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How to Avoid Social Media "Pods" and Still Build an Audience There are better ways to grow your following.

By John Boitnott Edited by Jessica Thomas

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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In the last several years, social media "pods" have become a popular strategy to get more attention and engagement through a social media channel's algorithms. Although many pods involve people who already know each other, it's also possible to create a niche or topic pod, find followers and then ask them to participate actively.

It sounds like a good idea to convince others in your circle to "upvote" one another's posts and comments on sites like Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn. In some pods, people are genuinely interested in helping boost each other's social media engagement rates. However, that's not always the case.

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Reasons to avoid social media pods

Although engagement pods aren't the same as "buying" followers and likes, the process still essentially means you are creating fake likes and artificially enhanced engagement rates. The intent behind Instagram pods, for example, is to climb up the engagement ranks by manipulating Instagram's algorithm and follower counts, as opposed to organically targeting audience members that can convert into customers.

Directly asking pod members to go onto your profile and page and like new posts doesn't generate a genuine picture of what others think about your brand. Others will catch on, too, once they notice the same accounts like and comment on every post. Instagram or whichever social media channel you're using might well suspend or even ban you for this spammy behavior.

Moreover, simply focusing on the same "Instagram engagement pod" means you're not consistently putting effort into cultivating new followers by extending your content beyond your social circle. In the process, you end up limiting reach and genuine engagement instead of doing everything possible to grow it.

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Natural growth strategies

To avoid the "pod group" approach, try the following strategies to grow your business authentically.

Create content that prompts a response

No matter what form your social media content takes, most often you want to provoke a response from your target audience. Simply seeking "likes" and "shares" doesn't encourage them to respond. It's like the intrusive marketing of old, where companies and marketers just told their audiences what to think and do.

The best way to get that kind of increased engagement is to start asking questions with your content. Think of questions as conversation starters that encourage your followers to share their thoughts. And those questions don't need to be complex or deep. You can simply ask your followers how they are doing and what they think about a certain topic.

After all, social media is popular as a platform because so many people feel like they have a "voice" there. By asking your audience users questions, you tell them you want to hear that voice.

Besides posting a direct question, you can use other tactics to prompt more responses. For example, you can create a survey or poll and ask your followers to respond. Polls only take a few minutes to create on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

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Deliver more content followers actually want

Long content posts might not provoke the engagement rate you want. You might find a few brave followers with a lot of time on their hands who will willingly stay the course and scroll for minutes to read your extensive social media content. However, most social media users simply don't have that kind of time.

If you want to increase your engagement rates on any social media channel, give your audience new content it actually wants, such as live and recorded video content as well as images, GIFs and short stories.

Boost engagement and excitement with giveaways and prizes.

People like to compete and play games that offer the chance to win something tangible. That's why gamification continues to drive engagement on social media. Your followers might even share these posts to get their social circle to play along as well and create some friendly competition. That, in turn, enables your brand to benefit from some viral engagement. Additionally, winners often post pictures of their prize, which may lead their social circle to become interested in your brand's next giveaway.

Offer a unique prize, such an autographed product, an experience like a trip or exclusive access to an influencer your audience admires. When you offer a few prizes, it might encourage more to play since the odds are more in their favor. Sweeten the giveaway with prizes from two favorite brands, if you can find another suitable company willing to partner with you. This also provides cross-post opportunities and expands your reach in a significant way.

Related: The Counterintuitive Way Social Media Can Reduce Stress

Offer something extra

Not every company has the following to partner with a big brand or give away merchandise. If that's true for you, explore other opportunities to build your social media audience with smaller offers.

Your audience still sees the value in discounts, coupons and exclusive offers that they can receive in exchange for following your page or profile. Creating these regular offers also gives you a good reason to reach out to them regularly.

Also, you can build on the human behavior known as "fear of missing out" (FOMO). Potential customers might be more likely to check out your profile when they sign in to find any new digital coupons or deals. They don't want to miss those flash sales you announce periodically that can provide them with incredible savings.

As long as you plan for regular incentives, you can almost ensure a higher engagement rate with this tactic.

Under construction

To build an audience of true fans and drive social media engagement, think of it as a work in progress. Start with a social media strategy blueprint that details the engagement areas you want to focus on first. Look at your current engagement carefully so you know what you are working with. Then start building the long-term and short-term strategies like those listed here that are proven to increase social media engagement.

Related: 4 Ways to Determine If Now Is the Right Time to Launch Your Business

John Boitnott

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Journalist, Digital Media Consultant and Investor

John Boitnott is a longtime digital media consultant and journalist living in San Francisco. He's written for Venturebeat, USA Today and FastCompany.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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