Last week was mental health week and it got me thinking. I thought it might be good to talk about something I’ve seen a lot in recent posts from my mummy blogger and instamum friends. I've seen rise in people talking about the anxiety they feel around posting. To be honest I'd been feeling an increasing anxiety myself recently too: trying to post every day; keeping up with engagement; and liking and commenting on other people’s posts to keep my engagement up. Then there’s the worry about that pesky follower number not going up.

Like many others, I’ve dabbled in engagement groups and like pods over the past few months because I thought that having more followers would help me in my quest to become an author. Turns out they just made me stressed out and probably hurt me on the gram more than they helped.

How they work?

In the beginning engagement pods had a fairly noble reason for being. They were a group of ten to twenty similar type accounts who had an agreement to like and comment on each others' posts as soon as they went live. I say these are noble beginnings because if you think about it, they do build a little community of similar people all supporting one another and that is what drew me to them.

Over the past few years I’m guessing that today’s engagement pods have grown like they're on steroids. The couple I have come across have hundreds, sometimes thousands of accounts, from all over the world and are active on Instagram closed pages, facebook closed groups and in a free messaging app called telegram. Basically, what you do is – in accordance with each groups rules – you like the past 12 or 24 hours of people’s posts and comment at least four words, then post your link. Some apps are sophisticated and can tell when you’ve posted your link and not reciprocated (called leeching) and others rely on you to report those who don’t reciprocate.

Pods aren't 'bots' which people do pay for, they are genuine accounts. Apart from monitoring that rate of posts you are liking in terms of speed, there seems to be little evidence that using these groups to boost your engagement will get you shadow banned or penalised by Instagram themselves. Nope - you're hurting yourself enough as it is.

You could technically farm up a heap of likes and comments using them, which ‘in a post algorithm world’ technically should push you up in the rankings and get you seen by more and more accounts. At the beginning it’s like a drug! You’re getting heaps of likes and comments praising you and its hard to let go of – so you join another, and another. But nothing in this world is free my friend. What I noticed is my true engagement went down and it made me really anxious.

Why I'm going cold turkey

Firstly, I started my account to have a little space to be creative in my new mum life and to document the fun and quirky things I observed about life after baby. Making 'the gram' into a task I 'had' to complete sucked a whole lot of the fun out of it. I would sit on the couch at night working my way through the list of comments I had to make before the 24 hours was up and I wasn't engaging in my real life, let alone with the content I actually wanted to be seeing.

It also made me fairly sceptical about the whole thing. I didn't know what comments and likes were genuine and so eventually the impact of all the kind and genuine comments I actually was receiving didn't truly touch me the way they should have and in a way that would have spurred on my creativity and joy.

Secondly, I spent a heap of time looking at and liking accounts that I didn't genuinely connect with and so the algorithm started serving up the content I was telling it I liked. The inspiring, real and talented everyday people I used to see in my feed stopped showing up, so I stopped engaging with them and my growth actually stagnated. It also didn't help that as many of the accounts I was commenting on were in the US they were on a completely different timezone to me and thus I wasn't getting engagement when my followers would typically engage, but overnight instead - thus screwing around with all of the insights that Instagram so kindly give to us all about when our true followers are likely to be on the app.

I did learn some practical things to avoid when I was engaging with all of these 'other' accounts which have helped me be truly more engaging on the gram recently - hopefully you might have noticed. For instance, when you have to comment on someone's post and their caption doesn't really invite any meaningful conversation you can only really put those superficial "gorgeous pic you look great *insert most used emoticon*" type comments. That's ok sometimes, but if I didn't have to comment on those posts I likely wouldn't have, so I am working to make my captions more of a meaningful conversation starter about things I actually want to know about people, or want them to know about me.

The rub

If you want to take the quick and dirty route to insta-vanity-status you can get a whole heap of followers, likes and comments through non-genuine means. You can even buy them if you want. But you ain't fooling anyone but yoself - especially companies who are looking to employ you as an influencer. In fact if you've ever been interested to know if an account has paid for their followers it's pretty easy and free to find out at insta audit sites. If you want to get those followers genuinely you have got to do the work. Authentically and consistently showing up - in your pjs on your stories, on your grid with beautiful images and meaningful conversation and in your life with your loved ones so that you actually have a full and meaningful perspective to share.

I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't actually matter if I have 100 or 100,000 followers. Nope - for me if I am showing up and speaking to just one fellow mumma and I've added some light to her day, or made her go "hell yeah I know where you are at today Kristin cos I am right there with you!" then that's pretty awesome and that will make my creativity flow.

I'm in Insta-rehab currently. I've gone cold turkey on the pods and you might have noticed my engagement has technically gone down. If I am too busy to properly engage with people that day because I am working or busy being present in my life I don't sweat it just to tick the box that I posted that day. When I really delve into my insights (stats) I'm actually doing better. My feed is slowly returning to the beautiful artists, squishy newborns, small businesses and real life mummas that I love to engage with. I'm focusing on genuinely engaging with my true followers and on serving up content that is just authentically me, my thoughts and my life.

Here are my tips if you are stuck in the pod cycle (and it isn't the good caramel filled chocolate kind):

  • Just give it up - simples. Stop putting your hand up for all that work! You'll be amazed at how much lighter you feel instantly. Instagram is just an app, it's not your life, and it is only as good as the people you connect with.

  • Spend the time you were spending on pods genuinely responding to those who message, comment and like your posts - show them you appreciate them showing up for you and get to know your own unique tribe.

  • Concentrate on serving up your most genuine content and asking meaningful questions of your followers - give them something to actually engage with instead of just talking to the void.

You might not get that little rush when your phone buzzes every two seconds. But I swear that not only will you feel truly humbled by the genuine engagement you do get - the beautiful app algorithim will start showing you the things you love again too.

Still there? Keep reading - about our IVF success

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