If you are here, then you probably wonder whether Instagram has placed a shadowban on your account. Typically, if you are wondering about it, it has probably happened. So what is an Instagram shadowban, and what can you do to get Instagram to unban your account? What behaviors lead to getting a ban, and what it means for your account growth?
What is a shadowban?
Instagram places a shadowban on your account whenever it decides that you potentially violate community rules. It is not an official term, nor will it ever be. Instead, Instagram explains that it does not guarantee that it will show your content to people not following you. At any point. To better comprehend this idea, you can look at my post about Instagram's engagement rate. You can think of Instagram's ranking algorithm similarly to Google's PageRank. This time though, your Instagram account is the equivalent of a website. Depending on how engaging your account is and how much authority it has, Instagram places your new posts higher or lower in hashtags and location tags or makes them visible on the “Explore” page.
So what is a shadowban? A shadowban is present when an account’s content won’t appear in non-follower feeds. The term is not official and originated from Twitter users, but it is present in all social media. The two primary ways to make your content visible beyond your Instagram followers are hashtags and location tags. Being featured on the explore page usually means that you have an account with high enough authority to avoid shadowing.
Now, if you start engaging in spammy behavior or break any Instagram policies, the platform decides to penalize your account. What happens is that Instagram blocks content you post after your account receives a shadowban from appearing in the hashtags or location tag feed you used. While technically you can still use the platform, your content will only show to your followers or those who visit your profile. It would be similar to Google temporarily removing your website from the Google Search Engine Results Page.
A shadowban is very damaging to anyone trying to draw more attention to their account. Instagram, in essence, limits your content reach by restricting its visibility. A look at my weekly report from Flick on Monday the 26th of October indicates that.
How do I know when I am shadowbanned? The Instagram shadowban test
Confirming that you are shadowbanned is very easy. For instance, I have created my hashtag, #borderpolarphotographer, so I just published a post with that hashtag. Then I searched for #borderpolarphotographer on the Instagram app. Expectedly, the search returned “no results” found. Not only did Instagram block my new posts, but it also retroactively applied it to all my posts.
I encourage you to do something similar, either create your hashtag or use some low-competition ones, make a post, and see whether it will appear on Recent. If Instagram has placed a shadowban on your account, your hashtag won't even return any results. I don't encourage online tools to check whether you received a shadowban, as there is usually a waiting queue, and they can be unreliable.
What may lead to an Instagram shadowban?
Firstly, as part of my campaign to grow my account, I started showing borderline spammy behavior. Things I did that may have contributed to my shadowban include:
- Too much following/unfollowing. I followed far too many people in a span of 2-3 days. Probably around 2.5k.
- Hashtag Spam. I kept using all 30 available hashtags in my posts to gather analytics information about them. Now combine that with posting 2-3 times per day.
- Hashtag Repetition. Some of my posts had the same hashtags in the same order.
- Hashtags in the comment section. I decided to move my hashtags in the first comment to keep the caption clean. This looks very spammy.
- Use of external APIs. I used a follower tracker to batch unfollow people that unfollowed me.
- VPN. I used Instagram both on desktop and mobile while having my VPN active. So while I was behaving in a spammy manner, I was also switching locations around the globe. I think this was probably the last straw, along with the following misdemeanor.
- Business classification. I ran an Instagram business account so that I can have access to Instagram insights. That, paired with the fact that I have connected my account with my t-shirt shop, classifies my account as a small business.
It’s worth noting that during all this, it was clear that I was not a bot. I use Instagram for communication a lot these days, and I’ve had a ton of conversations both on comments and direct messages. However, the outlook of all this was that I was promoting a business. However, instead of paying Instagram for promotions, I engaged in spammy behavior to promote myself without spending money. With me paying for a few promotions here and there, this is a pretty fair outlook apart from the fact that I don’t run a business.
However, bringing traffic from Instagram to my website makes me money, so all things considered, I was trying to direct unreliable traffic to my Instagram account to get people to visit my blog. So at the end of the day, I got what I deserved.
Lifting the Instagram shadowban
So how can you get an Instagram shadowban lifted? After doing my online research and identifying the potential reasons for my shadowban, I started removing everything that looked spammy from my feed.
- Cleanup (older posts). I completely removed hashtags from most of my posts. The average Instagram post lifecycle is around 2-3 days. Especially for a small account like mine, this is probably the maximum time it will survive in others' feeds; by removing hashtags from posts older than a week, I gave my account a much cleaner look. At the same time, I didn’t need to worry that I would lose any account growth after my shadowban lift. I would not. Instagram focuses on fresh content. The “Top” and “Recent” tabs when users search for a particular hashtag only keep track of posts made during the past seven days.
- Hashtag reduction (new posts). I started using much fewer hashtags in my posts, let’s say around 7 to 11. After all, at the time, my posts did not appear on any hashtags. So I did that to show Instagram that I don’t spam (anymore).
- Stopped using external API interactions. My account was inaccessible by external sources, so I could not batch unfollow others anyway.
- Promotions. I ran several promotions to create a massive amount of interaction with my content and show Instagram that my content quality is high.
- Reposting. I also started reposting high-quality posts from others on my account, such as #photooftheday features, to gain more interactions (as obviously, my photos are not that great yet).
- Report a problem. I kept reporting issues within the Instagram app (not in a spammy manner), explaining that my posts don’t show up on hashtags. There is no other channel of support for Instagram, so this the only one we can resort to.
- Prove your value. Eventually, on the 11th day (Monday the 2nd of November), I shared a re-post explaining what kind of interaction is the most important engagement type for a post. The most important ones right now are probably “Save” and “Share.” I asked my followers to save that post if they understood the message as a call to action. Let’s see what flick says about this post.
This answer to why that post did so well is quite clear to me. It got the least amount of likes but the highest amount of comments and a significant amount of saves. Posts like this legitimize an Instagram account because they show that you offer the value that keeps the users engaged. Unfortunately, the trend did not continue, but I think this post was the turning point for my shadowban lift.
Have Instagram’s regulatory policies gone too far?
Going beyond the above, it’s worth noting that I am running multiple Instagram accounts. My main account received just a shadowban, probably because it had achieved some popularity. Contrary to my main account, Instagram started deleting all my other accounts without warning. That is, even with the slightest misdemeanor like following 20-30 people in a row, a new account of mine would be instantly deleted. My personal opinion is that Instagram has become very punishing towards new content creators. While living established accounts unscathed.
Instagram support… or lack thereof
Notice that I did not recommend contacting Instagram support directly about your shadowban. The reason is that there is no such thing as Instagram support. Their contact email firstname.lastname@example.org is not supported anymore. So if you send an email to it, you will receive an email from Facebook explaining that the service is no longer supported, and you should visit the Facebook/Instagram for the Business help center. You can use https://help.instagram.com/ to get help on the web or navigate to the Instagram application “Settings” and use the help button. You can also “Report a problem” through the Instagram application settings, but this is used for bug reports rather than filing complaints. Here is a complete guide on how to contact Instagram support.
How to avoid a shadowban
Just like with Google SERP and SEO, don't go black hat. Avoid trying to outsmart the Instagram platform thinking that you won't be caught. You indeed need to focus on your content rather than exploits. Yet you may get away with murder in some cases, but it's not worth overdoing it. Even if you don't get shadowbanned, Instagram knows when you have bought followers or likes or are part of an engagement pod. These are easily trackable behaviors, so keep away from them. As a matter of fact, it's better to shadowban yourself from Instagram as it is nothing like the service it used to be. Learn how to delete your Instagram account.