Has your Instagram reach and engagement significantly declined recently? Are you worried that you’ve been Shadowbanned?
If you run a business on Instagram like I do, lower engagement and reach means less business so it’s crucial to identify the reasons behind why your account is being seen by fewer people, and knowing if you’ve been Shadowbanned is an important part of that process.
What is Shadowbanning?
First off, it’s important to know what Shadowbanning actually means.
Your account is Shadowbanned when you use hashtags on your posts but those posts don’t appear in the hashtag feeds of anyone except the people who already follow you.
In theory, this greatly reduces your reach because no one outside of your current followers will discover your account through hashtag feeds (hashtagging has been a well-known growth tactic for a long time).
3 Simple Steps To Check If You’re Shadowbanned
Here are 3 simple steps to check if you’ve been Shadowbanned:
- Find someone with an Instagram account that doesn’t follow you.
- Post on your Instagram account using the hashtags you regularly use.
- Ask the person who doesn’t follow you to quickly check the feeds of the hashtags that you tagged on your post.
If your post doesn’t appear the first time, don’t panic, check again 3–5 minutes later. Connectivity isn’t always reliable and that can affect the timing in which a post shows up on a hashtag feed.
(***Important note: Posts are shown on a hashtag feed in chronological order. This means that the larger the number of posts in the feed of a hashtag, the faster the person who doesn’t follow you will have to check that feed. For example, in a popular hashtag like #fashion (with over 600 million posts), your post can be pushed down in a feed far enough to be “undiscoverable” within less than 30 seconds. If you’re using one of these big hashtags, I’d advise you to change your strategy and use more relevant and niche hashtags anyway.)
If your post shows up on the hashtag feeds of the person who doesn’t follow you, you are not Shadowbanned.
If your posts don’t show up on the hashtag feeds of the person who doesn’t follow you (even after checking twice), you are Shadowbanned.
If you are Shadowbanned, these are the likely reasons behind the ban.
But before we begin, let’s tackle some myths: Banned hashtags aren’t a thing. Really, they aren’t. Check these on Instagram for yourself. None of them are “banned”. Also, Shadowban testers (like this one or this one) aren’t accurate. They exist because people are scared of being Shadowbanned and they can leverage that to sell you stuff. If you’re worried about being shadowbanned, you can easily check it yourself. It’ll save you from unnecessarily spending money on services you don’t need.
Now that we have that clear, here are the likely reasons behind your Shadowbanning:
You are using an Instagram automation service that isn’t safe and/or using automation settings that caused your account to be flagged: Most people think that using an automation service (bot) means getting Shadowbanned. That’s not necessarily true. I (and thousands of other accounts) have used a well-automated Instagram automation service through a safe provider to grow my reach for years and I’ve never been Shadowbanned. You get Shadowbanned if your automation service provider isn’t well-run (using servers and settings that put your account at risk) and/or if your settings surpass Instagram’s engagement thresholds per hour (for example, Instagram allows an account to do X amount of “likes” per hour, but the exact numbers are always kept secret).
- How to fix it: If you’re worried that your automation provider is the problem, stop using it. If you still want to use one but want to make sure that it’s safe, choose a service provider sets you up with your own private VPN upon signup and is run by a team invested in keeping your account safe (Here’s a list of bot services that fulfill both of those requirements). To make sure that your automation settings don’t raise any flags, also make sure to use an automation service that has automated activity settings. They are managed by the team who creates the product and they are put in place to make sure that their users aren’t flagged (which puts the service at risk).
Your account is getting reported by your audience: Instagram is committed to keeping their community safe, so highly-reported content is the first line of defense when it comes to flagging an account for behavior that might harm someone. If your account is flagged for harmful behavior, Instagram will be highly incentivized to not surface your content.
- How to fix it: Each account and audience is different when it comes to what they report, but if you consider that a particular type of content that you’re posting might cause your audience to report you, stop posting that content. No piece of content is worth the risk of being flagged.
After making these changes, check again if you’re Shadowbanned: If you’re still Shadowbanned after a week, contact Facebook’s customer service and tell them that your posts aren’t showing up on hashtags (include screenshots with proof). They’re very helpful if you’re not currently violating their Terms of Service.
If you are not Shadowbanned, these are the likely reasons behind your declining engagement and reach:
The Instagram Algorithm changed: Instagram is an advertising company and they make money from keeping you on the app as long as possible to sell your attention to advertisers. The algorithm exists to show you the posts that they consider you are most likely to engage with first, and it’s constantly being tweaked. If Instagram considers that your posts aren’t likely to engage your followers in comparison to all of the other posts available (view the graphic on the left to see how this works), the algorithm will show your posts to a smaller percentage of your audience. This will result in a lower reach because fewer people are seeing your posts, which sometimes causes some people to worry about being Shadowbanned when they aren’t.
- How to fix it: Here’s an article that will show you how to be Instagram algorithm change proof!
Your content has become stale: How many times have you followed an account that you love only to find that six months down the line you’re kinda bored of their content and just stop paying attention and liking their posts? If you’ve felt this way, so do most other Instagram users. It’s natural for accounts that have been around for a while to see declining engagement just because people are used to them on their feed and/or because they don’t constantly keep their content exciting and engaging. This decline in engagement means that Instagram will downgrade your content on the Home feed of your followers, and that lowers your reach. This leads some of us to think that we might be Shadowbanned when we’re not.
- How to fix it: The best way to keep your content from getting stale is to constantly test new types of photos/videos/captions that your audience might like and then measure the engagement of those new posts. If they receive above-average engagement, your audience is telling you they connect with that content through their objective behavior (more likes & comments = stronger connection) so you should improve that type of content and continue to post it. If they receive low engagement, stop posting that type of content. Continue this process and over time you’ll optimize your content for posts and videos that your audience connects with the most. It’s important to measure your engagement to know what your audience likes and not rely on what you think they like. I’ve heard countless people tell me “I take great photos, but no one likes them” — if no one likes it, then it’s likely not a great photo for your Instagram, regardless of how you feel about it.
People are using Instagram differently: Instagram has been around for many years now and they have saturated the US market. This means that users (your followers) are beginning to change the way they use the app. Although Instagram provides no data about this I know from a first-hand source that, like any other business, Instagram also suffers from seasonal changes in the way their customers (users) use the product. People tend to engage with home feeds less and stories more, people tend to follow fewer people, some people use the app less. All of these changes can affect your reach and engagement, not because of the algorithm or a Shadowban.
- How to fix it: In regards to this one, be kind to yourself and stop worrying about it. If you’re already in the process of testing and optimizing for your posts’ engagement, there’s literally nothing you can do about how Instagram’s users change the way they use the app so it’s best not to worry about it too much. It’s changing now and it’ll continue to change for as long as the app exists.
There it is. Now you know what Shadowbanning means, how to check for it, what the likely causes of them are, and how to fix them — now it’s up to you to make the necessary changes, stop worrying about it, and enjoy your life 🙂