As I was gearing up to start this blog, I was suddenly introduced to this world of social media and digital marketing. Terms like SEO, engagement, monetization, and cost-per-click were inescapable. I found myself tabs-deep in blog posts that advised me on how to cross-post my content to Pinterest while building an Instagram following while engaging in other bloggers’ content.
It truthfully felt pretty overwhelming.
I reinstalled the Facebook app on my phone, for the sole purpose of gathering inspiration for ads. Ads I wasn’t intending to buy, but evidently I needed. Like the excellent machine-learning fiend it is, Facebook’s news feed soon began to show me ads for blogging classes and tools. One of these was this post from Later, a tool for scheduling Instagram posts.
“Inside Instagram Pods: The Secret Trick to Increase Your Engagement” describes Instagram Pods: a strategy in which content creators joined private chats of 10-15 other creators (the “pods”). Whenever any member posts on Instagram, the other members are expected to like to post and “leave a genuine comment” on it, with the goal of boosting the post’s engagement metrics.
According to the article, “keeping up with the Podders was a round-the-clock investment in our feed.”
My mind was blown. What astonished me is how Facebook and Instagram have cemented themselves as the de facto platforms for social media marketing, in spite of creators having little-to-no control over them. Many creators protested the switch Instagram made to its feed in August 2017, from chronologically-sequenced posts to algorithmically-sequenced ones. But the catch-22 was that no individual creator could afford to abandon the platform. All they could do was play their best hand in the face of the changes.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, SEO is an entire $65 billion industry built atop of gamifying Google’s ranking algorithms. But there’s a nuanced difference between Google and Facebook/Instagram, and that’s in the degree of control a content creator has on the platform. While success under Google’s formula is at least somewhat controllable, success on Instagram is nebulous and unpredictable.
Google’s formula is meant to incentivize stronger content on webpages, where creators have a myriad of factors they can control. This control allows some predictability in the success of any given page, and (to a degree) legitimizes the strength of one page over another for a given search query.
Instagram’s formula, on the other hand, forces creators to differentiate themselves on a platform they have little control over. When there are only so many variables you can edit in a post – the image, tags, and location – you’re bound to start gamifying the platform to boost your success. With that, tactics like Instagram Pods are born.
For now, I’ll be keeping off ranking-based social media to focus on writing content for The Inclined Mind.