FACT: Instagram Pod Fraud Is Killing Your ROI

Instagram pod
Pod fraud is the silent killer of your 2019 influencer campaign in 2019.
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An overwhelming number of marketers are victim to pod fraud, and most don’t even know that they’re being undercut. Pod Fraud, refers to influencers who engage with Instagram pods to boost engagement rates on sponsored posts. Influencers willingly engage with these pods because they’ve learned what you, the unsuspecting marketer, is looking for.

After conducting many influencer strategy audits, my team and I have seen first hand that in nearly 50% of influencer campaigns, there is some degree of pod fraud. The most concerning finding is that when we review the results of each audit with the respective marketing managers, nearly all of them are completely unaware that Instagram pods have been artificially boosting their campaign’s engagement rate.

Instagram Engagement Rates

Here’s how it works: 

Let’s say you and I are a couple of influencers. We’re both moms who blog regularly about our daily lifestyle, our young kids, and we dabble in home decor. We both have brands regularly approaching us asking to promote their products. Over time, you and I have noticed that as our follower count grows, we get offered greater compensation. A few more months go by, and as we’re chatting with a few other mom bloggers who also happen to post about their kids, lifestyle and home decor – we realize there is an even stronger correlation between our Instagram profiles and how many collaboration offers we receive: Engagement rate.

Engagement rate is the metrics marketers pay attention to the most in 2019 when sourcing influencers. A high engagement rate indicates an audience that is plugged in, receptive to the content, and sees an influencer as a value provider.

Instagram Fake Engagement

Influencer marketing strategy tip

Adjust your campaign reporting to take fake engagement into account. Great campaigns come from our deep insights and ability to turn data into information. 

Setting up Instagram Pods

After chatting about how higher engagement rates help each other out, you and I decide that we should make a group (we’re the admins) and we’ll invite up to 32 influencers in our niche into an Instagram Direct Message group. After any group member uploads a sponsored post, we send the post to the group. Everyone in the group has to follow the rules below:

  1. When someone uploads a post to the group, they need to like and comment.
  2. They have to engage within 20 minutes.

The rules are simple and they are impactful. Leaving a like and a comment are self-explanatory – more engagement is good. The second rule takes advantage of the Instagram algorithm. Instagram sees content that engages quickly and it thinks “wow, people are loving this – we better get it on the explore page, fast!” And so it does, now you’ve got artificially boosted content hitting to the Explore page where it can continue to gain steam. That’s an Instagram pod in action.

The Impact of Fake Engagement

The reason pod fraud goes undetected is because even clever apps like FakeCheck.co, that tracks fake engagement, doesn’t register it as fraud. After all, this isn’t fake engagement – it’s artificially enhanced engagement. Bots don’t pick it up, and neither do most marketers.

Pod fraud has become so commonplace that it is nearly impossible to avoid – the important thing at this stage is to be aware and reduce it as much as possible. Some influencers have entire mini-empires built based on fraudulent engagement. Marketers drool at their 14% engagement rate and rave over the high value comments reading “Can’t wait to try this” or “thanks for sharing, I need this”, better still, “OMG NEED.” Only to investigate further to find it’s comments left behind by other influencers (often from the very same campaign). This fabricated engagement doesn’t help anybody – at the end of the day, it devalues true influence in a growing channel.

Learn to become an expert at spotting pod fraud or simply open up a couple dozen comments on some of your influencers sponsored posts – if the majority of their engagement comes other influencers, it’s not a great sign.

Pod Fraud and your Bottom Line

Lastly, since you cannot totally get rid of pod fraud, learn how to report more accurately by establishing an “artificial engagement rate” which can offset your raw engagement rate. Reporting on false numbers doesn’t help anybody. As marketers, if we educate ourselves and avoid rewarding those who are deceptively undercutting our campaigns, the market will adjust, artificial engagement will lose its value, and we will be left with only true influence. Just like it did when we realized that paying for massive (bought) followers wasn’t helpful to our brands either.

Pod fraud is killing your ROI and skewing the rest of your numbers. You can’t identify the problem of why your ROI is so low because all the other important metrics like engagement rate appear to be performing so well. Take a closer look at the influencer engagement on sponsored posts, it’ll save you money and it will save your ROI too.

You’re paying influencers based on metrics like engagement rate, which as I’ve described, can be artificially boosted. Influencers who are active in pods will often have their comments coming almost exclusively from other influencers. To the unsuspecting marketer, on the surface level everything will look strong – good engagement, positive comments, great content. Except you didn’t receive the returns you were looking for. If this happened to you, check for pod fraud.

Share this to help a marketer who may be a pod fraud victim. The more awareness we can generate around Instagram pod fraud, the faster we can get back to true influence.

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