If you use Instagram for your business, you’ve likely been stressing over what’s being referred to as the Instagram shadowban. Sounds scary, but the truth is it’s not nearly as ominous as it sounds. You don’t have to give up on Instagram forever, and while there aren’t any sure-fire ways to ensure you’re not affected there are some ways to limit the chances! Learn exactly how the Instagram shadowban can affect your business, and how to deal, here!
Over the past few weeks, Instagram has quickly gone from every creative business owners jam to a platform that causes stress and has left some wondering if they should even bother at all.
Before we dive into the Instagram shadowban itself, let’s talk about what Instagram was made for in the first place.
Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, Instagram’s 26-year-old Stanford graduate creators launched Instagram in 2010 hoping it would become a social sharing app people could use to connect with their friends by seeing images as they happen. They grew up loving photography and wanted people to share images with the world in real time.
Please take a second to note that this has NOTHING to do with businesses. In fact, Instagram was created to be used by people, for personal use.
As with any social media site, business owners adapted and found ways to use the platform to build their businesses. Hashtags made getting in front of your ideal clients a breeze, and for businesses whose products or services were primarily visual Instagram quickly became a major marketing tool
In 2012, Facebook brain Mark Zuckerberg bought Instagram for a cool $1 billion, and it’s not surprising that Instagram has slowly been doing what Facebook has been doing for years: making changes to the platform that seem to totally screw over small business owners.
Enter the Instagram shadowban of 2017.
A few months ago, people (everyone from my stay-at-home-mom neighbor to celebrities!) started noticing issues with hashtags. It seemed when they used hashtags; their content would not come up under that tag. Most recently, it seems the content is visible to the person who posted it and anyone that follows them, but new eyeballs will not see the image appearing under said hashtag.
This could happen for only one hashtag, or for every hashtag someone has used, which means so low you want to cry engagement.
Instagram addressed the issue in a roundabout way (you can read one of the posts here), stating that while there was an issue with hashtags not working correctly they were unsure how to fix the issue. They offered some tips for using the platform without relying on hashtags, which felt a little ridiculous since the main way people find your super awesome content is through hashtags. No hashtags working, not many new eyeballs on your stellar content.
Here’s the thing, while aggravating for those of us who finally felt we’d gotten into a marketing groove on Instagram and now had this giant wrench thrown into our plans, the Instagram shadowban isn’t nearly as menacing as most people think!
Sidenote: some users are freaking out over the Instagram shadowban because they’ve noticed lower engagement on their posts when in reality the drop is because of the crackdown on third party apps.
Instagress was one of the largest third-party bot apps, and it experienced an Insta-takedown and is no longer in business (read about that, here). In case you don’t know how bots work, they hook up to your account and go through and leave spammy comments, like, and follow and unfollow other accounts without you having to lift a finger. Honestly, it’s shady! So while the lack of engagement can be frustrating, this is a GOOD thing!
Want to avoid being banned? While the “ban” doesn’t seem to follow a particular pattern, making it difficult to know for sure how to avoid it, there are some general best practices that will lessen the chances that you’ll have issues:
- Avoid using third party apps that post, like, comment, follow, or unfollow FOR you (something that only reminds you, like Later, is ok!). Instagram was meant to be used by PEOPLE. Using bots to do your work for you isn’t what the platform was about, and they go against the vision Kevin and Mike had to make it an organic social sharing site. Using these apps is a violation of Instagram’s service agreement, and doing so can not only get you shadowbanned but can have your account disabled. For good. One great thing to keep in mind is that this limits bots! Spammy comments are super aggravating, and those should diminish as fewer people are using bots.
- Engage in conversations. Because Instagram wants the platform to be used as intended, as a social sharing site, users are encouraged to connect with other accounts! Leave genuine comments (“great pic” doesn’t count) and be sure you’re engaging with people who interact with you. The more Instagram feels like you’re there to connect with people, the better! Just be sure you’re not going on a comment spree and commenting on a TON of posts in a short time frame because that (along with unfollowing/following a large amount at once or liking a ton of posts suddenly) can be seen as bot-like behavior! Try to stick to this rule: for every image you post go leave love on at least ten other accounts.
- Be mindful of your hashtags. Using hashtags that have been reported for misuse can end up getting you “banned” as well. Say you used #mondaymotivation and a bunch of weirdos decided that would be a great hashtag to use to post pictures of their unmentionables. Instagram may flag that hashtag, causing your posts not to show up. Also, switch up the tags you use! If you use the same exact ones in every single post, consider creating a few different combinations to post. Remember you can post up to 30 hashtags per image, so use them all and use them wisely!
- Put your hashtags in the caption, or the comments. This one is annoying because there’s no sure answer here. Some users have noticed they don’t have hashtag problems when they post in the comments; others find they never work in the comments. Some people notice when they switch and put them in the captions they suddenly have no issues, where it’s the opposite for others. I know, helpful advice. But, if you notice you’re not showing up in the caption, try posting in the comments and vice versa!
- Use Instagram as it was intended. Yes, you can still use Instagram to grow your business, just keep in mind what it was created for and aim to build authentic relationships while posting quality content and fantastic captions! Tell stories. Share things your ideal audience will relate to. Teach people things. Ask questions. Encourage interaction by interacting with others often! Worry less about your numbers and more about your connections.
Think your account has been impacted by the ban? Try these tips (but know nothing is a sure thing!):
- Lay low. Some users have said that logging out of Instagram completely from anywhere from a few days to a week or more seemed to help.
- Delete hashtags from your images. It has been said that removing all of your hashtags from the time you believe you were affected on can help. You may want to do this before logging off for an Insta-break.
- Contact Instagram. While Instagram doesn’t say the Instagram shadowban is a thing, you can contact them and simply let them know your posts don’t seem to be showing up in the hashtags you use and ask that they look into it. Some users have said this seemed to bring their account back to normal!
- Switch to a personal page. It has been said that switching back to a personal account can help, though I had switched back to a personal account a month or so before the ban issues started to see if it made a difference with engagement and I still felt the effects!
I decided to delete my hashtags and sign off of Instagram for a week to give my account a little refresh, and it was AWESOME. Not having to think about social media felt fabulous. Even if you aren’t worried about the ban, I encourage you to take a break from time to time and spend some quality time with that puppy you’re always posting about (or your kids, or your mom, whatever, but who doesn’t like a picture of an adorable pup!?).
There you have it, a crash course in the Instagram shadowban. Not that scary, right?!
It’s always frustrating when you FINALLY get the hang of a social media platform only to have the game changed with little information on how to adapt.
If you can change your mindset from “oh crap Instagram stinks now too and they’re ruining everything for business owners” to “I have a great opportunity to connect authentically with like-minded people, and potential clients in a personal way as long as I play by the rules and respect the platform that another business owner created” you’ll likely feel a lot less anxious when you wake up to see news of another change!
Want to learn more about using Instagram for your business? Check out these resources:
Have questions about the Instagram shadowban, or a story about how you’ve been affected?! Shout it out in the comments!