Yes – We are going there. It’s time to discuss … the Instagram Shadow Ban!!! Cue ominous music and announcer…
“Ever since I started using (insert tool here), I’ve been Shadow Banned!”
“Help! My engagement on Instagram has tanked! Have I been Shadow Banned?”
“I’ve heard using the same hashtags over and over can get me Shadow Banned on Instagram. Is that true?”
I do enjoy a bit of marketing myth busting, so, when I had a chance to talk with Jenn Herman, Instagram Expert Extraordinaire and owner of Jenn’s Trends who minces no words when defending the truth about her favorite platform, I jumped at it! We took on the questions above – and more!
In typical Jenn style, she didn’t pull any punches – and we got all of the audience questions answered, though we did end up having to record the interview instead of broadcasting live. Internet!!! If you’re more of a reader than a watcher, just scroll down for the text version of our lively conversation.
What IS the Instagram “Shadow Ban”?
Well, let’s go on record and say that Instagram and parent company Facebook disavow the existence of a “Shadow Ban”. As Jenn says, they “shut down like a bank vault” at the mere mention of the concept.
To define the concept as it’s being used in the blogosphere though, it’s the idea (started by a photographer using Instagram) that Instagram is hiding your content from hashtag searches. That people who are following you will see your posts in the hashtag search, but people who do not, won’t.
Have I been Shadow Banned?
Nope. See above. 🙂 Also, see Jenn’s fabulous article.
Alright. If There Is No Shadow Ban, What is Going on With Instagram Engagement?
It’s all about the algorithm. We knew when Instagram introduced the algorithm, the days of equal exposure for all were over. And isn’t that a good thing, really? Now the platform looks at your engagement, presumably identifying and amplifying the content YOU tend to be interested in.
They’re also looking at your content itself to see if your hashtag really matches what you’ve posted. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Jenn shared the painful fact that engagement on her account is down 30-50% from a few months back. The content that still performs is the stuff her audience loves to see such as announcements and product launches. What doesn’t perform as well is when she shares a new blog post, but she shares them anyway because she wants people to head over to the blog. Sometimes there’s a tradeoff – just be intentional about what you decide to post.
With a “bazillion” posts on a given hashtag, you’re ONLY going to see more recent, relevant content – filtered out the way Instagram wants to filter it! This is the new Instagram Normal.
The Good News in the Engagement Drop
The silver lining in all of this is that the people who actually like and comment on your posts or follow your account are more likely to be actual humans who are genuinely interested in your content. So, if you’ve gone from 100 new followers a week to 10, chances are you are still gaining a similar number of genuine followers.
All these algorithm changes are designed to make Instagram more authentic – getting rid of the bots and forging real connections. And Instagram is actually opening up the API which is helpful for 3rd-party partner programs such as Tailwind for Instagram to show you more information about your followers and more.
What’s a Banned Hashtag? Will Using One Hurt My Instagram Engagement?
“Banned” hashtags can be those that are commonly associated with material NOT welcome on Instagram (#curvy, for example), or they may be those used so much that Instagram says in effect, “ENOUGH!” They just generate too many results to provide a good experience for the user. That’s why innocent hashtags like #dogsofinstagram and #workflow are not getting picked up in search.
Here’s how you can tell if a hashtag is “banned.” Just search Instagram for the hashtag in question (#dogsofinstagram here) and if you scroll beneath the popular posts, you’ll get a message below – and no more results.
So, using a “banned” hashtag will cause all the hashtags on your post to be disabled, right? As Jenn says – “FALSE!” She’s tried it – using one banned hashtag did NOT disable search on all the others on the post. All it does is waste the spot that you could have used on a searchable hashtag. Not ideal, but also not the end of the world!
Can we call them “Inactive” instead? Not as fun, but more accurate for sure!
So, Should We Still Be Using Hashtags?
Yes! Just be more selective. Don’t use the popular ones with hundreds of thousands or millions of hashtags already. Get niche specific and use hashtags that are more closely related to your business and your posts.
Use the hashtag finder feature of Tailwind to find tags related to your content. Use a mix of Nice, Good, Best, and Competitive hashtags (mostly good and best). Try new ones! Mix them up.
How to Increase Instagram Engagement and Grow Your Followers
If using hashtags is no long a guaranteed route to fame and engagement on Instagram, what’s a person to do?
The most important thing to remember is the most mundane of all: The better the content, the better the engagement! Robots might have liked crummy content, but humans will not. Up your content game. But you can also:
Adjust Your Expectations
Share this with your boss or your clients to help them understand why growth has slowed and why that’s actually a good thing. Remind yourself as often as necessary that this is not a conspiracy or a disaster. It’s just the new Instagram normal. Oh, and it will change again. 🙂
It’s what Instagram wants you to use now, so they are going to reward you with exposure. Use hashtags and locations on your stories’ captions. Create a 10-post story with a hashtag on each one for a great boost. Use geotagging, too – tag your city and you could show up in a location search.
Our data shows that Instagram contests are great for growth with accounts that use them growing They’ll l70% faster. Make tagging a friend (or two), liking the post, and following your account requirements for entry. This is completely within the rules! Do it now before they change their minds. Think of the potential for exponential exposure!
Because the “ask” here is so small, the prize can also be relatively low value as well. Offer a coupon, free sample, or something valuable to your followers, but not too costly for you.
Ask People to Tag a Friend
When sharing a post about your own content, let people know they can click on the link in the bio. and encourage them to tag a friend who might also be interested. Word it in such a way that they’ll feel they’re doing their friend a big favor – and they may be! Those tagged friends are very likely to follow you if they find the information helpful or entertaining – and you may get more blog traffic in the process.
Exchange shoutouts with whose audiences might like your content and vice versa. Foundr magazine has a great strategy for this. If the account you’d like to partner with has many times your follower count, you might give them more than one shoutout for each they give you. Or you may be able to come to a financial arrangement that won’t break the bank.
Share Less Content, But Better Content
Can you really create enough fabulous content to post three times a day, every day? Probably not – and since Instagram isn’t showing everything to everyone, chances are the more content you have the more will get pushed down the feed. So, make them good and don’t worry about posting too much. While our study showed posting daily works best, Jenn suggests 3-5 times a week and finds that works well for her.
Having trouble coming up with ideas for Instagram posts? Join our 30-day Instagram Jump Start!
Be Consistent with Your Styling, Photos, and Editing
Make your content recognizable!!! Use similar styles, fonts, and colors. Use the nine-grid preview in the Tailwind dashboard – here’s what you’ll see:
Write Great Captions
According to Jenn, they’re “Super, super important!” 🙂 Remember that only about the first sentence is going to be shown in the feed. The rest is hidden behind “more…” Make it a blog post title or an email subject line – it needs to be that good. Get help if copywriting is not your strong suit.
Jenn suggests your caption consist of two to three short paragraphs to grab their attention and include a call to action (visit the link in the bio., tag a friend, answer a question).
Who Is Jenn Herman?
Jenn is my straight-talking, Instagram-loving, super-high-heel-wearing friend. Mom of one mini fashionista, and owner of an award-winning blog, Jenn doesn’t just pass on what she reads – she tries things. She collaborates with people worldwide to figure out what is going on in Instagram world. Instagram is her THING!
And here’s what it comes down to:
Don’t spend your time looking for excuses – go make some great content. 🙂
Start a Free Trial of Tailwind for Instagram!
- Schedule photos and videos directly to your Instagram feed with Auto Post.
- Optimize every post for more engagement with SmartSchedule and Hashtag Finder.
- Automatically hide your post’s hashtags in the first comment to keep your caption clean & clutter-free.
- Make your posts more discoverable with user tagging & location tagging.
- Analyze what's working across every post and profile with smart analytics.
Alisa Meredith is Pinterest Product Specialist at Tailwind – a Pinterest and Instagram scheduler and analytics platform. She is a sought-after speaker and teacher on Pinterest and Promoted Pins in particular, having spoken at Social Media Marketing World, Agents of Change and appearing on The Art of Paid Traffic and Social Pros podcasts. Alisa has invested heavily in becoming an expert in her craft – realizing (and loving) the fact that the learning never ends! She lives in coastal North Carolina with her pampered pets Pepe the couch potato Cavapoo, and more cats than she’d like to admit to.