I was Shadowbanned
And Didn’t Know It!
I feel like basically everyone has an Instagram account now. I started out with a personal account that I used for posting pictures of random things that mattered to no one but my friends and family, and this account slowly branched out to include a niche account that focuses on food. I first posted on the food account mid-2014, which was about 3 years after Instagram first started. I had no clue what I was actually doing. As a matter of fact, I would usually just throw a few pictures of food on that page and then leave it for days or even weeks at a time. Influencer-me cringes at the idea, but, hey, live and learn.
Live and learn is really what this all boils down to. In the middle of finally focusing on my food page and trying to learn the tricks of the trade, I was smacked, like most people, by this new Instagram algorithm. “Instagram algorithm” is the equivalent of a four letter word, the name Voldemort, and all things terrible to Insta-bloggers. These words are a cloud of uncertainty that hover over the heads of those of us who use Instagram for things beyond personal use. And, it was with the activation of this He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named algorithm that caused the silent curse that is the Shadowban to descend upon my beautiful account and crush it with its unholy grip of death. Dramatic? Maybe. But you find out that your baby that you’ve worked so hard at is being prevented from thriving for months and let’s see how you sound.
When I say that my account was crushed for months, I mean months. There I was, editing, creating formats, engaging, using hashtags, doing all of the things that you’re supposed to do as an Insta-blogger, and my poor little account was getting such little attention. Why? Was my content crap? No. I follow so many food bloggers, and I know that my content is good. I don’t want to sound like a conceited ass, but it’s true! I went as far as to listen to YouTube videos on strategies while on my way to work. I was desperate to learn, utilize and grow. Then it hit me: I’ve been shadowbanned. [insert dramatic music here]
These were the signs.
Hello? Is there anyone out there? I could see these other accounts growing and I was getting a follow just here and there. It should boil down to exponential growth. “Growth of a system in which the amount being added to the system is proportional to the amount already present: the bigger the system is, the greater the increase.” (Thanks, Dictionary.com!) If your followers are trickling in like a slow leak from a maple tree, you might want to consider a potential shadowban.
My posts were so consistently near the same number of likes that I just thought that that’s what I should come to expect from my account. Then it started to occur to me that some posts should do so much better, like let’s say cheesy pictures that are so popular, destination pictures, and things like that. If even those pictures are bringing in the status quo, there’s a problem. Are you hovering around the same number of likes per post? Yeah, you might go up or down 50 or whatever, but is it all relatively the same? I hate to say it, but you might be shadowbanned.
Yes, “liking” something is engaging, but so is leaving a comment. Where were the comments from those who weren't the usual commenters? Before getting banned, I would get comments from people who didn’t follow my account, but now that well was dry. Just seeing that I wasn’t getting any love from people who might like some good looking food was odd. I mean, I know that out of everyone in the entire world, there's a chance that at least one new person would like this picture, right? Where was that one new person?
I have a business account, so this lets me look into the numbers behind my page and posts, like reach, likes, comments, shares, and so on. If you use hashtags, this one will be a dead giveaway as to whether you've been shadowbanned. Check out your insights and see your hashtag reach. When I was shadowbanned my hashtag reach was some measly double digit. I found that, even using appropriate hashtags for my size, that my reach was basically the same per post. So you’re telling me that no matter which hashtags I used that I would only reach XX number of people? Ok, I get it now...
All of these hints were starting to add up. I go to hot spots, I use geotags, what was keeping my account stagnant? Then it hit me: I was using the hashtag #longisland on basically every picture, but, duh, I’m on Long Island. Then, like a second smack to the face, it occurred to me that Instagram doesn’t give a crap where I live; all that Instagram knows is that I’m using a hashtag repeatedly. I followed all of the rules – except one. I wasn’t changing up the way I tagged across the board! I was talking to a friend about it today, because I noticed that she was using her handle as a hashtag for every post. I looked at her numbers, and came to the conclusion that she had also been banned. Yes, she was sad to find out that she had been banned, but, like I told her, I wish someone had been there to tell me!
Am I mad at Instagram for this insultingly petty move? Yep. As my friend asked during our convo, why did they even invent hashtags then? Seriously. Why create a system to find and sort posts if you’re going to be penalized for using it? However, do I recognize that I’m actually the one who caused the shadowban (for not understanding the obnoxious standard set for usage)? Ok, yeah, but I’m still really bitter. I mean, that’s a valid and relevant hashtag for my account, and I was punished for using it.
There was nothing I could do about past posts that never reached their full potential, but I was determined to change up my approach moving forward. For every post, I use different hashtags. Sure, there may be a little overlap here and there, but it’s not every time. That’s the key with hashtags: be consistently inconsistent. Download a hashtag app, create different lists or categories for hashtags and then mix them up constantly.
After about a 2-3 weeks of dropping #longisland and using a mix of popular hashtags, most of my posts started seeing double the likes, and a minimum of a 250% increase in reach per post. This all added up to my page getting about 100 likes in a matter of a week or so. Exponential growth.
I’m not sure when I’ll get past how much time I threw into an account that was being drowned without my knowledge, but I can at least say that I’m grateful that I figured it out sooner than later. I hope that this has helped someone out there and that it has saved someone some time. Get into your account and just glance over the numbers. If something doesn’t seem to add up, there’s probably a reason for it. Trust your instincts.
Keep in mind that this relates to those who are using organic growth strategies. Using bots for followers and likes is said to also cause a shadow ban, so, if you use those, proceed with caution. If you think this article may help someone you know, pay it forward!
Good luck, and remember, when it comes to hashtags, remain consistently inconsistent!