Ever since Instagram changed their algorithm, moving away from chronological posting and toward a Facebook-style feed where no one outside of Instagram actually understands why things appear where they do, Instagrammers have been groping for ways to respond.
One method is to employ software bots that scour the network liking and commenting on a user's behalf to drive up followers. Bots have something of a mixed reputation among human users, who see them as inauthentic. Instagram isn't really a fan of bots, either. They just banned one popular bot service, Instagress.
That has forced Instagrammers to get creative. According to a piece in Mashable by Rachel Thomson, they're forming invitation only "pods" to help promote their posts. "An Insta pod is a secret group of bloggers who join forces in group messages in order to like and comment on each others posts and gain more engagement on Instagram," Thomson writes.
Basically, pods function like human bots. Whenever a member of the pod posts something to Instagram, other pod-members like and comment on it in the hopes that the flurry of activity will drive that post higher in people's feeds and in the top posts for a given hashtag.
Joining a pod, however, can be a bit of an ordeal. As Thomson describes it, pods are an "excellent idea in theory, but, put into practice, it feels like a brutal popularity contest straight out of Mean Girls." Pods are invite-only and come with certain responsibilities, like commenting and liking religiously on all posts within the pod.
Pods aren't all that new (in Internet time). They began springing up in early 2016. Unlike bots, which rely on Instagram's API, pods may be harder for Instagram to shut down since they're informal. Of course, it's possible for Instagram to monitor users to see if they're behaving in a "pod-like" manner, but so far at least, they've declined to move against them.