There have been rumors for a while now that Instagram was taking action to limit the reach of popular posts. Accounts that regularly garnered thousands of likes on a typical post found that those numbers dramatically dropped off; further research revealed that impacted posts could not be found by searching the hashtags used.
Obviously, this is problematic if you’re using Instagram to promote your business. Digital marketing professionals have been working behind the scenes to find out exactly what’s going on. Kaitlyn Pierce pursued the inquiry through Facebook’s customer service channels, and here’s what we’ve learned:
There is an Instagram Shadowban
The diminished reach of Instagram images isn’t something you’re imagining. Instead, the Shadowban is what Facebook describes as “Intentional Functionality”. A highly individualized algorithm is being used to determine which posts will appear in hashtag searches and which ones won’t. Not being included in hashtag searches has an immediate and dramatic impact on how many people will see your posts.
Shadowbans Appear to Have a Limited Duration
Shadowbans appear to be triggered when a user attempts to game the system by using bots, automation tools, or buying followers. Additional shadowban triggers include sudden surges in account activity and using the same hashtags repeatedly. Defining what counts as a surge in account activity is difficult, as some users have experienced a shadowban after posting one to two posts more than their established norm, while other accounts post multiple times a day without triggering a ban. The issue may be one of deviation from established posting patterns, rather than a particular ideal number of posts. Shadowban appear to have a limited duration: logging out of your account for 2-3 days appears to reset the algorithm.
Hashtags Can Be Concerning
There is a widespread belief that any post tagged with a hashtag will appear in a search for that hashtag. While this may be true on some social media platforms, that’s not true on Instagram. Repeatedly using the same hashtags over an extended duration may trigger a shadowban.
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Instagram polices hashtags to make sure the platform remains safe for work. There are always users who try to push the line on what’s acceptable. To do this, they co-opt otherwise innocent hashtags for nefarious purposes. This means you could post using a hashtag that makes legitimate sense based on the content (for example, ‘petite’ to refer to a fashion or style) and experience a shadowban due to other users’ behavior. To determine if the hashtag you’re using is problematic, run a search on it: Instagram sometimes notifies users that a hashtag has been limited due to abuse, but in some instances, a total absence of posts will be your only clue something is wrong.
What To Do If You’ve Been Shadowbanned
Unfortunately, Instagram has been reluctant to discuss shadowbanning. The only guidance they’ve issued is what one would expect: do good creative work and focus on storytelling. Marketing professionals have found that logging out of accounts and taking pauses of 2-3 days and investigating the viability of hashtags can help restore post reach, but work needs to be done to confirm the accuracy of these impressions. We’d love to hear about your experiences as we gather more data: have you been shadowbanned? What did you do to get your posts back in the spotlight? Working together, we’ll figure out what Instagram’s parameters are.