Instagram Engagement Down? You Might Be Shadowbanned!

instagram shadowban

By Kerry Gorgone, {grow} Contributing Columnist

Brands trying to use Instagram to reach their audience already have to fight for engagement: 70% of instagram posts don’t get seen due to Instagram’s algorithm and the sheer volume of content on the platform. But did you know that Instagram might be actively hiding your posts from your followers?

Sounds like a conspiracy theory, I know, but it’s not. Instagram “shadowbanning” is a thing, and you need to understand what it is so you can take steps to prevent it from happening to your brand.

What is an Instagram Shadowban?

A “shadowban” can cause your posts to show up lower in your followers’ feeds, or it could even make them disappear completely from the stream. It also hides your profile from Instagram’s “Search and Explore” section. Hashtags won’t work. In fact, certain hashtags might be the reason your account got shadowbanned.

Although Instagram has neither acknowledged nor explained shadowbans, experimentation has revealed which behaviors and hashtags can lead to a ban, and from these you can reverse engineer an Instagram strategy that keeps you visible to your followers. First, know this: using certain hashtags can result in your account being shadowbanned.

There’s no apparent rhyme or reason to which hashtags raise that red flag—some relate to cannabis, some relate to porn, but plenty are completely innocuous (like “#NewYears” or “#workflow”). Even brand names can be banned as hashtags. (Sorry, #sallyhansen!)

The truly tricky thing about this is that you might not even realize your account’s been shadowbanned. Instagram doesn’t issue any kind of notice. You need to keep a sharp eye on your Instagram analytics, and if you notice a drop in engagement, investigate further. Ask a few people who do not follow you if they can see your hashtagged post when they search for that tag. If not, there’s a good chance you’ve been banned.

It seems as though Instagram shadowbans users after detecting behavior that seems spammy or bot-like. In many instances, though, the hashtags or behavior that results in a shadowban doesn’t necessarily violate Instagram’s terms of use. Without guidelines from Instagram itself, there’s no surefire way to avoid a ban, but you can improve our odds of staying in your followers’ feeds by following a few best practices:

1. Avoid Using Banned Hashtags

Remember, some hashtags that seem innocent (like #women, or #workflow) can result in your account getting shadowbanned. Use a list or search tool to make sure any hashtags you’re planning to use aren’t banned. If you think your account’s been shadowbanned already, go back and remove banned hashtags from your previous posts.

2. Don’t Automate Your Instagram Use

Using any service that posts directly to your Instagram account for you will raise red flags and very likely get you shadowbanned, as automation does violate Instagram’s terms of use. Using these tools to like others’ posts, follow other users, or post to your own Instagram could get your account permanently banned.

Instead of using bots or other auto-posting tools, go into Instagram directly to post content and engage with your followers. This is both a safer option from a shadowban standpoint and a better practice for creating a meaningful connection with your audience.

3. Post, Comment, and Like Others’ Posts Often (Just Not TOO Often)

This is one of those maddeningly vague tips, I know, but if you engage too much, Instagram will assume you’re a bot and might shadowban your account. Activity limits for things like following, liking posts, commenting, and posting will vary based on factors like the age of your instagram account and the size of your following. Know the limits and pace yourself so as not to set off the spam alert at Instagram HQ. You most likely won’t have any trouble staying within the limits—it would be difficult for a human to exceed them posting manually.

4. Abide by Instagram’s Terms of Use

While some shadowbans remain a mystery, others are clearly the result of violating Instagram’s terms of use. If Instagram users repeatedly report your account for copyright infringement or inappropriate content, you’re likely to find yourself on the receiving end of a shadowban.

If you believe your account’s been shadowbanned unfairly, contact Instagram and make your case. It’s possible that abuse by others caused an unobjectionable hashtag to be banned and you were unfairly penalized.

Keep an eye on your Instagram engagement: you might discover that you’ve been posting from the shadows!

Note from Mark Schaefer: Since we published this post, it has come to my attention that there is some controversy about the source of what is being considered shadowbanning. Undoubtedly there are some weird things going on with Instagram hashtags, but we don’t know for sure if it is an intentional act by Instagram. Here is an alternative view from Jenn Herman who writes often about Instagram issues.

Kerry O’Shea Gorgone is a writer, lawyer, speaker and educator. She’s also Director of Product Strategy, Training, at MarketingProfs. Kerry hosts the weekly Marketing Smarts podcast. Find Kerry on Twitter.

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