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Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Instagram SHADOWBAN: an experiment!

The Instagram SHADOWBAN: an experiment!Alright I know I said this month would be all about personal branding, but I got a request a while back from my lovely internet friend Vera (@artwwwera on Instagram), to talk all about the Instagram shadow-ban. And I'm nothing if not a people pleaser.....

J.K. I love talking about controversial topics WHICH YOU WOULD KNOW IF YOU LISTENED TO MY PODCAST! (Ahhhhh another perfectly seamless plug!)

If you haven't done that yet, check out my podcast, Solid Gold, Baby, at the banner below, and make sure you're listening to the full episodes!

Done that? Excellent! Let's jump right in.


The Instagram SHADOWBAN: an experiment!

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So for a while now, a lot of people have been talking about a thing known as a "shadow-ban" on Instagram, and there has been a debate on whether or not it's widespread or even real.

What the heck is a shadow-ban?

Well, to put it very simply, it's this idea that Instagram is secretly hiding certain people's posts from the search, or even from follower feeds. I know, it sounds all tinfoil-hat crazy, but stay with me here.

The most popular opinion seems to be that Instagram is shadow-banning certain hashtags. Now I kind of see the reasoning, because some people use irrelevant but popular hashtags to share nudes, graphic images, gore, etc. It is very difficult for the developers to sit down and weed out "bad" posts that use irrelevant hashtags, because there are literally millions.

So, to make their lives easier, people think the developers have simply banned certain hashtags, so that if your post uses those tags, your followers don't see them, and they don't appear in any search results.

How to tell if a hashtag has been shadow-banned:

Now again, I'm not going to lie to you and say that there is definitely, 100% a shadow-ban running around, because Instagram refuses to confirm this. They keep calling it a "technical issue". 

Having said that, a lot of people have spent hours trying to figure this thing out, and have realised that the quickest way to find non-banned hashtags is to use suggestions. That's right, when you type out your hashtags in your caption or the first comment, and it shows up as a suggestion in a drop-down list, they say that's a good tag.

So conversely, if it doesn't show up on the list of suggestions, chances are, that particular tag has been shadow-banned. I know, it seems like a lot of work to check for every single one of the potential-thirty tags you'd use per post. But hey, if you're gonna drink the kool-aid, you gotta down it like a fresher!

Is my post currently shadow-banned?

There's actually a website that claims to you figure out whether your latest post (or a specific one) has been slapped with a shadow-ban. You can find it at:

Now I don't know how true the results are, but I can tell you that I've tried this website with two different posts, and one of them was all good, while the other (blog-related) post came up as "banned". I assume this was because the second post used very different, business-related hashtags that seem like they'd be abused and hence banned. There are actually a whole bunch of blogs and websites that seem to tell you which hashtags are shadow-banned, and while I can't tell you whether these lists are accurate (because we don't even know for sure if there is such a thing as a shadow-ban in the first place), they're actually really useful to keep in mind! A quick google search will help you find these lists really easily.

Is there such a thing as a shadow-banned account?

Personally, I think not.

Again, this is a highly debated idea over the interwebs, but some might say that certain accounts are kept "hidden" from their followers or search results.

Here's why I don't think that's true:

Instagram is a privately-owned corporate platform. The great thing about such platforms? They reserve the right to literally kick people off if they don't like said people's content. Twitter did this with a lot of hate-speech advocates, as well as with openly racist and homophobic accounts. Most social platforms tend to hide the concept of "we deserve the right to delete your account if we don't like you" somewhere in their terms of use that literally no one reads. Plus they also make it as difficult as possible to get back on the platform if you've been blocked.

The point I'm trying to make is this: Instagram reserves every right to openly ban any account without having to really justify reasons why, because they reserve every right to the platform itself. So if they did want to ban an account, why waste time over being shady about it? It just doesn't seem profitable enough to justify creating secret algorithms just to bother some people.

However, here's something you should probably know about:

Business Accounts and the shadow-ban: an experiment

So there's a lot of talk going around about business accounts on Instagram

Let me break it down. Business accounts are intended for businesses to connect with their existing consumer base, as well as to reach out to millions of potential consumers. It is probably the cheapest, most effective marketing tool, because people consume and remember visual content more easily, and it allows brands to really make an impact on people who might otherwise never come across these campaigns. 

Now originally, no one really cared about having a business account on Instagram, cause it wasn't that much different to a regular account...until they added the ability to share direct contact links only if you have a business accounts. So you can add an e-mail address, phone number and physical address to a business page, and Instagram would make it easy for other users to access these details by showing contact "buttons" on your profile.

And then, Instagram was bought over by Facebook.

And then, they started to really push brands to convert to business accounts, and more specifically, to link the account to a business page on Facebook.

Now I've run a Facebook business page from 2011, so trust me when I say that the entire scenario is 100% different today. Earlier, a business page on Facebook was a cool way to share just your work and business updates with a much wider audience, without having to add them as friends on your personal account. Business and personal lives were separate, all was good. Until they added the ability for you to sell directly through Facebook. Yeah, the whole "Shop now" section didn't really exist until quite recently.

And then suddenly, a lot of Facebook business pages began to notice that their engagement literally fell by over 80% almost overnight. People were just not seeing their posts, even if they had millions of fans.

And THEN Facebook began pushing paid ads.

Yup. We all knew it was going to boil down to that: if you were going to try and make money off Facebook, you had to give them a cut.

So when Facebook took over Instagram, and people with business pages on Instagram started to notice a drop in engagement on their content, the obvious conclusion was that the shadow-ban can be lifted if you run paid ads on Instagram. 

The kicker? You can create Instagram ad campaigns and manage them on Facebook.

So I'm not saying that Facebook wants all your money, but if the shoe fits...

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Now I didn't go and spend over £60K on a science degree for nothing, 'cause we gon' science the crap outta this situation.

As of 9 a.m. this Monday (March 5th), I've taken my Instagram business account and switched it back to a personal account.

Just to keep a "before" snapshot, here are my current stats, cause gurl's gon' keep dem receipts:

  • At 9 a.m. this Monday (when I'm writing this post), I have 3,290 followers, and my posts get between 90 and 130 likes on average. My follower count has been fluctuating between 3,270-3,280 for the last couple of weeks, which is something that happens way too frequently. It happened around the 2,700 mark, and the 1,900 mark - the follower count simply bounces around a figure for weeks. I'm not sure why, but it happens.
  • Anyway, on average, I get anywhere between 20 and 100 new followers every week, depending on how the stars are aligned (because I have no friggin' clue why else this would fluctuate so much).
  • Every other post gets a few comments, and about every eighth post gets a lot of comments.
I'm going to stay with the personal account, keep my posting schedule exactly as it is, i.e. twice a day, with the first post being about my journal (shared around 12 p.m. IST) and the second one being an art post (shared around 9 p.m. IST). I will use the same style of captions as I always do, and use the exact same sets of hashtags. I will continue to follow my current socialization schedule so that my engagement isn't affected by how much I engage with other people's posts. 

I'll make note of any big changes in engagement or follower counts and check in here on my blog and on my newsletter every week for the rest of this month. Hopefully we'll have a decent amount of data over time. 

Basically, if my engagement and follower count grow dramatically over March, I think we'll be able to conclude that there is, indeed an algorithm that selectively hides business account posts in hopes that businesses will pay for ads. 

Honestly, I might even be a little relieved if this is the case, because then I'll know that my growth isn't just stunted by poor content or strategy, because lord knows a lot has gone into the way I currently run my account. I suppose I'd also be incredibly annoyed, not because Instagram needs to make its money - I totally stand by the hustle, it's very real. What would truly irritate me would be the shadiness of it all. The whole "switch to a Business account for free" narrative is basically undermined if there is, indeed, such a thing as a business-account-specific shadow-ban. 

But in either case, we'll see what the data says! I hope you guys find this interesting enough to follow along, because I'm definitely super interested in knowing whether the shadow-ban truly exists! Remember to sign up to my e-mail list by clicking the banner below, so that you don't miss out on any of the check-ins! (Plus, there's a free 15-day Instagram content plan in it for you!)

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The Instagram SHADOWBAN: an experiment!

So what do you think of the Instagram Shadow-Ban? Do you think it's real, or is it just an algorithm glitch? Tell me in the comments below, or over on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or e-mail. I LOVE this topic and I LOVE talking all about it, so hit me up, boo!

And again, remember to check out the entire podcast, Solid Gold, Baby, by clicking on the banner below!

As always, thank you so much for being here and sharing your day with me, I love sharing my day with you!

All my love,

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