Maybe you are one of the many people who has seen a sudden drop in engagement on Instagram. Don’t worry, you’re not alone – many Instagram users are experiencing the effects of the shadowban – myself included. As a business owner trying to market my business on Instagram, I know firsthand that it can be very frustrating. That’s why I want help you understand what’s happening, and what you need to do to fix it.
What exactly is happening?
You may be a victim of what they’re calling a “shadowban”. There’s some history behind this term, but in short, it refers to when your account gets blocked or stifled by moderators. And here’s the kicker: it’s done in such a way that you don’t even know it’s happening!
On Instagram, this has been going on since February, but it seems to be affecting more and more Instagramers even recently. Instagram has not fully owned up to the fact, and because of this there’s a lot we still don’t know, but here’s what we do know…
We know that Instagram is cracking down on “bots” and services that automatically post, like, and comment for you. This, of course, is a good thing because it gets rid of spam. But the downside is that Instagram has been penalizing accounts who aren’t necessarily breaking any rules.
The way they are penalizing accounts is by removing their content from hashtag categorization. If you rely heavily on hashtags to reach your target audience, then this may be what is stifling your engagement.
This is exactly what happened to me. On my Instagram account @oneninepro I was starting to get over 100 likes per post. Then suddenly, it shot down to more like 30 or 40.
How do I know if this is happening to me?
When you’ve been shadowbanned, you may not even realize your posts are being blocked from hashtag categories because—as long as you are logged into your account—your posts will still appear under the category as normal. It will appear as normal for your followers as well.
Look up the same hashtag using an account that doesn’t follow you. You can ask a friend to unfollow your account and check for you, or if you have a second Instagram account, unfollow your first account to check. If your post is missing, then you’ve been shadowbanned.
Below you’ll see an example of one of my posts. Notice in the first example, when I’m logged into my own account, you see the post categorized under the hashtag #motivationmonday. BUT when logged into my other account @onenineprodesign, the same post is missing.
If you’ve done this test and you’ve confirmed that you have indeed been shadowbanned, first of all, I’m sorry. For those us trying to do things genuinely on Instagram and not cheat the system, it sucks that this is affecting us too.
Here’s the good news: it’s not permanent… as long as you follow the steps below.
Learn How to Brand Your Instagram Profile
Sign-up to Get Our FREE Guide!
[yikes-mailchimp form=”7″ width=”200px”]
Why am I being shadowbanned, and how do I fix it?
Again, Instagram has not told us exactly why certain accounts are getting shadowbanned, so it’s impossible to know that exact reason why it has happened to you. But here are a few likely reasons:
1. Using Bots
Just stop using automated services and disconnect your account from that software.
2. Using banned hashtags
Certain hashtags have become overrun by spam and inappropriate content to the point that Instagram has either blocked it entirely or limited it. If you are using one of these hashtags, you’re probably being penalized because of it.
You need to check each of your hashtags before you use them. If you do a search for a hashtag and it doesn’t register any results, it’s probably banned. Likewise, if you search a hashtag and it doesn’t have a “Top Posts” section and the shows a limited number of posts, it’s banned (look up #kansas for an example of this).
Stop using these hashtags for your future posts, and you may want to go back and delete the banned ones on old posts.
3. Mass Following, Liking, or Commenting
My @oneninepro account has been shadowbanned twice, and I’m almost certain this the reason for the first time. A few weeks ago, I went and followed about 100 new people at the same time, and that’s when I started to notice a drop in engagement on my posts. It seems that any significant surge in activity on your account—including liking, commenting, and following—could get you banned.
Remember, Instagram is trying to weed out the bots, so anything you do that resembles the spammy activity of a bot is likely to get you banned.
My second account @onenineprodesign has probably been banned since day one. I was using this account to test different growth tricks so I was following and unfollowing 100 people every day. This did indeed increase my followers, but I was getting only about 6 likes per post (which were probably only from existing followers) because the hashtags were not being categorized.
I understand that mass following and liking is a way to increase your following. I’m not saying you should completely stop, but you may need to dial it back a notch. Though there’s no set standard limit that I’ve found on following, liking, and commenting, but several sources say that about 100 likes, 60 comments, and 60 follows per hour is in the safe zone (and this info seems to confirm that).
4. Using repeated hashtags
Believe it or not, my account was shadowbanned a second time. If you’re like many other Instagram marketers, you just copy and paste the same group of hashtags into each post.
Apparently repeating hashtags like this can also get you shadowbanned. To me, this one is the most frustrating because it makes the least sense. I use the hashtag #reflectsuccess which is specific to my brand, but the threat of being shadowbanned basically prevents me from using it as often as I’d like. And I know many other users are being affected in the same way.
It’s still unclear how frequently you can repeat the same hashtags, but just try and change it up on each post. (Personally, I’m going to try using 3 different sets of hashtags and rotating them, but I will let you how well this works.)
So far, Instagram’s only remarks on this whole ordeal (shown below) chalked it up to “issues” with searching hashtags. As a result of these “issues”, they told users to not focus on hashtags as a way to increase engagement. But with no option to share other user’s content like on Facebook and Twitter, this seems to be an oversimplification of the issue since hashtags are the main way to get discovered on Instagram.
However, it’s important to consider that, if Instagram is really trying to stifle the use of hashtags permanently on their platform, businesses will need to start looking for other methods to expand their audience.
In addition to not repeating the mistakes above, there are a few more things you can try in order to get the ban lifted.
1. Quit for a few days
Log out of your account, and don’t post for a few days. Most users have reported the ban to lift within 2-3 days, and I can confirm this personally. However, others have taken up to 3 weeks – I’m still waiting on the ban to lift on my @onenineprodesign account.
2. Switch back to a personal account
There’s less evidence to support this solution, but it’s based on the belief that Instagram is instituting this new algorithm as a way to limit the reach of business profiles. Facebook (who happens to own Instagram) did the same thing a while back so that users would have to start paying for ads.
Personally, I don’t put it past them. I went ahead and switched back to a personal account just to be safe.
For those of us who promote our business on Instagram, we need to continue to adapt to these changes – as frustrating as they are.
The overall takeaway for moving forward is to stop automating activity on Instagram, try not to act like a bot would act, and continue to engage in a more organic way.
Let us know in the comments below if your account has been shadowbanned, and what you did to fix it!