When you're trying to grow a following on Instagram, you depend on hashtags and engagement to expand your audience and reach. So it can feel more than a little disheartening when it suddenly seems like your content isn't showing up anywhere.
If you feel like your posts are receiving fewer likes and comments, or aren't appearing for certain hashtags, you might be shadowbanned.
Shadowbanning is the act of blocking a user's content on social media sites, in such a way that the user doesn't know it's happening. If you're shadowbanned on Instagram, your content won't appear on anyone's feed unless they already follow you.
From Instagram's point of view, shadowbanning makes sense. Shadowbanning allows Instagram to filter out accounts that don't comply with their terms. Some people use inauthentic measures to expand their Instagram following, like automated bots or hundreds of hashtags irrelevant to their content. If that's the case, it seems only fair for Instagram to block those accounts, so users can continue receiving genuine and helpful content.
While Instagram doesn't openly admit to shadowbanning, they released a statement in February that addressed the problem users were having with their content not showing up for certain hashtags. Their statement at least confirms the hashtag dilemma as a real one -- but many speculate that the statement is Instagram's way of admitting to shadowbanning, without actually admitting it.
It's important to note that Instagram changes its algorithm often, so those alterations could be the reason you have witnessed a drop in your engagement. However, there's a possibility shadowbanning is a real tactic meant to hide users' content from the wider Instagram audience, and if you're being shadowbanned, it's important you take the necessary measures to get your content seen.
Let's explore how to know if you're shadowbanned, as well as our tips for getting yourself off the list.
Am I Shadowbanned?
There's an easy trick to figure out if your account is shadowbanned. First, post an image with a hashtag that isn't often used. (If you post an image with a hashtag that has millions of posts associated with it, it will be hard to see if your content is hidden from a shadowban, or simply from competition).
Once you've posted something with a certain hashtag, ask five Instagram users who don't follow you to search that hashtag. If none of them see your post under the hashtag, its likely you've been shadowbanned.
If you run this test and believe you've been shadowbanned, don't worry -- we have a solution for you.
Why You Got Shadowbanned, and How to Fix It
There are a few potential reasons your account could have been shadowbanned. To ensure this doesn't happen again, let's explore some actions you might have taken that led you to being shadowbanned:
You use bots or another automated "Instagram growth" tool. If you aren't putting in the hard work yourself, you're not growing a following authentically. Instagram frowns on this -- in their statement above, for instance, they encourage users to have a strategy that focuses on connecting with the right audience. Using bots is a spammy tactic, and could result in a shadowban.
You use broken hashtags. Occasionally, a popular hashtag will become overrun with inappropriate content. When this happens, Instagram can remove the hashtag or limit its use. If you use a broken hashtag, it will prevent your other hashtags from ranking, and could also result in a blocked account.
Your account is often reported. When users repeatedly report an account, Instagram will assume your account is posting inappropriate content or violating their terms of service. They might disable your account, or they could shadowban it.
You've exceeded your daily or hourly limit. Instagram places time constraints on how often you can follow, unfollow, like, comment, or post within an hour or day. This makes sense -- if you're following 80 people within an hour, it's likely a bot doing the work, not you.
These actions might help you grow a following quickly, but they can't help you connect with the right people, which is why you're on Instagram in the first place. Additionally, these behaviors likely result in shadowban, which severely restricts your exposure to a new audience.
To get your account back to normal, you'll want to reverse the damage. Here's how:
If you use a bot or another automated service, stop using them and delete them immediately. To make sure the accounts aren't still attached to you, go to your desktop Instagram and click "Edit Profile", and then "Authorized Applications". If you see any of your bot accounts in the list, click "Revoke Access" to remove them completely. Remember, it's better to have 100 followers who love your brand and purchase your products, than 1,000 followers who never buy from you or interact with your content.
Take a look at Preview's list of banned hashtags for 2018, and make sure to remove all broken hashtags from your content. Moving forward, be selective and careful with the hashtags you choose, and when in doubt, take a look at the hashtag's page -- Instagram will likely post a message like, "Recent posts from #summer2018 are currently hidden … ", which will indicate to you that the hashtag is no longer in use.
Take a two-day break. People have reported a full 48-hour break from using their Instagram accounts can reset the system and get you back on track, and it's worth the temporary social media cleanse anyway, isn't it?
Most importantly, it's critical you're posting helpful, authentic content, and abiding by best practices when growing your audience. It will take longer to do this, but slow and steady wins the race -- and doesn't get shadowbanned -- right?
Originally published Aug 30, 2018 6:00:00 AM, updated July 12 2019