If you are an avid user of Instagram - whether as a photographer, marketer, or art director- you have probably noticed a few months ago that your overall engagement and reach has dropped with little explanation. This affliction has been coined "shadow banning" by the online community at large as it seems to be affecting thousands of Instagram business accounts. This blog post is to help you understand what exactly shadow banning is, how to know if you are a victim, and a plan of action to regain your account!
Shadow banning is when Instagram reduces or removes the visibility of your account by making your hashtags unable to be seen by users who aren't following you. While you can continue to use your hashtags, their purpose is deeply undermined because new users cannot tap into your brand's message when they search for your used hashtags. Since you think that everything is okay on your end you continue posting but are only met with a decrease in likes, comments, and stagnation in new followers.
Instagram has responded over the confusion and anger over hashtag search issues saying that they are working on improving the system and that businesses should "recommend focusing on your business objective or goal rather than hashtags."
So how can you know if Instagram has shadow banned your account? The easiest way to find out is to ask a few friends (who are not following your Instagram page) to see if your posts are appearing on your intended hashtag pages. Try out a few hashtags and if your images do not show up it is safe to assume that you have been shadow banned. You can also check out this link to test out your account.
If you have determined that your account has been shadow banned don't freak out! There are different ways you can fix this and get your account back to normal. It seems that the reason most accounts are shadow banned are because they are violating Instagram's Terms of Services and are abusing the purpose of the app. If you are shadow banned or scared you might be in the future, follow these steps to make sure your account is safe:
1. Stop using bots, automated growth tools, and buying followers
Instagram can tell when you leave automated comments on profiles of potential users and follow and unfollow many users in one day. While these methods increase followers they keep engagement painfully low. Even if you haven't been punished for using these methods you're hurting the reputation of your brand. 100 dedicated followers is always better than 10,000 users who don't care about your content.
2. Change up your hashtags up
We all get into the habit of using the same old tried and trusted hashtags for our brand. Get into habit of refreshing your hashtag lists often. There is a list here of hashtags that Instagram has banned due to spanners. Make sure that you aren't using any of the ones on the list.
3. Avoid all growth hacks
Now is not the time to be breaking Instagram's Terms of Service as it appears that Instagram is in crackdown mode. Some users adding 30 hashtags to a comment and then 30 hashtags to their caption so that they can have 60 hashtags on one post. This isn't super effective but it is a loophole that many users are getting around to up Instagram's hashtag limit. However, if you simply follow Instagram's rules you do not need to worry about the possibility of being shadow banned.
4. Take a break for a few days
If you've decided to ditch automated bots, delete broken hashtags, and forget about growth hacks, you will need to take a break for at least two days in order for your account to reset. Once you reset you will need to manually engage with your audience if you want to see growth.
5. Follow the trusted "3 likes, 1 Comment Formula"
This is a method that bloggers and marketers have created to drive engagement. Its premise is that you have to engage with others in order for them to engage with you. Start off by finding users through relevant hashtags and location search. When you like and comment their photos you will show that you have genuine interest in their lifestyle. While this takes time it can bring you followers that find value in the content you push out.
This is a relatively new development so facts are coming in everyday. Make sure to stay up to date to keep your account visible. Remember that social media platforms are based on algorithms and bots that are largely out of your control. What you can control is forging genuine human interaction and connection around your brand. So go out there and talk to your potential followers and your current followers, offer them your attention and time without demanding something from them first.