This week I got hit by the mysterious Instagram shadowban. Engagement on my posts completely dropped and I stopped getting new followers.
I’m not an Instagram newbie at all (I grew the Little Lotus Boutique Instagram to 2,000 followers in just 6 months), but I’d only just started the #EthicalHour account, so it was really worrying to see all the engagement on my new account drop away.
I had a chat to members of our #EthicalHour Facebook group and some of them had noticed the same thing, but it hadn’t happened to everyone, so it probably wasn’t a bug.
I was really confused but after a bit of research I learnt all about the Instagram shadowban, why my account was affected and what to do to fix it.
I thought I’d talk you through it in this post so you know what to do if it happens to you…
What is the Instagram Shadowban?
Have you noticed engagement on your Instagram dropping recently?
If you’re not getting as many likes and new followers as usual, or your posts aren’t showing up for all your hashtags, you might be victim of the ‘Instagram Shadowban’ – and you might not even know it’s happened.
The shadowban is stopping posts show up in hashtag searches. Your current followers will still see your posts, but they won’t show up in the feed of anyone who doesn’t follow you. This can limit your reach and make it hard to grow your audience.
How do you know if you’ve been affected by the Shadowban?
Instagram won’t tell you if you’ve been shadowbanned, so it might have happened without you even knowing.
A quick scroll through your recent notifications will show you if your latest interaction has been from new audiences, or if it’s mostly coming from existing followers.
That’s how I first noticed I’d been affected – my posts weren’t getting as many likes as usual and all my interaction was coming from current followers.
The best way to tell is to post something new, with a hashtag, then search for that hashtag on an account that doesn’t follow you (either unfollow from your personal account or get a friend to check). If your post doesn’t show up in “most recent” results for that hashtag, there’s a strong chance you’ve been shadowbanned.
The @EthicalHour Instagram account has been up and running and growing steadily for 2 weeks now. But over the last few days I noticed we’d had very few new followers, and engagement was dropping – even though I was still posting consistently.
I checked from a different account and our posts weren’t showing up in the most recent feed for most of our hashtags.
A quick check with this shadowban tool showed me that our account had definitely fallen victim to the Instagram shadowban. But why? And how could I fix it?
(The banned hashtags were the ones I used with this original post. I added the others after I’d got the ban lifted and ran it through the Shadowban checker again – luckily it was showing up for the new hashtags I’d added during the edit).
What causes the Instagram shadowban?
This useful post from Later helped me understand more about the Instagram shadowban, why it happens and how to fix it.
Violating Instagram’s terms of service by using bots or auto-likes, buying followers, being reported by other users, or suspiciously large surges in activity on your account can all result in being shadowbanned.
But I hadn’t been using any dodgy tactics, so I didn’t understand why my account got banned. I’d even been blocked from my own hashtag #EthicalHour! So what had happened to my account?
I’m fairly sure my hashtag activity was to blame.
According to Later, Instagram bans hashtags when they get swamped with inappropriate content. Even innocent hashtags can become overrun and ‘broken’. If you search a hashtag and there’s no recent posts, it’s probably been banned – but you can’t always tell before you post. Some of the ones I’d used about Twitter seemed to be broken, which could have caused the ban.
According to several blogs I read, many users have been hit with a shadowban after using the same set of hashtags for different posts, which I think was my problem.
Instagram haven’t commented on this and it’s not against their terms of service, but it can come across as a bit spammy – so it’s best to use different hashtags and keep it fresh, even if you are trying to target a niche audience.
I’d been using the same set of hashtags for almost every post, so I think this caught me out too.
I’ve been shadowbanned, what now?
So I discovered the cause of my shadowban and knew it was time to use new hashtags, but I was still being shadowbanned so I had to find out how to get it lifted.
There’s a lot of advice out there, and no clear way to get your shadowban lifted, but here’s what I did:
- Log out and don’t post
All the advice suggests easing up on your Instagram activity for a while. Although it’s frustrating (especially if you’ve got a posting schedule you’re trying to stick to), giving Instagram a rest for 24-48 hours seems to help.
I logged out of my account and didn’t post, like, comment or interact with anyone for 24 hours.
- Switch back to a personal account
This is a controversial step, and you may or may not want to do it.
Instagram is now owned by Facebook, and similar algorithms apply, so you may find your business account gets less engagement than a personal one (again, this hasn’t been confirmed by Instagram).
If you switch back to a personal account, you will lose your analytics data, so you might not want to do it. Personally, I’ve only been using Instagram for #EthicalHour for 2 weeks, and I thought it was more important to get my ban lifted.
I took a quick screenshot of my analytics data then made the switch. I switched back to a business account about an hour later, and this seemed to do the trick!
- Do a new post, with new hashtags
Once I’d had a break and effectively turned my business account “off and on again” I crafted a new post with completely new hashtags. I overcame the temptation to use my old favourites (including #EthicalHour) and saw this as a fresh start.
I logged into a different account that isn’t following me, searched for the hashtag, and there was my post in ‘most recent’ – the ban had been lifted! 🙌
- Post natively in Instagram
Scheduling tools like Later and Planoly (my personal favourite), don’t break Instagram’s terms of service because they don’t let you post automatically – instead they let you plan your feed then prompt you when it’s time to post.
These follow the terms of service so they shouldn’t affect the shadowban, but to be on the safe side I’ve been avoiding them this week and posting natively to Instagram.
I’ve still been planning my feed in Planoly, but then when it’s time to post I’ve gone into Instagram and uploaded my image straight from my photos folder – just to be on the safe side.
- Add new hashtags to old posts
If you know some of your old posts have been banned then they still won’t show up for the hashtags you’ve used (even if you’ve only used one banned hashtag, it’ll ban the whole post).
Go back to your old posts which have been banned and edit the comment to delete the previous hashtags and replace it with new ones. Just remember to check that they’re not banned hashtags first!
Once you’ve done that engagement should pick back up – even on your old posts, because they’ll start showing up in people’s feeds again.
Instagram has still yet to confirm or deny that a shadowban exists, but engagement is dropping for some users. This may be due to algorithm changes, but if you suspect you’ve been the victim of a ‘Shadowban’ it’s worth checking it out and following the advice to correct it.
Since taking the steps above, my engagement is back up and I’ve been getting new followers again.
Never be tempted to buy followers or use bots – remember it’s about quality, not just quantity. If you want to get true engagement and use it to grow your business, you need to build relationships with your audience. Hashtags are a great way to do that, but it’s worth mixing them up now and then to make sure you keep things fresh.
Have you been a victim of the Instagram shadowban?
What have you done to overcome it or increase engagement on your account?