Instagram’s shadowban and what you need to know about it

As an online business seller, you must have heard the term ‘Instagram shadowban’ floating around for a while now.  And it hasn’t come with good news.

Users have reported that their Instagram engagement has been going down and their posts haven’t been showing up on the ‘Explore’ feed. This has especially affected businesses that depend directly on social media marketing.

So what’s going on?

Everyone’s still trying to figure out the shadowban on their own since Instagram has been pretty tightlipped about it, but I’m going to break down all that we know so far, and the ways in which being shadowbanned can be avoided.

Buckle up.

What is the shadowban?

Usually, when users are banned from an online community, they are notified about it. But when they are shadowbanned, there is no such notification. Instagrammers do not realize they have been blocked, until they see a drop in their engagement and start investigating.

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If you’re shadowbanned on Instagram, none of your posts will show up to the public. They will be visible to you and your followers, but not to the rest of Instagram’s users. Which is a death knell for your online community building. If your posts are not visible publicly, you won’t get any engagement. This defeats the whole point of social media marketing.

This issue has been plaguing users for a while now. Initially, only a few users were affected by it, but a recent drop in engagement for a lot of big accounts has made everyone sit up and notice. The shadowban has affected accounts big and small, business and personal.

Check if you’ve been shadowbanned

There are quite a few ways that users have been shadowbanned. Generally, it’s posts that get shadowbanned and not user accounts.

The Instagram Shadowban Tester is the new tool in town that can apparently tell you if your post has been shadowbanned or not.

Instagram Shadowban Tester

You put in either your username or the URL of the post you want to check and they generate a result. While this tool has gone viral, please keep in mind that this isn’t 100% accurate. Our technical experts tested a few posts that showed up as ‘shadowbanned’ according to this tester, but found that they are visible on the public feed of non-followers.

So what’s the best way to check? Do it manually. Follow the steps below.

1. Find low density hashtags relevant your post. Low density hashtags are hashtags that haven’t been used in a huge number of posts. When you search for a hashtag, you automatically get to see the number of posts it has been used with. If you’re a maternity wear seller looking for hashtags, this is what you’ll see:

hashtag density

Searching for hashtags on Instagram directly might take up a lot of time, so I suggest you do it via OrangeTwig’s InstaSuccess Toolkit. It’s easy to scroll down and find the relevant hashtags. On top of that, you will also get to see the latest posts with that hashtag.

ot maternity

For instance, as a maternity wear seller, you can scroll down to less popular but relevant hashtags such as #maternityoutfit, #maternitychic, that you can use for your promotional posts. Find low density hashtags relevant to your post.

2. Make your post. Create your post now with the niche, low density hashtags, as well as the general, more popular hashtags (in my case, that would simply be #maternity).

3. Log in through an account that doesn’t follow you. You can either create another account just to test this, or you can ask a friend/family member to do this for you.

4. Search for a low density hashtag you have used in your post. For instance, as a maternity wear seller, you should use #maternityoutfit since that doesn’t seem to be used frequently. So the chances of your post appearing on the top of the ‘Most Recent’ section of this hashtag is higher.

5. Search for your post under the ‘Most Recent’ section of this hashtag. Remember, you should be doing this through the account that is NOT following you. If your post shows up on the public feed, it hasn’t been shadowbanned. If it doesn’t, there’s some reworking to do.

Ways to avoid the shadowban

If you haven’t been shadowbanned, congratulations! You’re safe … but, erhm, maybe not for long. The shadowban can strike you when you’re least expecting it. But, WAIT! You can still avoid it. Hear me out.

1. Don’t use bot services or buy followers. Yes, they make your Instagram numbers go up, but they don’t do much beyond that. Getting popular on Instagram isn’t about numbers, it’s about actual engagement. All those numbers that you see – are they converting to sales? If they aren’t, they aren’t helping.

More importantly, Instagram is shutting down all bot services as they don’t comply with Instagram’s policies. Any app that ‘automatically’ posts, likes, comments on your behalf is a bot service. Instagress, Mass Planner, Instaplus, Peer Boost, Easy Social Grow, Fan Harvest have all been shut down.

NO BOTS!

If you need to grow your engagement effectively, you should do it organically. OrangeTwig’s InstaSuccess Toolkit lets you research your hashtags, make a preset comment list, like and regram posts in just one click and make all your posts clickable through a middle page. You can learn more about increasing your Instagram engagement organically here.

OrangeTwig is fully compliant with Instagram’s policies. While you can schedule Instagram posts through the app, it doesn’t post on your behalf. At the time of posting, you get a notification on your phone. Once you tap on it, your scheduled post is published.

2. Avoid using the same hashtags. Do not use the same hashtags in all your posts. If you use the same hashtags in consecutive or alternate posts, Instagram will start considering your content spammy. This post by Instagram tells you how much emphasis they lay on content. They want your content to tell your story, not the hashtags.

This may seem tricky since hashtags are the way to get found, especially on a social channel like Instagram. I suggest you make short hashtag lists with hashtags most relevant to your business. OrangeTwig’s InstaSuccess Toolkit allows you to make as many hashtag lists as you want, like this:

maternity hashtags list

At the time of posting, use the lists you want or separately pick hashtags from the lists. This way you’ll be mixing up your hashtags, without losing out on relevancy.

3. Refrain from posting hashtags in the comments. I know it is neater, and gives your caption a very clean look. I’ve been doing this for months till I realized that recently it’s been making my engagement rate go down. It worked fine till a few weeks back, but now comment hashtags may make your post visibility go down.

This, however, is not happening to all accounts. Some users started noticing this issue around March, some still have engagement from it. It’s not affecting all accounts equally right now, but if you want to stay on the safe side, you know what they say about a stitch in time.

However, if you’re doing the 60 hashtag thing by putting 30 hashtags in the caption and 30 in the comments, you’re calling upon a sure-shot shadowban on yourself. Don’t go there.

4. Stay away from high intensity hashtags. High intensity hashtags are the most popular hashtags on Instagram. These are the ones that have around a million posts tagged with them. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the number of posts that have used a certain hashtag come up right next to the hashtag when you search for it. Aside from the fact that high intensity hashtags are also very general hashtags that do not really help with your engagement unless your post is among the ‘Top Posts’ of the hashtag, they are also overrun with spammy content. And by now you know what Instagram thinks about spam.

Go with the low intensity hashtags. They are more likely to get you an audience that is actually interested in what you are posting. For instance, if I’m looking at selling maternity wear, #maternity will not get me as many potential customers as #maternitychic will. Find your niche hashtags and stick with them.

maternity maternitychic

5. Check the hashtags you are using. Check if they have been banned or not. Instagram has banned a host of hashtags that are being misused. The Data Pack has compiled a list of hashtags that have been banned. While most of these are NSFW, there are non-explicit hashtags that are banned too.

The only way to know whether a hashtag has been banned or not, is to check manually. There are two kinds of hashtag bans. One is a complete ban, and the other a ‘soft’ ban.

Before using a hashtag, search for it on Instagram. Instagram generally shows searched hashtags in two sections – ‘Top Posts’ and ‘Recent Posts’. If neither the ‘Top Posts’, not the ‘Recent Posts’ yield any result, it means that the hashtag has been completely banned. If you see results in the ‘Top Posts’ section and nothing comes up in the ‘Recent Posts’ section, it means that it’s a ‘soft’ ban.

I searched for #books and this message showed up under the ‘Top Posts’ section:

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Using a hashtag that has been banned or ‘soft’ banned will shadowban your post automatically. Any other hashtag you use along with the banned hashtag will also become null and void. Basically your post will be dead on the public feed.

6. Don’t use too many hashtags. Once again, cluttering your posts with hashtags does not bode well with Instagram. Yes, you’re allowed a cap of 30 hashtags per post, but going that far will make Instagram single you out as a spammer. Considering the importance they have laid on content, they are looking at too many hashtags very suspiciously. The idea right now is that if you have good content, you will not require hashtags to attract followers and grow in engagement.

You can learn how to make quality content here.

Are you scratching your head wondering how to ensure that your content is found? Relax. Just because you shouldn’t use excessive hashtags doesn’t mean you can’t use hashtags at all. Use OrangeTwig’s hashtag research tool to zero in on targeted hashtags. This will make you visible to users who are actually interested in your post subject. And this is more likely to turn browsers into potential customers.

Quick word of advice: Don’t even think about going down the 60 hashtags (caption + comment) way.

7. Hashtag misuse is a big no-no. This is what got the shadowban started in the first place. Users are tagging unrelated posts with unrelated hashtags.

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Your content should have exactly what you are hashtagging. For instance, if you’re putting up an image of maternity clothing, using #favorite will not do much for it. Your target customers won’t be searching for sellers under that hashtag, and it’s too general to be a searched hashtag.

If you don’t know which hashtags are relevant to your posts, search your product keyword in OrangeTwig’s hashtag research tool and filter through the results that come up.

What to do if you have been shadowbanned

If you have been shadowbanned by Instagram, here are a few things you should do to get back on track:

1. Stay away from any Instagram activity for 48 hours. Do not post anything or like/comment on anyone else’s post. Make Instagram believe that you don’t exist. In the meantime, while you’re refraining from all activity, analyze your profile. You’ve got to figure out where you’ve gone wrong. Check hashtags, posts, everything.

2. Get rid of any bot service. If you have subscribed to any service that automatically posts, comments and likes on your behalf, you need to let it go so that you can avail uninterrupted service from Instagram. To check what apps you may have authorized through your account, log onto Instagram desktop (you can’t do this through the mobile app). Click on ‘Edit Profile’. A queue of options will show up. Click on ‘Authorized Applications’. Delete the unnecessary apps.

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Don’t use any software that violates Instagram’s policies and messes with its API. Unfortunately API-meddling services won’t show up under this, so that’s entirely on you. Clear out the autobots and services that buy you followers.

3. Delete the banned and broken hashtags. If you’ve been shadowbanned, check if you’ve used banned hashtags, and remove them from your recent posts. Like I found out with #books, even seemingly innocent hashtags can be censored. You have to keep checking them all.

4. Remove hashtags from comments. If you’ve been keeping hashtags in your comments instead of your captions, remove them from the comments section and put them in the caption. Or if it’s a week-old post with a lot of general hashtags, you can delete the comment entirely, since it won’t be figuring on search feeds anymore.

5. Change from business to personal account. If your account is a business account, change it to a personal account. Account engagement rates drop whenever a profile is changed from personal to business. I mean, let’s look at it this way. If you have a business account, Instagram will be expecting you to pay for ads to ensure that your content is found, not do it through hashtags. Using too many hashtags on a business account will make your account be charged with hashtag abuse. Play safe, stick to the personal account.

However, this is a temporary measure and not a long term solution, because as soon as Instagram can detect that you are carrying out business activities through a personal account, you may be penalized. If your Instagram is entirely promotional, balance it out with educational content. Consider the 80:20 rule of social media marketing which states that only 20% of your posts should be promotional, and 80% should be non-promotional and informative content.

6. Don’t violate the number of interactions. Instagram has a daily limit for all interactions (likes/follows/comments, etc) which is not publicly known. You have to be smart here and not go overboard with your likes and follows. I understand it’s important to reach out to other users and potential customers, but build up your community genuinely first. Don’t go on a follow spree as soon as you start a new account. Let your account age, increase your interactions gradually through each week, starting from ground level.

Look for your niche. Look out for the community of people who are interested in and are talking about your subject field. If you sell yoga wear, go look for the #yogaaddicts. If you’re a bicycle seller, look for #cyclistlife. You can use OrangeTwig’s hashtag research tool to find your people.

Don’t panic

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Really. If you play by Instagram’s rules, you’re good. Fighting the shadowban isn’t that hard. Remember, engagement is only good if it’s genuine. Concentrate on building your community rather than random big numbers. And be patient.

The shadowban is still a developing issue and I’ll keep updating the more I get to know about it. Meanwhile, stick to the tips.

Happy marketing!