ByAugust 23, 2017 36 Comments

Have you noticed a dip in your engagement recently? If so, you’re not the only one! We’ve been hearing a lot lately from Instagrammers who are concerned that they’re experiencing the Instagram shadowban – their follower count has dropped, they’re not receiving as many likes on their photos as they used to, and their posts don’t seem to be showing up under the hashtags they’ve used. Sound familiar?

The Instagram Shadowban: What Is It And Why Is It Happening?

The general consensus is that shadowbanning is Instagram’s attempt to prevent content which is against their terms of service and encourage users to play by the rules, namely posting engaging, relevant and interesting content that receives genuine engagement from the community.

Of course, a dip in followers and engagement could also be down to the updates to Instagram’s algorithm, which has been open to ongoing changes in recent years. According to Instagram expert Alex Tooby, these algorithmic changes have led plenty of accounts to see “a drastic decrease in engagement of up to 50% or more”.

engagement drop Instagram

To find out if you’re simply falling short due to Instagram’s algorithm, or if you really have been shadowbanned, ask yourself if you’re (intentionally or unintentionally) committing any of the following Instagram faux pas:

1. Using bots to like, comment, and boost engagement

Did you know that at least 40% of comments on brand Instagram posts are fake? Understandably, Instagram doesn’t want the platform to fill up with fake, spammy interactions from bots (which Instagram is cracking down on – hard!). Using bots to gain followers and grow your account might seem like an easy way around the change from the chronological to the algorithm-based feed, but it’s definitely not a good idea.

There’s a lot of debate around exact ‘caps’ on activity, and nobody seems to have a definitive answer, but if you’re following and unfollowing a large number of accounts per day, leaving hundreds of comments in a short space of time, or liking countless posts per hour, Instagram will recognize this as fake activity. It can lead not only to your account being shadowbanned, but to it being closed down completely! And that’s not something you come back from…

2. Using software that’s against Instagram’s terms of service

This one is along the same lines: using third party scheduling apps such as plangram.io and plany.io, which post directly to Instagram rather than scheduling and then requiring approval before posting (which is 100% allowed) is another reason you might be experiencing the dreaded shadow ban. Yes it saves time in the short term and allows you to post more content with less effort, but this is why Instagram doesn’t want you to use these direct posting apps. The platform is about well thought-out, quality content and not ‘bulk posting’, so avoid them at all costs!

Tools which allow you to schedule posts in advance, such as Iconosquare, Later and Buffer etc. are approved by Instagram and comply with its terms of service. Iconosquare is actually an official partner of Instagram, so go ahead and give it a try!

3. Using banned hashtags

There are some hashtags that you’re probably not going to use on Instagram – you wouldn’t be surprised to find that there’s a blanket ban on these, and if you search them they simply don’t show any associated content. However, you might be using a totally innocent hashtag to push your lovely content, such as #tgif, #boho, and even #dogsofinstagram (!) only for that particular hashtag to be hijacked by people promoting ‘less lovely’ content and ruining things for everyone.

Instagram is tackling the problem of inappropriate, pornographic or offensive content seriously, and this means banning or limiting the visibility of certain hashtags that are being spammed – even if they sound innocent enough.

If you think this might have happened to you, search for the hashtags you’ve been using on the app. If you’re only seeing a limited number of posts followed by a message explaining recent posts from that particular hashtag have been hidden, it’s best to remove that tag from your post. The ban could just be temporary, or it could be in place for months! You can also check out this list of banned Instagram hashtags from The Data Pack, but keep in mind the hashtags which are banned or restricted are regularly changing.

4. Overusing hashtags

Another innocent mistake that could cost you your visibility and engagement on Instagram is using the same hashtags too often. Instagram might pick up on this as spam, even if you’re simply using the same hashtags across your posts to maintain continuity. Be wary of posting exactly the same hashtags each time you post, and don’t rely too much on branded hashtags. In fact, according to Instagram, we shouldn’t be relying too much on hashtags in general!

Instagram for business post

5. You’ve been reported!

If your account has been reported for whatever reason, Instagram could decide to shut it down or make it ‘invisible’. Avoiding posting offensive content or using bots should keep this from happening, but you never know. There have been cases in which business accounts have been reported by competitors – unfortunately, you can’t always know people’s motives for unfairly reporting your account. However, if your account does get disabled, you can appeal Instagram’s decision and hopefully get your account up and running again.

How to remove the Instagram shadowban

– Don’t use bots to grow your followers or to automate engagement!

– Engage with your community organically. Put the time and effort in and leave meaningful comments. You get what you give!

– Carry out a hashtag audit and get rid of banned or broken hashtags

– Mix up the hashtags you’re using and make sure they’re relevant to your content

– Don’t use too many hashtags per post

– Post less often or take a hiatus from ‘gramming for a while

– Avoid third party apps that don’t abide by Instagram’s terms of service, such as apps which post photos to your account directly (rather than scheduling and then notifying you to complete the posting process)

For more ideas on how to grow your engagement and follower base organically, take a look at these articles on creating engaging captions and using influencer marketing to boost your brand.

Hopefully these tips help you get your engagement and follower numbers back up! Shadow banning can happen even if you think you’re playing by the rules, but as long as you’re focused on producing great quality content and engaging with your community organically, you should be able to avoid this happening to you.

Have we missed anything? Do you have a different experience of the Instagram shadowban? Leave us a comment and let us know!

Caitlin Hughes

Author Caitlin Hughes

Caitlin is a Content Marketing expert at Iconosquare, based in Berlin. She’s passionate about creating ROI-driven content strategies and sharing her best tips on social media marketing. She’s also into true crime, loves ‘80’s music, and spends too much time online shopping.

More posts by Caitlin Hughes
  • Robert Thompson

    Never knew there were so many rules to using an app that seems designed mostly for 15yo teens to post selfies…

    • Lisa Marie Michaelis

      Well that would be because Facebook owns it now . They love rules , rules and more rules …

  • Kellie Taylor

    I dunno, guys. The Shadowban seems speculative, and inconsistent at best (if it is in fact a thing). I have a competitor’s page whose entire feed appears as “banned” if you use a Shadowban Tester. But a quick search of their tags reveals they actually *do* show up. Until someone offers up incontrovertible evidence, I have to say that the ban is not what’s at the heart of lost engagement.

    • Hi Kellie! Totally agree that there could be a number of reasons for a drop in engagement, such as a change in the type of content posted or regularity of posts, for example, but it’s true that Instagram limits the visibility of accounts which don’t comply with their terms whether intentionally or unintentionally. We can’t validate the accuracy of shadowban testers as these are not authorised by Instagram, so we would recommend to pay more attention to searching for hashtags to see if they show up there. Thanks for your comment!

    • Carianne Hixson

      Disagree. I run two accounts, unfollowed my main account to see if the hashtags worked on the main account. They did not. I am shadow banned and have been working hard at organically increasing my followers. This is really really frustrating.

  • BBB

    I disconnected everything from my API (including Iconosquare) for a few weeks and it worked. I don’t even use hashtags anymore. I cant go over my old hashtags because Ihave over 5k posts now. I am very active so they probably think I am a bot lol

    • Hi there 🙂 Glad to hear you’ve resolved the problem. I’d just like to point out that Iconosquare is an affiliate partner of Instagram and using Iconosquare won’t have any negative impact on your account.

      • BBB

        That’s what I was thinking, right now I only have I conosquare connected to the API, see how it goes. Hopefully their algorithms differentiate between affiliates and bots. Thanks, you do a great job.

  • My client and I have been struggling off and on with a shadow ban for the past month. We have been doing everything right – never use unauthorized bots, she comments everyday (but not too much) with individual comments, and I try to vary her hashtags as much as I can while still staying in her field of interest. Thank you for pointing out that IG has been discouraging hashtags altogether. I also can’t help but think that IG is mistaking comments made through the Iconosquare custom feeds as spam, even when she tries to limit to 10-15 comments per day. In desperation we have considered disconnecting everything. We cannot shake this gd ban, and we did everything right!

    • Olga

      Hey!

      Shadowbanning can be caused by lots of different things, as the article explains, but you shouldn’t worry that Iconosquare (or similar tools, like Buffer, Hootsuite, etc, for that matter) can hurt your account. The way it works is simple: Instagram officially opens up (part of) its API, allowing to connect with certain sides of Instagram through tools like us. In other words, you’re allowed to manage comments through Iconsoquare because of Instagram’s permission to do this in the first place.

      Instagram DOES allow using official third-party apps like Iconosquare, but it does NOT allow using dodgy third-party apps that go around their API (e.g. apps that use bots, sell likes, schedule without permission, etc etc). So just do your research before you commit to a new tool!

      Also, the shadowban will pass — they’re just temporary. For a while, if I were you, I would try to post with completely different hashtags or even no hashtags at all and find the way for your content to be seen and engaged with on it’s own: get in a pod with your loyal partners who are also your followers, give your IG a shout out on your other channels, and promote your IG externally.

      • I’m going to try posting for a while without hashtags, as you suggest. I saw in another discussion that apparently a lot of people were forced to re-log-in to their accounts, sometimes with two-factor authentication. After they did this they were immediately shadow banned from hashtag searches. Many of them had never touched banned software. It all happened around September 2 (happened to my client on Sept 3). It appears IG may have had a security breach they don’t want to talk about. Many others had their accounts deleted completely, or had a few images disappear from their accounts around the same time.

  • quitaortiz

    Has anyone had experience with their personal account being shadow banned? That appears to be what’s happened to my account. I do indeed copy/paste many of the same hashtags over and over… but it’s my personal account. I am perhaps guilty of hashtag overuse, but I certainly don’t violate any of IG’s terms. Can’t seem to get this ban lifted from my account. I’ve tried logging out for a couple days, deleting hashtags, etc… but still, my posts aren’t being categorized with the hashtags I assign them. Very frustrating.

    • Olga

      Hey! Actually, copy pasting your hashtags might have been the core of the problem. It doesn’t matter if your account is Business or Personal — if you “spam” the same hashtag over and over again, Instagram will think you’re, well, spamming.

      Try not using any hashtags for a while, post as usual, and encourage your EXISTING followers to engage with your posts. Hashtags are for discoverability, for acquiring new followers. Try to engage with the followers you already have, so that they like your posts and prove to Instagram that you have content that’s worth to be shown.

      Tell us how it goes!

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  • Thereseterbunny

    has anyone had any luck changing your account back to a personal account? I suspect my engagement is down because my business account is being throttled. Do you know if there are ‘punishments’ for switching back? I don’t use the stats very much, so I’m willing to bite the bullet and lose access to that.

    • Hi 🙂 Officially you won’t get lower engagement just because you have a business account, but there’s no harm in trying if you only need a personal account. I haven’t heard of anyone having issues from switching from business to personal. Let us know how you get on!

  • Niki Nagy

    Hey guys! It is very interesting that you are all talking about less engagement, I am and have been faced with something totally different. I also have less engagement But What has been shocking me is the loss of followers! Im losing them like crazy, unseen before. The oddest part about it that the loss of followers is in direct ratio to the new ones, sort of. If I have 20 new coming in then I lose 22-25. If o get 5 new coming in then I lose 6-8. So as much as I have coming in I lose just as much And always a bit more. It has been going on for several weeks. I sometimes manage to contact them and 8 outf of 10 will say that they never intended to unfollow me and then they follow me back. But my messages dont Get to most of them and many are private accounts. The weirdest thing is that once they follow back they get disconnected again and again. I have several followers that were detached from my account 4 times within few weeks(!!!), none of these umfollows were intentional and they follow me back once they find out. In past 1 month I havent grown a bit But constantly having less and less followers and I know it’s Not me or my feed. What is going on here????

    • Hey Niki 🙂 That’s such a strange situation! The only possibility that I can think of is that your account might have been hacked, as Instagram itself definitely won’t add or remove followers from accounts. It could be a good idea to reset your password just to be safe, and you can take a look at this article on protecting your account for some tips: https://blog.iconosquare.com/instagram-hack-proof. Let us know if this seems to solve the problem. Keeping my fingers crossed for you as I can imagine this is really frustrating!

      • Niki Nagy

        Hi Caitlin! That was one of the first things I did weeks ago and nothing has changed (I mean changing password). The 2-factor authentication has been active for more than a year by now. So If Im hacked, I must be hacked in a different way! It is really frustrating. I also checked If I were shadowbanned But my hashtags do show up for non-followers also….so it looks like Im good on that front. But Im getting really, really hopless here cuz it is terrible to see several years of work fade away little by little!

        • I totally understand 🙁 Do you think the accounts which are unfollowing you could be using bots to follow/unfollow? Though to be honest, that would be an extremely high number! It’s definitely something we’re looking into and we’ll let you know as soon as we get to the bottom of it!

          • Niki Nagy
          • Niki Nagy

            Check this out! Isn’t it really strange that the ratio is steady? Some come in and almost always as much and a bit more leaves! Believe me if I say that these are regular people, no tricks, no nothing. They like my pics, sometimes they would even comment, so nothing odd about them at all! I mean I have been doing this for a while and no matter what I posted my statistics were always going up, sometimes steep, sometimes slower. I always had people unfollowing me but never to this extent and this fashion. I had other regular instagrammers reporting me that they had been separated from one another as much as 4 times! Same has happened with me as I had written about earlier. Someone reported that she noticed this phenomenon with bigger accounts, meaning that she only had to follow back several times an account cuz she was detached from it when it was about a bigger celeb or blogger. So it is not a unique phenomenon to me but it is definitely occuring for about a month. Started a few months earlier but my account was able to keep a slow progress and while I had 2 steps ahead I only had 1 step back. But now it is a catastrophe and as I mentioned earlier when I get to reach them by private messages 10 people out of 8 uniformly reports that they had never unfollowed me cuz they love my account. Super strange, super frustrating!

          • Hey Niki! What’s you IG handle? 🙂

            Also, are you using any third-party services that allow you to see which followers have unfollowed you? Because if you do, then Instagram might be penalizing you for this because it’s against their user protection policy. You’re not supposed to know who has unfollowed you — so unless you check manually, per handle, if the person has unfollowed you, how else do you know this info?

          • Niki Nagy

            I use followers pro! And I used followers plus before but I have been been using these for a long time, mainly to track where I stand since I passed 10K I don’t see the full number on instagram. I’m at 27k now and I havent had these problems up until a few months ago and more severly 1 month ago where it really started declining. But I never knew I was not allowed to use these apps!

          • Niki Nagy

            By the way, what does IG handle mean?

          • Hi Niki 🙂 ‘IG handle’ is just your user name on Instagram with which we can find your account.

          • Niki Nagy

            Hey Caitlin! My ig handle is: @nikinagyniki
            Since you last wrote me I deleted the app that kept track of my followers. I realized that when Im using Business profile I can check out the exact numbers by tapping on the upper right button. But Still No change. I have new followers and Still losing just as many. Should I switch phone? Would that help, you reckon?

          • Hey! I don’t think you need to switch phones, you probably just need to give it a bit of time for your Instagram engagement to get back to a normal level. It can take a while once you’ve deleted any third party apps that go against Instagram’s T&Cs. Just keep posting good content, engaging authentically and using relevant hashtags and you should see an improvement 🙂

          • Hi @caitlin and @Niki. I stumbled with your post as I was curious about shadowbanning, as I’ve just recently come across the subject. Now, I am not an Instagram expert, marketing professional, or much less a fan of Facebook. However I do write control software, the kind that automates manufacturing, runs smart buildings or turns on smart sprinklers when the soil is too dry and the sun is just right. So I know a control loop in action when I see one, and this is unmistakeably a control loop behavior if I’ve ever seen one. Control loops are a kind of algorithm that takes a continuous input, and based on that takes an action that itself will almost immediately affect the next input to process, this becoming a feedback loop, hence the name. Most of the time this kind of algorithms are used to “keep state” or maintain stability, for example your cruise control keeping your car going at exactly 55mph or a jumbo jet climbing at a steady rate from 10,000 to 15,000ft over 10 nautical miles. When there’s a disruption such as a hill on the road that needs the cruise control to adjust engine horsepower this kind of algorithms usually respond in a “wavy” pattern as they compensate and correct for the disturbance until stability is achieved again. I’m willing to bet that a fair amount of your account followers are controlled via a botnet, and this botnet is trying to keep as much followers pegged to your account as possible. Adding new followers as either Instagram detaches them or the botnet requires to attach to other accounts it may be servicing, because there may be a limited number of bot accounts available to this botnet as creating new bits is more computationally expensive than Instagram shutting them down. It’s very probable that you are an unsuspecting victim of a stealth technique used by such bitnets to conceal who their real customers are and appear as legitimate users, by boosting several random targets or even selected targets with some affinity to the real customer, statistically appearing within the behavior of a real user. With the latest advancements in conversational interfaces (remember Eliza, the psychiatrist simulation from the 80s?) It’s concievable that on casual interaction a good intentioned person may not be able to tell between a bot or a real human. Only after a more prolonged interaction it may become apparent to a real human thar there’s something funny about the AI were interacting with. Apparently casual users are caught in the middle of Anwar between Facebook and it’s properties and less than ethical marketers willing to invest in technology to game and beat the systems in place to stop them. In any case, tough it’s a wonderful tool one shouldn’t rely on Instagram or any social networks as the cornerstone of your business marketing, but only as an additional channel to a real strategic marketing investment. More worrisome is the fact that we start to dehumanize our audience, reducing them to a simple metric or a variable to be graphed and manipulated to meet business goals. My account has probably less than 200 followers, about half of them followed me trying to advertise or sell something. The rest I can say I know personally or have had some kind of relationship with. Now think about. 27000 (!) Followers that’s more that will fit in a sports arena. Are we sure all of them are actual living breathing humans that take bthe time to see an be engaged in your content?

  • Olga

    Hey Yan!

    Well, could be a number of reasons, but it’s hard to say without looking at your account, really.

    But you should make sure that:

    1) You post good quality content that creates a nice-looking feed altogether (i.e. focus on aesthetics)
    2) You invest time in creating good captions that show off personality, say something about your photo, etc. (i.e. focus on your copy)
    3) You use enough hashtags but not too much (not too spammy)
    4) You network with other instagrammers and get your name out there. Tag them, join a comment pod, meet them in real life, etc. It really helps.

    Check out these articles, they might help:
    https://blog.iconosquare.com/create-quality-instagram-content/
    https://blog.iconosquare.com/instagram-pod/
    https://blog.iconosquare.com/7-tips-to-craft-instagram-captions/

  • julia fawcett-murray

    Hi Caitlin! I’m hoping you can help. I run an online accessories store which I started promoting in early August. It’s a drop shipping store so I don’t handle stock myself, nonetheless I’ve been very selective with my suppliers and products. I had never been on Instagram before and it took me a couple of weeks weeks to get the hang of it but I started seeing good engagement, posting once a day with around 15 hashtags, with 50-60 likes per post and great comments. A good friend who’s an internet marketer suggested I use her service to grow my following with real followers.. in my naivety I said yes, thinking it would help my fledgling business. I went from about 150 followers to around 2000 (foolish and naive, I know). I didn’t think anything of it until about 2 weeks later when my engagement dropped overnight. I was getting less than a handful of likes per post. Panicking, I started researching and found out about the shadowban. When I checked out my followers I realised that many of these new ones were probably fakes/bots. I stopped using IG for about a week and then posted less regularly. That was the middle of September. I lost over 100 followers. Many of them my genuine ones!! Last week I thought it was finally over when the engagement started to dramatically improve. Then literally 2 days ago it dropped again!! Back to 4 or 5 likes each time. I’ve also just lost about 40 followers too! I cannot figure out what I’ve done wrong this time. It’s a nightmare which is seriously hurting my business. I’m trying to vary the hashtags, I post good content wit nice captions, I’m not being ‘salesy’ as some online stores are. It’s causing me real stress! I’m a businesswoman, and a single mum – this is one of my ventures to support my young family, so I’m just completely lost as to how to fix it! Do you have any ideas please? Thank you 🙂

    • Hi Julia. Really sorry to hear you’re having this problem, especially when you’re relying on your Instagram account so much to support your business. It’s definitely frustrating to find out what you thought was a good way to grow your account actually has the opposite effect. I would recommend focusing on engaging with other accounts similar to your own to try and build up your community organically. Keep varying your hashtags like you say, and keep an eye on banned hashtags (it could be that for the recent post you mentioned, you inadvertently used a blacklisted hashtag). It sounds like you’re doing everything right at the moment though, so maybe your engagement and follower growth will get back to normal again. Sometimes it does take a while to recover from the initial shadow ban. Best of luck and let us know how things go.

      • julia fawcett-murray

        Hi Caitlin. Thanks ever so much for your advice. Although I have posted less regularly since the recent issue, I am steadily building my followers again – as you say, focusing on engaging with similar businesses will strengthen my following. As I was previously unaware of the whole banned hashtag subject, I think that I unknowingly used one before (I then removed it from my posts), so perhaps this happened again. IG has some very odd banned hashtags, doesn’t it? I must admit that overall I do find Instagram to be pretty frustrating with its strange algorithm! Let’s hope I get back on track and thank you once again for your reply :))

        • hey Julia 🙂 No problem – glad you found it helpful! I definitely know what you mean about the algorithm. It’s hard to keep on top of banned hashtags and you’re right, some of them seem pretty obscure! It could be worth checking each hashtag in the Instagram search bar before you use it. It’s a bit time consuming but probably the best way to be sure you’re not accidentally using any banned hashtags. Best of luck 🙂

  • Hi Caitlin – you seem like an expert on the shadowban, so I wanted to reach out to ask if maybe you had some thoughts on this: I’ll sometimes see my posts get into the top 9, but when I turn on a private browser and check the same hashtag, my IG post isn’t there. Could this mean I’m being shadowbanned? And, if so, do you have a recommended number of hashtags? Thanks!

    • Hi Rebecca 🙂 Are you using quite general, popular hashtags? Because it could be that they’re just moving down the search feed quite fast to be replaced with new posts. You could try asking a friend to check if your post is showing up under the hashtags you’re using, as if you have been shadow banned, they won’t show up for them even if they show up for you (I think this is a more clear-cut way of checking than using a private browser). In terms of the perfect number of hashtags, it’s best not to use too many. Around 5-7 hashtags is plenty, and I’d definitely recommend using less than 10! Hope this helps 🙂

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