When Instagram started using a new algorithm, which changed the way users see the posts in their feed, it shared in a blog post that the order of the content in users' feeds would be influenced by the likelihood of the users' interest, the relationship he or she has with the poster, and the timeliness of the post:
"If your favorite musician shares a video from last night's concert, it will be waiting for you when you wake up, no matter how many accounts you follow or what time zone you live in."
A lot of people are unhappy with this change, despite the stated benefits.
Many are worried that the change will reward large corporations that have the marketing budget to boost their posts, while small businesses, in the words of Steve Feiner, "may not be so lucky." To reverse the negative effects this new algorithm can have on brands, many Instagram users have started forming Instagram pods, which are groups of people who like and comment on each other's content. The point of liking and commenting is to keep the content at the top of users' feeds so that it doesn't get pushed below many other posts where it wouldn't be seen.
There are benefits, but also negative consequences, as a result of joining an Instagram pod. I have been interviewing business owners who have used Instagram pods and it seems that the negative consequences outweigh the benefits. However, there is an alternative to Instagram pods that seems to have better results: Shop Share Groups.
What is a Shop Share Group?
Although it may go by different names, a Shop Share Group is a collection of people who help promote each other's content. However, unlike the way Instagram pods function, the members of these groups do not like and comment on each other's content, creating a false sense of engagement.
Instead, members of the Shop Share Group share each other's actual content on their own Instagram profiles. The rules are simple: the leader of the group creates a content calendar and gives each person in the group a day. On that day, the member shares with the group a graphic he or she wants to be shared. The members of the group then share that person's image on their Instagram profiles as a post. In some groups, they can delete the post from their own profile after 12-48 hours (the duration depends on the group). Savvy members share graphics that boast a one-day sale, promotion, or new line of products. Rules for members usually include tagging the shop in your post, sharing the image in your feed and in your Instagram stories, not publishing another Instagram post within an hour of that post. In some groups, you are required to share multiple photos with the group on your day so that they can choose one that best aligns with their particular visual style and tone.
What are the benefits of using a Shop Share Group?
A relevant influencer shares your post
With Instagram pods, boosting likes and comments indirectly helps that one specific post do well. In contrast, in a Shop Share Group, a post is shared by several members directly to their followers. These followers are people who may not have been aware of your business before. They trust the business or blogger they already follow, so when that business shares your post on their own feed, you have the opportunity for your post to be seen, for new followers, and for new business if you included a deal or call to action in your image.
Proven impact on sales
I interviewed one business owner who sells children's clothing (and who at the time of this post has over 40,000 Instagram followers). She specifically mentioned that Instagram pods did not seem to have any impact on sales, but that since she has switched to using Shop Share Groups, she has seen faster growth in followers as well as an increase in sales at the times when the Shop Share Group members share her post.
One of the complaints about Instagram Pods that I heard in my interviews was how fake it felt to have others liking and commenting who were doing so only to boost a post. A travel blogger mentioned to me that it did not feel right because it wasn't authentic.
However, in a Shop Share Group, businesses are publicly promoting each other's content on their own Instagram accounts. It might be easier for Instagrammers to justify liking one post of a business they don't like in real life if they can get an extra like in return. It is less likely, however, for that person to want to endorse a business they don't like. Publishing another person's image on your own profile is more easily visible to followers than which posts you've liked. Your reputation is on the line with this sort of endorsement: every Instagram post you publish reflects on your business.
How to start or find a Shop Share Group
Starting from scratch
When starting a Shop Share Group, it is critical to find people who are in the same general industry as you, because they will be sharing your posts. This doesn't mean that you have to be competitors or sell the same sorts of products. For example, if you sell jewelry, you might find someone who sells clothing and another who sells scarves. When you share group members' posts, it can be in the form of a recommendation for something that might go well with your products.
It will also be important to find people who have a similar style or aesthetic in their Instagram feeds. If you have mostly natural scenes to all your images, such as wood, fir trees, and fall leaves, you might not want to be in a group with someone who puts glitz and glamour in their shots with sparkle, shine, and a pop of bright color. Remember, you will be sharing each other's images on your own feeds. So you all want to have a somewhat similar aesthetic. In the example above, Midnight Owl Candle Company's image fits well with both their own aesthetic and the style of House of Jason's Instagram profile.
Do some searching on Instagram to find possible businesses to partner with and send these businesses a DM. Have a basic set of rules ready so they have enough information to know whether or not they want to participate in your group.
Finding an existing group
Finding a Shop Share Group can be more difficult than starting one because the groups tend to be secret. There are some people who profess publicly that they are looking for members in their Shop Share Group, but many find each other and communicate through dark social like private messaging. In some cases, it is not about finding a group but having a group find you and ask you to join. Comment regularly on similar non-competing businesses and like their posts. Network with similar business owners. Join Facebook groups for similar people (e.g., if you're a Sacramento blogger, search to see if there's a Facebook group for Sacramento bloggers).
Sharing is caring
Have you started a Shop Share Group, or have you joined one? What do you think? Do the members of your group work well together and are you seeing a positive impact on your sales? Share your experiences in the comments.