Sunday, 13 May 2018

Are bloggers defrauding brands by joining in with engagement pods and threads?

There has been a fair bit of chatter in the blogosphere lately about comment and engagement pods. Do they actually work for bloggers? Are they ethical? Are they actually defrauding brands and creating a false impression of your 'influence'?  I've recently heard of a couple of brands writing it into contracts that you have to agree not to join in with engagement pods or any kind of forced engagement and Facebook has already started taking action on engagement pods which I feel is probably the way the industry is going.

Are bloggers defrauding brands by joining in with engagement pods and threads?



What is a comment/engagement pod


When I first started blogging, comment and engagement pods weren't a thing at all. I honestly think it's due to Instagram's changing algorithm that they all started as bloggers are naturally always looking for ways they can push their content out even more people and I really don't blame us for this. It's natural if we're proud of a piece of work, photos or writing that we want it to be seen by as many people as possible.

There are hundreds of Facebook groups available to bloggers and probably 10,000+ private threads, messages or whatsapp groups dedicated to increasing engagement amongst bloggers. The idea is, you share a link to a Facebook post, Twitter post, Instagram photo, Pinterest pin and/or blog post and all of the other bloggers in the group must leave a comment, like or share the post depending on the group rules.

In theory, this is a great idea - your post is going to be shared more and hopefully more eyes will see it. Everyone wants a greater reach or higher page views. So what's the problem?

The problem is, you are artificially inflating your stats which anyone could do - you are diluting your real 'influence' which is actually what brands want when they work with you. If used regularly, you can end up feeling like a bit of a fake and if you're relying on pods for every post, it can become time-consuming too.

How to spot if a blogger is using an engagement pod


Are bloggers defrauding brands by joining in with engagement pods and threads?


It's pretty easy to spot a blogger using an engagement pod once you know the signs to look out for. It's important not to mistake comment pods for natural engagement - often as bloggers, we have friends who are bloggers who are happy to share and comment on our posts without being forced to. When this happens the comment will read a lot more naturally than a comment from a pod.

Typical Facebook posts should receive comments from real people rather than only bloggers. There will be those who tag their friends, those who ask questions, those who disagree, those who share their own photos as a comment, those who write really long comments rather than a quick sentence or two which tends to happen in a pod, those who have experienced the same thing and share their story......these are all very natural ways that people engage with Facebook. It's also perfectly normal for some Facebook posts to receive hardly any engagement (thanks Facebook) so if you see a Facebook page that ALWAYS receives lots of generic comments and they're all very similar in style, you can guess they are using a pod. It really makes me cringe when a blogger writes a sponsored post about a local day out, joins a comment pod and 90% of the comments say 'I wish this was near me' or are clearly from people outside of the local area. This achieves nothing!

A fantastic example of how a Facebook page with an engaged audience should look is Sprog on the Tyne. Caroline's audience is made up of real people and receives exactly the kind of natural Facebook engagement most of us can only dream about!

Twitter is a little more difficult - as a blogger, I naturally tweet links to blog posts I've enjoyed or add them to my buffer queue. I tend to exclusively tweet blog posts about family travel or the North East. If a blogger shares numerous Tweets over 24 hours and all of those Tweets have been RT several times by the same people and if the blog topics seem very random and off topic, it's likely the Tweet has been added to an engagement pod.

No judgement - I've used pods and still do 


Are bloggers defrauding brands by joining in with engagement pods and threads?

It might come across that I'm being a little judgy in this post so in terms of full disclosure, I want to say that I've more than dabbled with using engagement pods in the past. I'm not going to lie, it feels good to be able to show a brand that a Tweet received 20 RTs, that a sponsored Facebook post received 20 comments or that a blog post received 15 comments. However, I can't help but feel it's all a bit icky and over the past year my use of engagement pods has massively declined and I would say I only use a specific thread for family travel posts where we all choose how to share each other's posts for however is best suited to our audience around once a month now - I love using this specific thread to fill up my buffer queue with similar family travel posts, give something back to the community and gain a little extra exposure for my own post in a fairly natural way. I tend to add non-sponsored content to this thread. As I only do this once a month, it doesn't feel like overkill to me and it's never something I'd rely upon. All of the bloggers who use this are my friends in real life too so our comments and engagement is thoughtful and natural rather than forced. If you're going to use engagement pods, I'd highly recommend joining up with blogger threads and using them sparingly like this. It's something that really works for us.

Joining in with engagement pods actually takes up a fair bit of time - especially if you're joining in with daily threads. Because of this, comments are often rushed, generic and don't actually add anything to the conversation or post which kind of defeats the point I think.

Are engagement pods unethical and do they defraud brands? 


Around three years ago, I used to heavily rely on joining in with comment threads. I'd comment on 10 blog posts in return for 10 comments on my post. One brand was over the moon to receive 10 comments on my post for them and sent me a really lovely email to thank me for the post's success. At the time, I was ecstatic and super proud to be receiving such comments from brands. But looking back at my behaviour now, I can't help but feel a little fake about the whole thing and think that yes, I actually did defraud the brand - the 10 bloggers who commented on the post only commented because they were forced to. They probably didn't even read the post and I can bet that they weren't influenced by the post in one single way - they just looked at leaving a comment as something on their to-do list and didn't actually care about the post or the brand in question. These days, I'd take one genuine comment from a genuine reader over 10 forced comments any day and value both my blog and brands much more highly now. As a blogger, nothing makes my day more than when someone comments on a post or messages me via Social Media. You just don't get that feeling when a comment is only there because it's been forced.

Have you ever noticed how some big bloggers receive very few comments when compared with some bloggers who are just starting out or have been blogging for a year or so? Most bigger bloggers won't be joining in with pods and I can say from experience that the general non-blogging public will very rarely comment on an actual blog post - social media, yes but 9/10, the public will never leave a blog comment. The number of blog comments received does DEFINITELY not equate to how successful a post has been.

Another point I've been considering lately is that if you use engagement pods regularly - ie a few times per week or even daily, you're artificially inflating your stats which isn't fair to the brand, yourself or other bloggers. On the surface, brand X may choose to work with a blogger who regularly receives 10 comments per post and seems to receive lots of engagement on every post. But what if all of this engagement has been forced through the use of engagement pods and doesn't actually have any real influence? I feel it would be far better to work with a blogger who appears to receive 1/4 of the engagement but it's all honest and natural and comes from a place where the reader actually cares about what the blogger has written about. This leads to all sorts of dilemmas though - what about those bloggers who pay to boost social media posts - is that artificial engagement? I would probably say no as if you've paid to boost a post, the reader has to actually be interested in the subject to click on it or leave a comment - you aren't forcing them to do anything like you are with a pod.

Instagram instants are another type of pod where all bloggers taking part decide to share an Instagram photo at the same time and everyone likes each others' photos within a 30 minute time frame. The idea is that Instagram will show your post to more people if it receives a lot of engagement soon after posting.

Around a year ago I used to religiously join in with Instagram Instant threads - it's a massive buzz to see your photo likes increasing so quickly and depending how many people take part, you can easily receive 100s of likes per photo but again, it all feels a bit fake and you soon become addicted to it. I joined in with an 8pm thread and would spend 40 minutes liking Insta photos rather than cooking dinner. I wanted to share photos at other points of the day but felt like I couldn't if they weren't part of an instant as they'd receive fewer likes. The final straw for me was when I was planning a press trip and knew I wouldn't be able to share Instagram photos at a set time and I realised I was too reliant on them so I stopped altogether. Instead, I spent those 30 minutes actually engaging with others on Instagram and I'm pleased to say that when you do this, your engagement and number of comments actually increases. 30 minutes per day interacting with non-bloggers gives much better results than spending 30 minutes per day liking other bloggers' photos in my opinion. I don't have a massively engaged Instagram audience but it's certainly not the worst either. When I joined in with engagement pods I received no paid Instagram work but now I am naturally engaging with people, I have received a couple of offers which I think proves that brands actually value proper engagement (no matter how small) over forced engagement. If you're looking for an example of an Instagram account with a naturally engaged audience, check out New Girl in Toon. 



My final thoughts 


Are bloggers defrauding brands by joining in with engagement pods and threads?


I really think - each to their own. Your blog, your rules. I used comment and engagement pods for a long time when I was starting to earn money from blogging and wanted to give certain posts a boost - would I be where I am without them today? Actually, I think I probably would be. Engagement pods can be fantastic for those occasions when bloggers want to boost particular posts. For me, occasional use for non-sponsored posts works perfectly but I do think there's an issue when bloggers rely on engagement pods for almost every single blog or social media post - to me, this is artificially inflating your stats and I think you are so much better off spending the time you are spending in pods actually engaging with real people instead - that's where you'll start to see real growth and it's the kind of engagement brands are looking for.

To defraud somebody means you are obtaining money by deception. If you regularly inflate your stats with engagement pods and then accept money from brands who think you are posting to an engaged audience rather than a forced one, I think there is a case to say you're acting fraudulently.

As a blogger, I want to use every tool possible to share my blog and get it seen by as many people as possible. Engagement pods can be an easy way to do this. I think they're fantastic if you don't plan on monetising your blog and can help you fit in with the blogging community.

If I was a brand, I think I'd be upset to learn that blog or social media comments on a post that I'd paid for weren't natural and were only there after other bloggers had been forced to leave a comment. I'd much prefer natural engagement and that's what I'd expect to receive if I was paying to work with influencers. Perhaps if you're going to use engagement pods and work with brands, it might be worth mentioning it to them during negotiations. Many brands might think it's a great idea but transparency really is key.

Most brands weren't born yesterday and can probably spot forced engagement a mile off. I think the fact that it's now being mentioned in contracts proves that brands are serious about working with influencers and bloggers who have an engaged and organic audience rather than bloggers whose audience is forced.

What do you think? I know it's a controversial subject and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Pin me for later
Are bloggers defrauding brands by joining in with engagement pods and threads?



4 comments

  1. Thanks so much for the shout out! Agree with everything you have said.

    In the past I used to use the instants thread for Instagram too. I stopped as i wasn’t seeing much reward for my time. I remember looking at my ‘best 9’ for that time and it was all just posts which I’d used the instant thread for. It wasn’t my best pics just the ones where more people had joined in the instant thread.

    I rarely have sponsored content but in the times that I have I used to worry that brands weren’t getting enough from my blog/posts. Now I have come to terms with the fact I can’t guarantee anything other than the bits I’m in control of - photos and words (and with kids I can’t always even do that!), now I don’t want to boost views/likes on those type of posts because brands get what they get from me, that’s all I can offer. If 100 click through then that’s how much I can offer, I want them to come back or not based on their return on investment. I don’t want to overly inflate my reach for them to think oh great we’ll work with her again for me to stress they aren’t getting much back. Now I’m more relaxed, I can’t control readership, I can’t control how many Facebook shows things to, and that’s fine. I think my offering is decent but if a brand doesn’t well they had free will when they commissioned it.

    I think integrity is so important when selling a service, which is what bloggers are doing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Interesting read, I had never heard of engagement pods until now. I like to browse blogs and leave a comment or like to let them know I’ve read a post. It’s a way to acknowledge and say thank you. I may not be interested the blog subject but I always walk out of a shop after a good look around, even if I not purchased anything saying thank you

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ahhhh thanks for the mention! My Instagram following is pretty tiny but I am SO happy that I've never "cheated" in any way because I really do consider my small amount of followers as my friends - I get some really lovely comments every day and have got to really know my followers, have made tons of new friends in the North East because of it and discovered even more places I want to go and visit! I would take my small but very engaged following over thousands and thousands of faked likes and followers any day of the week!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Well written and thought provoking.

    ReplyDelete

© SamanthaRickelton.com | All rights reserved.
BLOG TEMPLATE HANDCRAFTED BY pipdig