Sometime around January and February, many of you have probably noticed (with your own Instagram account) or heard from other photographers within your community, that their Instagram reach and engagement has significantly dropped for no obvious reason. This got the name of Shadow Banning. And while it may not seem like a big deal for the rest of the world, creatives and photographers who put much heart, effort and time into building a beautiful online portfolio through this platform have been struggling to get their numbers and exposure back.
What is Shadow Banning on Instagram?
Also called Ghost Banning, the term refers to Instagram (or any other social media platform) reducing or completely removing your visibility, without letting you know about it. The account owner keeps posting content since everything looks OK on their end, when the post doesn’t actually get showcased on multiple hashtag pages – which decreases the number of likes, comments and potential new followers. Basically, your followers are the only ones who have a chance to see all your posts, though even that is not certain due to complex Instagram algorithms. Read more about the phenomenon in this article by PetaPixel.
Instagram’s Response to Shadow Banning
Instagram’s response to the numerous user complaints and questions has been a mere apology with no specifics on when or whether this will be fixed at all. They advised their users to be more creative and unique, post good content, tell stories and build a strong growth strategy, without focusing that much on hashtags.
How to avoid Shadow Banning & Grow Your Instagram Following
Of course we rolled our eyes first, but then realized that even the good old “3 likes, 1 comment” trick has never stopped working or failing to bring new followers in. Without a doubt, adding hashtags and waiting till those likes pour straight into your post was an easy, fast and effortless way to grow your account. But the golden rule says that you need to work your butt off, if you want truly fruitful results. So here it goes, a compilation of things and tools you can try out – to grow your Instagram following, no matter if you have or have not been hit by shadow banning:
Bots & Other Automated Growth Tools for Instagram
Instagress and similar apps, forget about them! Even if not punished/banned for using one of these bots, you will surely notice that even though your number of followers is growing, your engagement stays low. If you’re after a shiny, big number – no problem. But if you use Instagram to collect leads, connect with new clients, and build a community of people who love your style, your work and see the world in a similar way – bots won’t give you that. Period.
Refresh Your Hashtags List
If you’re like us, you probably have a notepad or any other text editor file in your phone, where you keep a few lists (hopefully, there’s more than one) of pre-researched, popular and relevant hashtags that you add to each of your posts. While it’s a good and convenient way of saving time, make sure you refresh those lists on constant basis, testing out new hashtags. Also, make sure you remove the hashtags banned by Instagram, because they’ve been compromised by spammers. Here’s a few examples compiled by Haffington Post.
Instagram Pods, aka Your Growth Buddies
Haven’t heard of these yet? it’s simple! Make a list of up to 14 friends, peers, colleagues from within your industry, with a similar following – all committed to help each other grow on Instagram and who are fairly active users. Add them all into a private message on Instagram, and have them all pledge to like & comment each other’s images once they get posted. Why 14? because you can have maximum 15 people per private message. Though, nobody said you need to be part of ONLY one pod. Create as many as you wish, as long as you can commit to stay active and devoted to all of them.
“3 likes, 1 comment” Formula
Oldie, but goldie. It’s a formula recommended by many bloggers and Instagram gurus since ages ago. What it basically means is – you have to like and engage with people, before they like and engage with you. For example, if you’re a local business, you can search for new followers based on hashtags related to your location (ex: city names, local coffee shops or venues, etc). These are your potential followers and/or clients. Engage with them, like 3-5 of their photos, leave at least 1 comment (make it genuine, show them that you’ve put thought into it, or read their image description before writing a dry “Awesome!”). If you like their feed, even follow them. At least 3 out of 10 folks will return you the favor, they’ll check out your profile and perhaps choose to follow your work. It’s easy, but takes time. And it won’t be a random double-tapper, but a person who’s relevant to your niche.
Influencers from Your Niche
If you’re serious about Instagram and building a strong growth strategy for it, you need to do this. Research and make a list of the top most influential Instagramers from your target audience. Set a rule to check their accounts on daily basis and engage with their posts. Do that until they notice you and start checking out your posts. Start a discussion with them, be friendly. These are the people you need on your side, ideally as clients one day – who will not only buy your product/service, but will also be happy to share and shout out about it on their socials. Additionally, getting likes and comments from influencers with heavy following numbers positively impacts your algorithms, and increases the chance of being discovered by new people, or even getting on Instagram’s Explore page.
Your “Bio” & First Impression
Though this may not seam as straightforward, but your profile photo, your biography and the first 6 images on your feed is EVERYTHING. Based solely on these 3 elements, a user can choose to follow you or leave your account page. Keep it clean and clear. Leave your contact info. Also, try experimenting with structure and the way you present this information. Try emojis or bullet points (for the later, you’ll need to write it down in your text editor, and copy paste it into your Instagram profile).
Bonus trick: Add to your title your keywords, for example “Ashley Utah Wedding Photography”. When users will search for a Utah wedding photographer, your name is a lot more likely to pop up in their search list on Instagram.
Shoutouts for Shoutouts
Similar to Instagram Pods you can agree with a few peers/friends within your industry, to do shoutouts for each other, once in a while. It’s a free, easy and mutually beneficial way of getting new exposure and followers. It could go something along the lines “Check out my friend @… who is a huge inspiration and a kick ass photographer from XX” or “Major shoutout to @… for being an amazing friend and true inspiration. Follow his/her work!”. It doesn’t have to be sneaky or complicated.
Experiment with Image Descriptions
We’ve all heard about and are afraid of the “TLDR”, which means “too long, didn’t read”. But to be honest, there is no one general rule. We’ve seen top photographers acing it with short quotes or 1-2 word descriptions. We’ve also noticed a huge trend at sharing personal thoughts, heartwarming stories, advice and valuable insights in comments. And it works brilliantly. Those who actually read your image descriptions, connect with you and your work on a deeper level. They fall in love with your personality before even thinking of hiring you. You can try out both approaches, and see which one resonates best with you and your audience.
Business Account vs Personal Account
Although there have been some rumors related to Shadow Banning being connected to Business Accounts. It’s just an assumption, which still needs to be validated. We, at Flothemes, use the Business Account for our Instagram Page and enjoy its perks. You get access to a lot of great insights, which help you asses each post and week’s activity. The insights help you understand your clients better (who they are, what’s their age and gender, where do they live and when are they most active). Additionally, you can see the engagement, reach, even number of folks who saved (pinned) your post via Instagram.
Timing. When to Post?
Not new information. Use tools like Iconosquare, Instagram Insights (if you have a business account), etc and identify when your fans are the most active, therefore it’s the most favorable time to post. Though, this is not as crucial as it was to be a few years ago, when Instagram used to show all posts in a chronological way.
No matter how amazing and intuitive your gut is, making business decisions just on a gut feeling won’t work in the long run. You need to track and measure everything you do! Everything! Only then, you can state that something is or is not working. Luckily, there are plenty of great, free or paid tools that can help you with this. A few of the ones that we’ve used and like are: Iconosquare, INK 361, Latergram, and Instagram’s Business Insights. They’ll help you analyze which are your most popular posts, which posts failed, who are your most engaged fans, how fast does your account grow. Try to understand why are those things happening.
They say “never stop learning” for a reason. You should always be on the look out for useful courses that can help your business grow and make more revenue. If speaking about Instagram, and how to growth-hack it, we love this course created by Photobug Community, as it’s created by and for photographers, therefore includes clear, practical and effective advice and recommendations on how to attract more followers and get inquiries via Instagram.
Remember, any social media platform, be that Instagram, Facebook, Youtube or any other popular network, are all based on complex algorithms, bots and automations. Getting shadow banned, low engagement rates and slow account growth doesn’t mean that your work isn’t good enough. It’s bots who decide who sees what, when and how often. What is in your power and area of expertise – is human interaction, emotional intelligence, and plain old simple friendliness and passion. Be active, talk to your fans and potential fans, offer them your attention and time, before asking theirs back, and act like a real entrepreneur – put in place a strategy, invest time and money in tools when needed, and track your efforts. Trust us, you’ll notice pleasant changes within weeks!
Also, if you have burning questions that we haven’t covered, have a look at this comprehensive guide on Instagram promotion.