(Originally published at The Debrief)

If you’ve got a big group of friends and a lot of spare time, there may be a way to increase how many likes you get on your Insta snaps.

As you may remember, Instagram pissed everyone off last summer when they introduced a new algorithm to bring, supposedly, the best content to the top. If, like me, you were pretty happy with the whole ‘seeing things in the order they were uploaded’ method, you’ll probably have been annoyed too.

But, whereas for me it was all about hitting that magic 11 likes, for bloggers and influencers it’s been having a bigger effect: less engagement. And less engagement means less money – which none of us like the prospect of.

So, what to do, when no one’s liking your latest protein shake, or buying your new workout routine? What are the people doing, if not admiring your rock hard abs and new waist trainer? We’re all up for self love and all, but liking your own photos is still pretty socially unacceptable. So what’s the next best thing?

Arrange a reliable, consistent group of friends to like your photos for you. Simple, right? You like their photos, they like yours, and, abracadabra, your lycra clad body is at the top of your feed again. This has become such a popular method, in fact, that it has a name: pods. But rather than this just being a nice method of checking in with your mates, it turns out there are strict rules and regulations one must follow. Despite it being a pretty well known concept now, comments must be ‘authentic’ and ‘meaningful’ – of more than three words and not purely emoji based. So all those jokes about fitness bloggers using only the 100 emoji to communicate must be a lie, then. On top of this, you’ve gotta be on the ball, as comments should happen quickly after the post is uploaded. Phew, keeping up?

But, what you’re probably thinking by now, surely if everyone is joining a pod, and everyone is liking and commenting… everyone will be rising to the top? And we all know on Instagram’s hierarchy of needs there’s only one top spot. If you’re hoping to achieve all your Insta based popularity dreams through this method, you might have to wait for a bit. Pods are expanded only by word of mouth (hence their supposed undercover-ness) – although the first pod (created by Liz Dean and Teri Didjurgis of InstaRevealed) now has more than 20,000 members. So much for exclusivity.

This does also beg the question of how much we can trust Insta stars. There’s always been debates about the authenticity behind sponsored posts (just look at Kylie and her Tummy Tea) but surely, if bloggers are commenting on each other’s photos just to gain likes, we can’t trust the effectiveness of whatever they’re promoting, too. So, what’s more important? Popularity, or authenticity?

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