Ever since Instagram moved its feed from a straightforward chronological posting scheme to an algorithmically sorted, Facebook-style presentation, users have been looking for ways to grow or even just maintain their engagement with their followers.

Bots that scoured the network liking and commenting on a user’s behalf to drive up followers have a mixed reputation among human users–to say nothing of Instagram, which just banned one popular bot service Instagress.

That has forced Instagrammers to get creative. According to a piece in Mashable by Rachel Thomson, they’re forming invitation only “pods” to help promote their posts. “An Insta pod is a secret group of bloggers who join forces in group messages in order to like and comment on each others posts and gain more engagement on Instagram,” Thomson writes.

Basically, pods function like human bots. Whenever a member of the pod posts something to Instagram, other pod-members like and comment on it in the hopes that the flurry of activity will drive that post higher in people’s feeds and in the top posts for a given hashtag.

Joining a pod, however, can be a bit of an ordeal. As Thomson describes it, pods are an “excellent idea in theory, but, put into practice, it feels like a brutal popularity contest straight out of Mean Girls.”

Pods aren’t all that new (in Internet time). They began springing up in early 2016. Unlike bots, which rely on Instagram’s API, pods may be harder for Instagram to shut down since they’re informal. Of course, it’s possible for Instagram to monitor users to identify if they’re behaving in a “pod-like” manner, but so far at least, they’ve declined to move against them.

Hat tip: DL Cade