Instagram Shadow Ban: True or False?

False. Sort of. Like so many others, I got sucked into the hysteria, although my cynical nature never could logically believe it. Why else would the engagement and activity on my posts go down so much? Why else was I not growing my followers like I had been? For those who don't know, the supposed shadowban supposedly makes your hashtags undiscoverable except for your followers. There are multiple theories about this, like you've been posting too much, copying and pasting hashtags, using the same hashtags, accidentally using banned hashtags, it's only business profiles, the wind is in the east, the wind is in the west.....

Like so many others, I freaked out too. My art IG account had seemingly been growing at a rapid pace, the likes were increasing with every post, and then...flatlined. I switched back to a personal account and then back to a business account. (I wanted the analytics) I deleted scores of past hashtags. I logged out for 48 hours and then did that again a day later for a week. Nothing changed as far as I could tell. 

However, I am a skeptic of such things, and I am also an inveterate questioner about things I don't know, and I brought it up on the private Facebook group of The Social Media Marketing Society. (Membership for this year is closed, but the private facebook group alone is worth my $50/month.) Thankfully, there are many on there who are far, far more knowledgeable about Instagram than the lay user, the main one being Jenn of Jenn's Trends-- and I highly advise you to hop on over to her blog. 

One thing we do know-- IG cracked down hard on automated services like MassPlanner and Instagress. I'd actually never heard of I'd never gotten into a bad habit thankfully with using those! It seems like they and other ones were dramatically inflating one's IG engagement, and so with their death, obviously the numbers plunged. 

But what about the hashtag searches, you will say? It's true that many people have noticed their posts not showing up in hashtag searches of other users who are not followers of them. Except...not always. Another member in the FB group had had a conversation with a German Instagram employee, and the employee stated categorically that IG was not shadow banning people, that some of it was from a bug that was fixed in April. 

The original article is in German, but the group member kindly translated:

1. Does Instagram "shadowbanning" operate? - No.
2. I have read an article on the Internet that says Instagram would operate "shadowbanning". Is that correct? - No.
3. I've discovered a tool on the Internet that allows me to check if my account is affected by shadowbanning. How reliable is this tool? - See the answer to question 1.
4. I have used a hashtag in a post and a friend of mine says that he / she can not see the post in the hashtag search. What is the reason? Am I affected by "shadowbanning"? - No. Hashtag search results or so-called hashtag pages are personalized, ie not always identical for each user.
5. Where is the rumor that Instagram would operate "shadowbanning"? - There was a bug for a short time that caused images and / or videos from some accounts not to appear in some hashtag searches. This bug was fixed in early April 2017.

Number 4 is the one that stuck out heavily to me. Hashtags are personalized. With all the algorithm changes constantly happening, it shouldn't really be much of a surprise. An article on the Pierce Social blog has some interesting information speaking with Facebook reps and learning that "It appears hashtags now use an algorithm that specifically affects business accounts and personal accounts that they have flagged as business related." (This explains why switching back to a personal account doesn't always do anything.) I suggest hopping on over to that blog to read the article, which goes far more in depth and has some really interesting information. There's also quite possibly AI recognition being used, but that kind of just blows my mind to think about right now. 

We all know that it's harder and harder to get organic reach through Facebook, as Facebook prioritizes friends and family over businesses and advertising. So it's not surprising that we're starting to see what seems to be a slightly similar algorithm, where the more engagement a post has, the higher chance it has of being seen...and of being found through hashtag searches. 

So what did I end up doing? I started posting less. Now I post maybe once a day, but usually ends up being every two days. I strategically use hashtags, trying to follow Jenn Herman's advice. I try really, really hard to only post great content. It seems to be working. Although the growth is never going to be like it was, I am noticing that my posts are reaching more users than just those who follow me, engagement is up, and my number of followers is growing again. 

Now I just need more website clicks....because an email list does not have an algorithm. I'm in a strange position where I'm unsure where exactly I am going with my art, what part to focus on, and what are my concrete goals. I'm working on it, but I know I'm not going to be really able to make any major gains until I figure it out. Also complicating things is that for financial reasons, I need to go back and focus more on Pigeonroof Studios to try to use what I've learned social media marketing wise for sales. The hope was and is, that I could wind it down and have selling art replace the income-- a long shot, I know, and I certainly wasn't expecting it to happen fast, but work on my art business is going to have to take a back burner for now. 

Although I've just rambled on a lot about the "shadow ban", you really should visit these websites for expert opinion: 

Jenn's Trends

Pierce Social

The Social Media Posse

And the always chock full of information on all things social media, Social Media Examiner.