Understanding the Instagram Shadowban and what to do if you’ve been affected

Social media platforms are invaluable in the way they can help us to promote our brand. They provide a brilliant and constantly evolving service, making it possible to reach the audience you want. However, just because it’s simple to use doesn’t mean that it’s easy to understand. Behind the screen lie a seemingly impenetrable web of algorithms and regulations. Instagram’s Shadowban is just one such murky issue.

In endeavouring to maintain a happy and appropriate environment on their platform, Instagram has developed a method to squash ‘bad behaviour’. Clearly, this is positive in many ways – we don’t end up being spammed by irrelevant or inappropriate images and posts. However, the sheer amount of users on the platform mean that there’s no way to police accounts individually. Instead, if your account is perceived to be acting in a ‘spammy’ or robotic manner, it will be made limited.

What is a Shadowban anyway?

As you might guess from the name, you don’t receive any sort of notification if Instagram places a ‘shadowban’ on your account. Frustratingly, the entire phenomenon is rather elusive. Essentially it’s a means of limiting a user’s visibility. This means your posts will be visible to your followers and anyone who visits your page directly but won’t show up on hashtags, ‘Explore’ or through searches. This makes it impossible for anyone outside your circle to see what you’re posting.

The reason they don’t just take the account down, or inform the user, is to prevent spammers from simply setting up a fresh account and continuing in their bad behaviour. Of course, this is great news from an end user point of view, as it keeps your feed clean, but less positive if you’ve accidentally been hit with a ban!

How do I know if this has happened to my account?

The first sign will be an immediate and sudden drop-off on your likes and comments. Once under the ban, your following will be unlikely to increase at all. Clearly, if you’re using Instagram for your business this is a very bad turn of events.

If you’ve noticed this, it’s a good idea to check. You can do this quite simply.  Add an unusual and specific hashtag to your latest post, then log onto an account which doesn’t follow yours (you could get a friend to unfollow you briefly). Search your test hashtag and see what shows up. If your post doesn’t appear then it looks like you have indeed been shadowbanned.

But why? What did I do?

We’re guessing you aren’t actually a spamming robot. However, you might have behaved in a way that has made the Instagram algorithm suspect that you are. There are two basic reasons why this could have happened:

a) bad behaviour

If you use any sort of app that automatically likes, comments or follows/unfollows from your account, turn it off. As well as being a surefire way to receive a shadowban, it is also a rather antisocial and (dare we say it) narcissistic way to behave.

Any sort of behaviour that makes you seem like a bot is a no-no. Following large amounts of accounts in one day or making identical and generic comments to others’ posts are things to avoid. It’s far better to keep your engagement more human and responsive. We’re all tempted into the odd smiley face emoji, but make sure you mix things up a bit and leave meaningful comments.

Try to keep to a maximum of 3 posts a day.

Ensure you don’t use the same hashtags over and over again for each and every post you make. Spend some time looking for the latest trending and relevant tags and get yourself out of your hashtag rut. The best place to leave the hashtags is within the body of the initial post rather than writing them in the comments below. If you don’t want them to show up and make the post look messy, add five vertical dots and add them there. This keeps them hidden unless someone presses on the main body of text.

b) using banned hashtags

This leads us to the thorny issue of banned hashtags. Using one of these is far more easily done than you might at first imagine. There are a few reasons why a particular hashtag might make it onto the banned list. The most obvious of these is where there is a large amount of offensive content associated with it. These are probably fairly easy to avoid (depending on the nature of your business, we suppose!). However, some hashtags have become ‘full’ and will no longer work. Others have, for some reason, been banned for no apparent reason. You might be surprised by some of the tags on the banned list. At a stretch, we could probably get our heads around #dogsofinstagram, but #books is a mystery to us!

You can check whether a hashtag is banned really easily. There’s a fairly comprehensive list on the very informative PlannThat website. The list does evolve over time so if you want to check on Instagram itself, type the tag into ‘Search’. After the ‘Top Posts’ grid, there will be a notice informing you that posts using the hashtag have been hidden. Like this:

What can I do?

All is not lost. You can get your account back to normal quite simply. You must make sure that you keep your behaviour human and un-spammy. Keep away from the banned hashtags and make sure you keep your content real and engaging. Instagram has not made any comment on the ban or made any suggestions for how you can get it lifted from your account so there is no official method. Keeping within these guidelines should work, but if you feel the Shadowban is still in place you could take the step of letting your account lie silent for a few days. Most people find that their following and likes pick up again after letting it rest.

If you’d like to find out how we can help your brand build their Instagram presence, get in touch. Our team love sharing our clients’ journeys and can help you reach the best audience possible.

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