How to make sure your Instagram posts don’t disappear

The photo-sharing platform claims it doesn’t “shadow ban” controversial accounts, but some experts believe the company is censoring some content. Here’s what PR pros should know.

Visibility and exposure on social media are a lifeline for many businesses as audience engagement drives sales, brand awareness and marketing reach in the modern market.

Platforms like Instagram and Facebook are prime places for companies to gain potential customers through profile follows and post ‘likes.’

Throughout 2017, articles and reports, like this Iconosquare piece, surfaced describing recent changes to Instagram’s moderation practices for hashtags and what was referred to as the “shadow ban.”

The practice refers to when Instagram blocks users from viewing content produced by an account that uses banned hashtags, or the exact same hashtags, repeatedly. Shadow banning limits what users can view from Instagram feeds, as well as in searches.

A social media controversy

The “shadow ban” is a controversial subject for many in the social media sphere. Instagram claims that the “shadow ban” does not, in fact, exist. However, many users and media outlets  tell a different story.

According to Hubspot, Instagram released a statement addressing user complaints on its Instagram for Business Facebook account on February 28, 2017. Instagram admitted to experiencing a “hashtag glitch,” as well as to altering algorithms to encourage higher quality content. Some experts, such as Jenn Herman, remain skeptical of whether Instagram performs covert content silencing.

A “shadow ban” allegedly keeps an account’s content from being visible to the wider Instagram community, while still allowing existing followers to view its content. Violating Instagram’s policies and standards, whether stated and unstated, can significantly reduce engagement.

A steep drop in engagement metrics, such as likes and follows, is the telltale signal your Instagram account has been downgraded. To check to see if Instagram’s algorithms are to blame, you can use Triberr’s “Shadowban Tester.”

How your organization avoid Instagram’s gatekeepers?

Shadow banning is something your business must avoid at all costs. To ensure your company is not at risk:

  • Assemble an extensive list of hashtags you can regularly rotate between (All Hashtags is an excellent tool).
  • Vary your hashtags regularly, but not in a predictable pattern.
  • Only use hashtags relevant to the content topic of your post.
  • Read and always follow Instagram’s guidelines.
  • Do not use bots to post or comment on content.
  • Do not use banned hashtags or post inappropriate content.

For a list of banned hashtags, see Social Insider’s post here.

How can you appeal a shadow ban?

If you fear your company has been hit with a mysterious ban, Yr Charisma’s recent blog recommends changing your posting strategy to regain the platform’s good graces. Supposedly, good behavior should eventually reverse the ban. Engagement should slowly but surely increase until the ban is completely lifted.

Since Instagram is not open about their algorithms, it’s hard to know what the actual probationary period is on a banned account. The best advice is not to engage in behavior that can result in a shadow ban in the first place.

Whether you’ve been shadow banned or experienced a dip in engagement for other reasons, you may be wondering how to build up your audience and raise engagement. You can try the following:

  • Create new Instagram stories regularly.
  • Use the maximum number of hashtags – 30 per post.
  • Post content that is relevant and captivating for your audience.
  • Use high-quality images and video content.

Think of your Instagram feed like a shop front or gallery for your organization. Curate content with care and the people will show up—and perhaps even make a purchase.

Even if the ban is a social media myth, caution is the best policy.

Cas Johnson-Villalobos works for Three Girls Media, a PR firm based in Washington state. A version of this article originally appeared on the Three Girls blog.

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