice influencers may not understand the negative implications of participating in a pod.
If you and your influencer have a strong relationship, it may be that you have a clear understanding that you do not want pod activity on your campaign posts. You can even put these expectations in writing to protect the brand.
By equipping your influencers with coupon codes, affiliate links, and other influencer-specific performance tracking tools, you can look beyond engagements and see actual results. Most influencer pod activity doesn’t include link clicks or product purchases.
Influencers that convert members of their audience are good for your brand, even if they participate in pods.
Understand Social Influence
The concept of social influence is that members of an influencer’s audience genuinely listen to and follow directions from their favorite influencers. When you identify a high performing influencer, take a look at the kind of follower interactions they enjoy.
Influencers with high impact nurture meaningful relationships with their followers. These influencers will answer product questions, incorporate audience feedback, and consistently deliver value to their followers.
Influencers that participate in pods may or may not possess this level of social influence. Identifying where this social influence occurs can help you notice when it doesn’t happen or is being manufactured by inauthentic means.
Your Influencer Community
At the end of the day, your influencer program will thrive if you can establish long-term relationships with your top performing influencers. Some influencer marketing managers intentionally revamp their influencer communities in order to prioritize quality over quantity.
If an influencer in an influencer pod is not the kind of influencer that fits your brand and values, then you can deactivate them and focus on those influencers that do. The quality of your influencer program always comes down to the quality of your influencers.
Conclusion: Influencer pods can hurt your brand if you align with influencers that have disingenuous influence.
Authenticity is the trait that will attract engaged consumers on social media. The influencer pod model is sketchy, at best. Influencers that deceive brands and consumers can damage your reputation.
That’s why you should choose your influencers carefully. Most marketing experts recommend avoiding influencer pod engagement, if at all possible. That said, if you’ve already worked with an influencer that can deliver results despite being a pod member, you may simply want to take steps to communicate your concerns and manage that relationship accordingly.