My last post on the algorithm talked about some of the basics. You can review all of that info HERE.
I’ve resolved to fully educate myself on this Dark Magic, so today, I want to talk about the one thing that does seem to guarantee low engagement and performance on your posts. The dreaded SHADOWBAN.
First, shadowban sounds like an awesome ninja name when you first read it. Doesn’t it? But, unfortunately, like with their entire platform, Instagram took something awesome and made it not so awesome. Harsh? Maybe. But, by all accounts their decision to move from chronological to this algorithm has only benefitted large accounts. But, I digress.
So what is a shadowban? Essentially this means that your post, and in some cases, your entire profile have been flagged unbeknownst to you. The difficulty in this is, how do you know you’ve been shadowbanned if you don’t know? Hopefully this post can help you with some tricks.
Let’s start with the essential question: how do I know if my post is impacted?
The biggest trigger to indicate your posts are being flagged is low engagement. If your likes suddenly drop fairly dramatically, you’re only seeing likes and comments only from people who follow you, and your comments drop significantly, you could have been shadowbanned.
This is tricky though, because your post could simply be suffering from low performance for reasons other than a shadowban. (We’ll get into those in a future post.) So, to know for sure, you’re going to need an Instagram buddy. Or, at least a second account.
From an account that does not follow you, and this is key, make sure that the account you’re checking from DOES NOT FOLLOW YOU! Go to one of your hashtags and search for your post. If your post has been shadowbanned, you will not show up in the hashtag search.
This is important because it means that your posts will only show up to users that already follow you. No one knew. Which is the entire point of using hashtags. To become discoverable to new followers. So being aware of this is important if your goal is to grow your account.
The next question is, how does a post become shadowbanned?
There are multiple answers to this. The primary reason is using banned or restricted hashtags.
Hashtags get flagged frequently. If enough users are offended at posts using a certain hashtag, they get flagged. I believe that there is a place on Instagram that tracks these, but I don’t know that for sure. However, I can show you a trick.
Let’s take the hashtag that got me. #books
I used to use that one fairly frequently because my account deals with books. Makes sense right? Turns out this hashtag is shadowbanned. Here’s how to tell.
When you use the search function for any tag, you see a result screen like this. There’s the Top Nine at the top, and then below that will have Most Recent. As you can see from the screenshot above, #books goes on for longer than the Top Nine, whereas #bookstagram has a white space after the Top Nine. This isn’t cropped, it’s just white space.
If you scroll down for #books, you’ll come across this:
Unless you make the Top Posts, which are more numerous than just the Top Nine, all recent posts are hidden.
On the surface this doesn’t seem like a big deal. Just try and make the Top Posts right? NOPE!
For some reason, and I’m not quite sure the logic here, but if you use #books, every hashtag you use will also be hidden. So, by using one flagged hashtag, your entire post will be shadowbanned.
If you check the hashtags you use, and you aren’t using any flagged one, YAY! One step eliminated. But you still need to figure out why you’ve been shadowbanned.
It could be that you have been flagged for using the same hashtags for a length of time. A lot of people have become used to saving their hashtag comments as a shortcut, rather than typing them out. If you use the same ones, this signals possible “bot” activity and flags your posts.
You can still use the shortcut trick. But you have to have several options saved. It is also a good idea to use hashtags relevant to your post. I will use hashtags for the book and author I’m posting for, along with any relevant publisher tags, and then use a few of my favorites. Whether you type them out each post, or use a shortcut trick, just make sure you’re changing them frequently to avoid being flagged.
The bot trigger is the third way. Some apps have become popular because you can create content and schedule a post. This is a lifesaver for people who work, or have busy schedules, and you’ve discovered that per the rules of the Universe, those are the times when you get the most engagement. The problem is, these apps use the same IP address for all posts; OR, the IP address is constantly changing locations. Depending on how popular they are, this can cause the address to be flagged which will make your post spam.
And speaking of bots, if you use a bot service to gain followers, the activity from both the follow activity and potential IP address issue will cause your account to be flagged.
This last point is tricky as well, because if you are spending time on a slow Sunday afternoon catching up on likes and following accounts, you may get flagged. So, I would caution heading to multiple accounts and liking all their photos in a short period of time. Ditto for following or unfollowing a ton of accounts in a short amount of time. These can appear as bot activity.
I know. It’s a lot. And all of this can feel very overwhelming very fast. That’s why again, I will say, know the goal for your account. It may not matter if no one outside of your follower base sees your posts. But, if you want to grow your account for whatever reason, these are things to be aware of. Find the level of awareness that fits you.
Generally speaking, taking a one to two day break from posting will reset any shadowbans, or problems with algorithms. If you used hidden hashtags, once you stop using them, you should see your posts begin to bounce back. If you’ve been blocked from liking or following, it’s usually temporary and if you are aware of your activity, you should be fine.
Some people have stated that simply stopping the hashtag, or changing up your hashtags will boost your posts since it lifts the ban. I find that taking at least a day break works better and my account always recovers faster. You’ll have to find what works for you.
I don’t have any words of wisdom for using a posting app, as I don’t use one, and never had. There are some that allow you to plan a post but you post your photo yourself, which solves the IP address problem. Just be aware of what app you are using and how they work.
The algorithm can be a difficult thing to wrap your hands around. Hopefully this helps just a little!