WARNING: This post is long. I’m sorry, but I have a lot to say and I’m not very succinct, which is ironic.
Here’s a fact we all know: the Instagram algorithm sucks.
I’m pretty sure I’m not alone on this one. Granted, I probably spend a bit more time than the average person whinging about it, but everyone needs #firstworldproblems, right?
Recently though, I’ve noticed that for my Bookstagram account personally, things have been getting worse. I’ve stagnated. Things are getting a bit dire. I have no outside engagement, meaning that 99.9% of my likes are from followers, and only one or two of likes are from people who don’t follow me. Say what?! Before Algorithm, I’d say I had a healthy range of likes from followers and non followers alike. The ratio of likes:followers used to be around 5-10% of your follower account, so by all means, my 250-280 likes per photo was pretty standard, even though I kept “hoping” one of my photos would break the mould and “go viral” as such. After Algorithm, I noticed a steady drop. I was barely reaching 200 likes a photo. Even using IG’s Insights from a business account to *predict* what was my optimum posting times was a dud.
Then I noticed something, going back to the start of May. I was getting absolutely no outside engagement. Even with all the little “tricks” to grow my account organically that I’d been researching, I had flat lined. And it all became a little too much for me, after my latest post received only 83 likes in 7 hours. What the??? Even though I never past the 300 mark BA, I’d easily be able to get 83 in an hour, sometimes two. Something had to be wrong. And cue my meltdown on Twitter, where I let it all out. Was it even worth it anymore? Why couldn’t I break the wall? The real kicker for me was that I follow accounts that have less followers, but are able to get more likes, even after using the same posting times/hashtags. How could these accounts be getting more likes than me with less followers and I’m barely getting any? Please don’t get me wrong – those accounts deserve the number of likes they were getting. And part of me absolutely hates the way I feel so jealous and petty over it.
Then someone on Twitter mentioned soft banning, and I remembered an article on Later about the supposed Shadowban. And a niggle grew, small at first, until it consumed me like most things do, and I thought to myself. Have I been shadowbanned on Instagram????
Before I go on, let me explain shadowbanning. In terms of IG, it basically means that you’re undiscoverable. You might use hashtags in your posts (or comments, more on that later), but to no effect. IG filters them out, and the only people who will see your posts are your followers. IG won’t tell you if you’ve been banned – hence the term “shadowban.” It was meant to be a move that filtered out all the bots and spammers, but somehow, it’s turned on regular joes like you and me and created a huge big mess. So what made me believe that I had been shadowbanned? Let’s take a look.
The post on the right is from my Instagram account, checking out the #aussiereaders. In the scheme of things, this tag isn’t major, as say, #bookish, which has over 2 million tags. From my booksta & my personal (which follows my booksta) the photo is visible. But when I created a burner account through a different email address…my post was gone. Filtered out. I took to Twitter with my frustration. What had I ever done to warrant this? I don’t buy likes or followers. I post the required number of hashtags (30, by the way). And I was scared – if I’m shadow banned, how do I get rid of it? Can you get rid of it?
Luckily, the internet is no stranger to shadow banning, and there is a wealth of information out there on it. Even more interesting, after talking to some Reddit friends I’ve made through r/SocialMedia & r/Instagram, I discovered that shadow banning is, in fact, more of an ambiguous term than anything. And it all relates to hashtags. Back in February this year, IG posted an announcement stating that it knew about a large scale error occurring with hashtags not recording or showing up properly. However, it doesn’t seem as if IG are in any position to do anything about it. They simply state that they don’t have the resources to fix it, and then offer some “tips” on how to create engagement. But if you can’t use hashtags to reach new followers, how are you supposed to grow + become engaging, especially with the warped algorithm as it is?
And if it is shadow banning, how do you? Here’s some tips I’ve learnt from my research over the past 24 hours.
1. Don’t Use Bots, 3rd Party Apps or Automated Schedulers
This is fairly straight forward. IG have really taken a stand against bots – you know, those weird accounts that would comment with an emoji, or have strange usernames, no followers but follow like a million people? Don’t buy likes, don’t buy followers. It’s a bit of a cop out – and it’s also unethical. I’d like to say that in the Bookstagram world, this isn’t an actual thing, but I’m not sure. The Travelgram world was rocked by scandal when it was proved that a major account was buying likes/followers. And not just for themselves – but for others, to make them look bad.
Why 3rd party apps though? Recently, IG has been on a crack down. If you ever used Instagress, Followers+, MassPlanner or any other follow/unfollow or auto-scheduling apps, it’s time to say goodbye, as these are a surefire way of getting shadow banned. I had an app called Followers, which allowed me to keep track of who was following and unfollowing me, making it easy to spot repeat unfollowers & see exactly who was causing me to drop in follower numbers (let me say, probably a good idea to get rid of that one, because some of you guys made me sad). I also use Later to schedule posts ahead of time, however they have said that the ban doesn’t affect them as they abide by Instagram’s terms and sends a push notification to your phone when it’s time to post.
A good way of making sure you’re not breaking code is to log on to Instagram on a desktop > settings > authorise apps. Anything that you don’t use, such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Later etc, remove access. Even if you’ve deleted the app and don’t use it anymore.
2. Yes, Instagram Are Banning Hashtags
You may be using “banned” or broken hashtags. Here’s something interesting: PlannThat have #books on their Banned in 2017 list. Along with #dogsofinstagram, #tgif, #memes, #beautyblogger and more. REALLY?! I’m not sure exactly where the source of this information has come from – PlannThat seem to be the only ones saying specific tags. This website is meant to tell you if you’re using banned tags or not, but it’s proved controversial in terms of if it works or not. Personally, I don’t believe it does work – all my last posts have been “safe,” so why have I had no outside engagement?
It may be that you’re overusing hashtags as well, but I find this to be a double edged sword. I’ve tried to experiment in using the same hashtags over and over, especially ones that popular accounts use or accounts that have been getting more likes than I, but I’ve noticed it hasn’t made a different. Word on the street is that if you use the hashtags too often, they’ll shadowban you. Which sounds more plausible in my case, considering I use the same ones again. Some people swear by the big, popular hashtags, like #bookish, but others say using smaller, curated hashtags is a better method to curate a following. Cait over at Paper Fury talks about the benefits of putting hashtags in comments as well, something I’ve been doing…but it still doesn’t solve the problem. Again, the comments/post thing is a divided nation. I’m definitely going to start curating my hashtags, and using unique ones like publishers, authors and book titles. For Display Purposes Only is a good online site that’ll let you put in a hashtag, and it’ll curate around that, including filtering “bad” hashtags.
3. Easy On The Likes, Cowboy!
They tell you to engage with your current feed, liking and commenting on the people that you follow to create engagement back. Which makes sense. But then they tell you to slooooow down! The limit does exist in this case, and can range from 100 – 200 likes a day, 60 unfollow/follows an hour and 60 comments a day. So if you’re going to go on a spree – have fun, but not tooo much fun, okay?
4. It’s Coming From Inside Your Device!
No, do not go ahead and just delete everything! One suggestion for me was to clear the cache in the app, then relogin. I haven’t tried this, but if it works and it clears up my problem, I’ll let you know. It seems that my device itself may have been “shadowbanned,” which explains why I can’t see my posts in hashtags but others can when I asked. However this is flawed in itself – it my posts are showing up to people who don’t follow me, why am I having such a problem in the first place?
5. Have a KitKat. Have a Break.
Users have reported taking a break anywhere between 48 hours to 1 month’s break from Instagram, and personally, I don’t know if it helps, but it definitely would do on a mental level. And that’s what I’m thinking of doing. The need to have a perfect feed is time consuming. It’s also hard and quite a bit damaging when you see other people having success you wish you did. I don’t have “the right tools”” for Instagram – I take pictures off my iPhone 5, the lighting in my house is terrible, and I use Snapseed to edit photos and don’t even know if I’m doing it correct. It’s stressful. More often than not, I feel like a failure. Time, here, is of an essence, and it’s something I don’t have a lot of. So for me, it seems as if Instagram will be somewhere I can share my photos which I’ll cross post to book reviews, Pinterest and the like. But I can’t keep doing what I’m doing and not expect to see results any more.
6. Business or Private Account?
This one seems to be a bit of a half and half. Some people say to switch from a business account back to a personal account, but then others say it has affected their personal accounts too. The PreviewApp has a pretty good argument for not signing up for a Business account, and it’s pretty straightforward. Instagram, now owned by Facebook, is all about engagement and making money off that engagement. So if you’re not paying for the perks, why should you get the perks? The sad thing about doing this is that it means you can’t link to your Facebook page. And there’s no guarantee again it even works.
So What’s The Deal Then?
In summary, it’s safe to say that hashtags are on their way out of fashion. With the way the algorithm is at the moment, it’s clear to see that hashtags play some part in your success or your failure. Even Instagram itself says not to use hashtags as a fail safe way to grow your content. Vtography has a good post about how celebrity influence has lead to the death of the hashtag – you’ll notice that the biggest celebrities and influencers only use one or two hashtags. As mentioned previously, using the term shadowban is probably best left as a loose, overall definition to how hashtagging is affecting people’s Instagrams. Everyone seems to be having a different experience – which leads me to believe that “shadowbanning” isn’t as black and white as it sounds.
Have you experienced this at all? Or have you noticed that the algorithm is actually in your favour (I’d love to know if it has!!)? For more (lighter!) reading, check out these posts too that I’ve found quite helpful!
Vtography – What Is An Instagram Shadowban?
Alex Tooby – Are You The Victim of an Instagram Shadowban?
Kristin Brause – How I Got Rid of My Instagram Shadowban