(and what you can do to fight back)
Before we get going into the nitty gritty of the algorithm, how to work it, and why it’s working against smaller creators right now – I’d like to apologize for the length and rant of this post. This has been a long time coming and to be honest, this is the only place that I can talk about it! Mentioning a shadowban on instagram actually KEEPS you shadowbanned!
What is a “shadowban”? A shadowban occurs when a creator/blogger/user posts something that instagram doesn’t like but doesn’t actually go against their policies! You can get shadowbanned by typing too much in your comments, using too many hashtags (see list here of shadowbanned hashtags), playing music in the background of a video, being reported, being too active, being inactive, blogging in certain communities (sex work, trans/gay, witchcraft, pole dance, etc) and commenting too much on others posts. If it seems like navagating the algorithm is like a minefield – you’re not wrong!
How I Learned the Algorithm
I first started my instagram page in December 2017 as a Rae Dunn pottery fan page! After a few posts, I decided that this was probably not the niche for me and changed my username to @wildwoman_witchcraft. By April 2018, I had my first 200 followers, and by September 2018 I had hit 4,000 followers. This was an organic process without using bots, buying likes, or buying followers.
During this time I learned that to make the algorithm work for you, you need to post once a day during your peak time, and that hashtags were KEY. A good set of hashtags will boost you in visibility to everyone who follows that hashtag. The best way to find the best hashtags is to check the larger following accounts! See what hashtags they use and take the ones that you really like. If you accumulate enough likes within the first 30 minutes of your post, you will be shown in the algorithm randomly to thousands of people!
Additionally, I had also come into contact with what DIDN’T work. Using too many hashtags, not enough, not the right ones, being reported because someone got offended by what I posted. There was no shortage of reasons to be shadowbanned by the algorithm but the jail periods were usually short and sweet! Until I hit 60,000 followers.
The Beginning of The End
During 2019, I hit 60,000 followers on instagram! It was awesome and someplace I’d never even dreamed of being! However, with visibility in front of that many people, someone will always be offended, or spamming you, and all sorts of other things. Luckily, most of the time these things don’t keep you shadowbanned because with that many followers, your engagement stays at a consitent enough level to be seen by your followers. Until it wasn’t.
In 2019, Instagram decided to roll out a new feature to help abate “bullying” by testing certain accounts with removing their likes. This only went to show that the real bully was Instagram itself, but I digress. This beta does not affect every account equally, and seems to typically effect larger often shadowbanned influencers and creators.
Why would they take away the likes of shadowbanned content creators? In a nutshell, Instagram is a business; They would prefer companies to use their paid ads feature rather than use creators and influencers who know how to use the algorithm for free. By disengaging some of the features on these creators accounts, the creators would be less likely to use those specific features, thus causing a drop in their engagement and overall “rank” in the algorithm.
By disengaging some of the features on these creators accounts, the creators would be less likely to use those specific features, thus causing a drop in their engagement and overall “rank” in the algorithm.
Sound too much like a conspiracy to be true? Maybe, it’s my personal theory HOWEVER, I have found it to be true. Instagram is owned and operated by Facebook, and taking away power from smaller content creators (think less thank 500k followers) allows their platform to thrive on celebrity accounts and continue to make ad money from businesses.
How to Fight Back
Instagram is a fun platform! I’m personally still on it and plan to continue to be! However, it is not my only platform and I highly recommend that for any small business or content creator, it is not your only one either! Throughout the years instagram has taken away and given back followers at will, but they can’t take away email subscribers. If you’re on YouTube, they cant take away those subscribers either!
Forming a secondary blog or outlet doesn’t have to be hard. You can use twitter, a blog, make a YouTube channel, join pintrest or etsy or even a Patreon! If you form a secondary blog, don’t feel as though you have to have seperate content for each platform. You can cross post the same content across each platform to keep up engagement and share your thoughts with broader groups of people!
And at the end of the day don’t forget – likes really DON’T matter! (But Instagram is still a bad company)
Temperance Alden is an Occultist, Folk Witch, and Author of Year of the Witch (2020). She is based out of South Florida.