Dear Doctor Digital, what is Instagram Shadowban, could I really be removed from Instagram forever?
Doctor Digital Says
Shadowbanning sounds scary and sinister. If you have your marketing strategy principally based around Instagram, and suddenly you are invisible to all of your followers and fans, it is downright terrifying. But what is the infamous Instagram shadowban, who is likely to be impacted and what can you do to stay on the right side of the Gram? Before we start a little side note: Instagram denies that shadowbanning exists, but the experience of many users suggests otherwise. Shadowbanning is a user term rather than an official one, lifted from Twitter users and now widely adopted for any social media channel that appears to stealthfully dim your profile. So what is the truth about shadowbanning, and can we handle it?
An Instagram shadowban refers to the platform limiting your content reach by restricting visibility. The primary indicator of a shadowban is your hashtagged content not appearing on Explore pages to anyone but your followers. Your reach and visibility for posts being severely limited is another result along with the death of organic growth. While Instagram explicitly denies shadowbanning is a thing they do, they have very clear policies regarding what they call Borderline Content Policy (BCP). This stems from parent company Facebook and is used across the family of social platforms. What is the BCP? According to Tessa Lyons and Gy Rosen from Facebook:
"This involves removing content that violates our policies, reducing the spread of problematic content that does not violate our policies, and informing people with additional information so they can choose what to click, read or share.” – Tessa Lyons + Guy Rosen, Facebook
The two places that users complain of being shadowbanned are Instagram's hashtags and the Explore section, which are two of the primary public-facing areas where the BCP algorithm and Instagram moderators focus on keeping content they deem to be borderline out of sight. But what is deemed to be borderline content on Instagram?
Instagram lists their community guidelines for content here in detail, the summary of no go zones is:
- Content depicting violence
- Graphic or shocking content
- Sexually suggestive content
- Posts with misinformation
- Spam messages
They don't give visual examples, so as a content creator you are being asked to use your discernment as to what might be borderline under that list. Of course where bots and AI and algorithms are concerned, there are lots of grey areas that may be deemed offensive but have completely legitimate and purposeful reasons for being shown, so there will always be areas of contention in an inherently conservative non-human program.
What can you as a business owner and content creator do to make sure you are not in the borderline content net, or if you think you're being shadowbanned, to get back into the light? There are a few options. Straight up and simple is just not violating their policies for content. Avoiding using Instagram pods to game the system of likes for engagement, or any automated bot to increase your likes is also a safe and smart play.
Too many follows per hour is a massive red flag to Instagram and it will temporarily block your account. Instagram has a maximum of 1400 actions per 24 hours on any account, which includes likes, posts and unfollows/follows. If you are using a third-party app to monitor your Instagram channel, measure likes, unfollows etc, it has to be an approved Instagram provider or you are likely to get shut down or suspended, so make sure whatever you are working with is endorsed by the Gram.
Using banned hashtags is also a no-no if you want to avoid a shadowban. Banned hashtags are hashtags that Instagram users have reported because the posts using them go against Instagram’s guidelines. This means that any post that uses that hashtag will be hidden, which will only hurt your organic reach. Interestingly a banned hashtag will often seem quite inoffensive (see #beautyblogger example below) but will have been hijacked and used with inappropriate content. The tricky part is banned hashtags are always changing, based on community reports and Instagram’s investigations, so you need to check your hashtags to make sure they aren't banned. Just visit the hashtag to see its status.
Shadowbanning sounds all kinds of scary and conspiratorial, but in essence, it is just how Instagram manages what it deems to be borderline content to try and keep the channel appropriate and safe for a diversity of users.
Like most things in life, there are no short-cuts or silver bullets ('sorry bout it!) to having a large and engaged following on your social media channels. If you want to grow your Instagram account, build your brand and a band of loyal followers, there is one way to do it: make awesome content within the guidelines that is engaging and authentic and speaks to your audience. Connect with them, spark conversations, post regularly, continuously improve in service to your audience and you and Instagram should stay out of the shadows.
If you want to get your Instagram strategy up and running in 2021, why not book a session with one of our Digital Ready coaching team, if you are a Tasmanian business with an ABN you can access FOUR HOURS of coaching across the year. #signmeup