Shadow Banned – the new Witch Doctor Story meant to scare you
Witch doctors symbolize the holder of secrets and spells. You didn’t truly understand how their magic worked but you were afraid of them. Stories about their mysteries spread like wildfire and often times not grounded in any proof. Very much like the stories about being “shadowbanned”.
Shadow banning is not real
I wanted to get that out of the way. It doesn’t exist. Just like witch doctors no longer exist … shadow banning does not exist either. I’m not clear as to who came up with this concept/phrase but it has all the elements of mystery and fear in the phrase alone. Just hearing it “sounds bad”. But let me assure you it’s completely unfounded.
Instagram is in the business of “time on platform”
The only thing Instagram wants you to do is spend more “time on their platform”. The longer you and I use it, the higher the likelihood they can monetize their FREE platform by selling ads. If you and I stopped using Instagram because we were not happy with how it worked, they would eventually go out of business (remember My Space?). Our eyeballs are what they are after. They want our thumbs to stop scrolling. And our attention is their currency (if you don’t know this concept look up Gary Vaynerchuk on YouTube and watch a few of his keynotes).
The fast and easy way to find out if you want to know this for yourself
Quick recap – the phrase “shadow banned” implies that Instagram has somehow limited the exposure of your posts as if to punish you for your activity on their platform.
In reality the only time Instagram ever punishes an account intently – is when you violate their terms of service. Depending on the level of your violation they will temporarily block your actions or in the extreme case shut down your account.
If you have a facebook page connected to your Instagram account you can enable our analytics. If your post has over 1X reach and over 1X impressions then your visibility is not limited. If you don’t have Instagram’s business analytics you can sign up for Iconosquare’s pro reporting system which will provide this same data.
So why are your posts not getting the engagement it used to have?
Simply because there are more people and the platform keeps changing.
As more and more people jump on Instagram, the competition for eyeballs and thumbs to stop scrolling go higher. I want to share a few points for you to noodle on below:
- One of the key metrics Instagram is tracking is when they will hit one billion users. At the end of April of this year they hit 700 million and their speed has picked up. As more people use the platform, then there’s more content out there for readers to see and consequently you as a publisher have more content to compete with.
- If you log into the app store and count the updates … there have been 25 updates since January of 2017. These updates are slowly rolled out so your version of Instagram might be different to your friend’s version.
- There are have been two big “crashes” to Instagram where user’s accounts were deleted (by accident). This causes your follower/following list to act oddly as accounts go offline and then back online.
- Anytime there is an “update” or a “fix” to the system it causes the the platform to feel unstable or chuggy. I noticed everytime the “noise level” of Instagram complaints go up … it’s right before a major update or right after a fix to a bug.
- Instagram has cracked down on accounts that are powered by bots. If any of these (fake) accounts were following you or interacting with your posts, then your #s will be be affected.
- This year Instagram introduced Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered visual recognition to help improve the user experience. In essence, computers can “see” beyond the hashtag.
- The AI shifts in real time. If you go to your Search/Explore page and as an example …. start to like a certain type of photo – let’s say you start to like a lot of Boston Terriers and you typically do not interact with these kind of accounts. Your explore feed will shift to show you more photos of what it thinks you like … and as such …. you’ll start to see more Boston Terriers.
- Sometimes my feed from my followers flows really well. And sometimes it seems like I keep seeing the same posts I’ve already liked. When it’s the latter … I say to myself … “there’s a few bugs or updates on the horizon” and I just wait it out a week or two until the updates are done.
How to explain why your posts don’t show up under a certain hashtag
- If you suspect that you’re posts are not being viewed under a certain hashtag, you need to understand first how hashtags work and at what density they are being used. For example, a recent conversation I had with an IGer had me look at the hashtags being used. This particular hashtag had been used a total of 6.3 million times; and had a post density of 772 per hour. That means … if you do not rank in the top ten, and you are checking and looking for your post that you uploaded 4 hours ago, then you would have to go down past approximately 3000+ photo until you find your photo.
- If you’re using smaller hashtags and still not showing up … are there other actions you took that resulted in temporary bans (for liking too much, for using duplicate comments, for following & unfollowing too many people in one day)? Or was your account one of those affected by the recent crash and hack when accounts were temporarily disabled? Instagram tracks your actions per hour. It could actually hurt you if you’re liking and commenting too many accounts in an hour. Instagram protects the community against spammers so it may just be you need to slow down or limit your actions per hour A safe level is to limit yourself to 60 actions per hour.
- You also have to understand the relationships between accounts. When I searched for a photo that used a smaller hashtag AND I was following that user AND I was engaging with dog content, that photo came up in the top 9 of my explore feed. However, when I checked it from a different account where I was not following this user and not interacting with any content related to this niche – then that photo did not come up in my top 9 of my explore feed.
- As I examine the Explore Page and Hashtag page what is clear to me is that these pages are based on an individual’s interests and viewing history. Basically there isn’t 1 definite top 9 section for each hashtag anymore because it’s tailored to each user.
By the way – there is a website that “claims to check if you have been shadowbanned”. This website is in the business of page views. It easily capitalized on the “scare” and created this widget which is completely unfounded. I’ve tested it along with other marketers and it’s fake.
Instagram marketing is part of my business. I network with marketing professionals on Linked In, Twitter, Medium, and various other marketing groups. We share the latest discoveries with each other and test features out to see what works, what doesn’t work, and what is false.
Get beyond the hashtag
Hashtags were designed to group photos together. But if this is your sole strategy in visibility then you’re focusing on the wrong thing.
Understand first WHY people are on Instagram. They are on Instagram to be entertained. To escape. To connect.
Next understand HOW people use Instagram. They scroll through their feed and they look for images that capture their attention to make their thumb stop scrolling.
So the right question to ask yourself is “how do I get your thumb to stop scrolling”.
In this case … your number one priority – is to: Create captivating content.
I spend a lot of time in the Explore Feed. One of the main reasons is I do more “outbound” actions then waiting for “inbound” activity. What this means is that I spend a lot of time looking for new accounts that catch my eye. And there’s a reason why photos make the explore feed. It’s because they stand out.
Ask yourself – would this photo stand out in the Explore Feed? A generalization is the bright, crisp, clean photos will catch someone’s eye. Dark photos don’t do well (there are exceptions – the moody tones from fantastic photographers do well because they know how to add splashes of color that pop from the photo itself).
Instagram is first and foremost a visual platform. If your content doesn’t captivate someone’s attention, no amount of hashtags or comment pods will increase it’s visibility.
The right question to ask yourself then is … “Is this my best photo I can post today? And if it were to be on the Explore Page, would it stand out among all the other photos?”
After you’ve captured someones attention then you need to “establish rapport and a relationship” and start a conversation. Think of your conversations like a game of volleyball. In your captions you put out a question or a thought – it’s like you’re tossing a ball in the air .. with the hope someone steps in to volley that ball (or conversation) back to you.
And they might be doing the same …. so you need to reciprocate and visit other peoples accounts and participate in their conversations.
Use all the features of Instagram
There are so many things you can do in Instagram so don’t rely on hashtags alone. Publish stories. Reply to stories. Reply to your DMs. Save collections. Look at your collections and click on “Explore more”. Tag people. Like comments. Reply to comments. The more you use Instagram the more you “train” the AI to know what content you like and when you’re giving and interacting with other accounts, those accounts will start to interact more with yours.
Instagram’s culture is to foster and build community. Just a few months ago …. Zuckerburg himself said that this sense of “community” was what they were looking to improve on the Facebook platform. I believe they took this card from Instagram’s playbook.
Instagram tracks EVERYTHING you do. It tracks, what photos you like and comment on. It even tracks if you click on a photo to view it and how long you viewed it (but did not like or comment). It tracks how you search for people, hashtags, accounts, places etc. It tracks your relationships with accounts. And then it attempts to establish a “relevance” score and “goodness score”. How it calculates this is proprietary to Instagram. But it rewards those that are good “community members” which in turn … influences your overall visibility.
Now forget everything I said and just go with the flow
There’s a psychology as to why we’re infatuated with our numbers. The notifications of those Likes and Follows are like a dopamine rush to our brain. And when you’re starting to obsess with your numbers you need to take a step back and …. remember how it was like to use Instagram when you first started.
It was fun. You floated around the platform. You found photos you liked. You interacted. You posted. And it was all very “natural”.
And that … is actually what I find to be the best way to use the platform. Remember this is a social platform. Remember it’s supposed to be fun. And remember there’s no such thing as witch doctors and a shadow ban.
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