Whats up with the Instagram Shadow Ban and how does it affect hair stylists?

If you’ve been tuned in to social media news at all lately, you’ve heard the buzzword of Spring 2017: Shadownban.  

The other buzz I’m seeing everywhere is stylists asking

“Has anybody else noticed a drop in their likes, comments and new followers on Instagram?”

I’ve seen the question posed in more private online hairstylist forums than I can even count.

So what the heck is this thing?  Is it even real and how does it affect you as a hair stylist and how you grow your business?

What is the Instagram Shadowban?

Shadowban is a term used to describe what happens when your post becomes unsearchable in a hashtag search.  One of the best parts of Instagram is the hashtag search abilities.  You post an awesome image, create an engaging caption and then add-on a dozen or so hashtags that you hope somebody will search and your photo will pop right up.  That’s what used to happen anyway.

Well, now with the Shadownban, what happens is you add those dozen hashtags as normal but when somebody who doesn’t already follow you searches for those hashtags you now won’t show up in the search.  This essentially defeats the purpose of creating searchable terms on Instagram and crushes the free, organic business building that was once available with the hashtag feature.

While we don’t know all of the details of the Shadowban, it doesn’t seem to just affect hashtags so even if you aren’t a hash-tagger (I’m not!), it doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods on this one.

Is there proof that the Shadownban even exists?

Yes and no.  

Yes, it is widely known that the search and discover capabilities of certain hashtags and many users accounts in general have been compromised.  While Instagram isn’t calling this hashtag block a “Shadowban” they did release this statement on February 28, 2017:

What jumped out to me in the post is that their statement on the ban itself if short and sweet basically saying that they do know it exists and are “continuously working on improvements to our system ”.  Let’s be real here, if Instagram wanted to fix an issue with their program they could fix it, so it’s widely believed that this so-called Shadowban is the next phase of the algorithm being extended to protect the user experience.  Their idea of "improvement" might be limiting hashtag search results for all we know.

The bulk of this statement is stressing the importance of using Instagram as a business building tool while avoiding any “spammy” behavior.  Instagram openly said that having a “growth strategy” without the use of hashtags is the key to success on the platform.

So what is spammy behavior then?

Like Facebook, Instagram is choosing to be pretty vague about what is considered spammy and I’m actually totally okay with that.  The algorithms have always been put in place to prevent marketers from trying to “beat the system” so that only those who truly invest in learning and using a platform properly can reap the rewards.

What we do know is that posts aren’t just being blocked from hashtag searches and reach is down overall so there is more at play here than just some kind of hashtag blocking scheme.

How do I avoid having my posts fall victim to the Shadowban?

I doubt Instagram will ever fully come out and say what the rules are because, if they did, we’d all be searching hard to find those loopholes just to beat the system again.  They aren’t going to play that game.  Instead, here are the widely assumed behaviors that are getting your posts Shadowbanned:


Using spammy or broken hashtags: There are some hashtags that Instagram doesn’t allow the use of at all anymore.  #pixie is one that has been publicly announced so quit hashtagging your cute pixie cuts with that one ASAP!  While a quick google search will bring up some of the publicly known banned tags, we don’t have a full public list of what Instagram now considers to be spammy or overused, we do know that Instagram has complied their own private list of tags they've decided to monitor in the ban.  Please note that all public lists do not include the Shadowbanned tags, hence the name "shadow" in the ban.  You'll need to test tags a bit yourself to see what works and doesn't work for you.


Using the same hashtags over and over: You know the super slick trick where you save a whole list of hashtags in the notes section of your phone so that you can just copy and paste with each new post?  Yeah, Instagram is on to that too.  While this isn’t confirmed, many social media experts have noticed that accounts using the same hashtags over and over again (even the clean ones!) are experiencing limited reach.  Instead of using the same tags, start to mix it up and discover new tags that may work to reach a new target market.  Just imagine all of the untapped clientele sources out there waiting to be discovered by you!


Using bots or buying followers: If you don’t know what a bot is, good, keep it that way.  If you are using a bot in an attempt to grow your following, quit it and just start becoming more active on the platform.   Instagram is scanning accounts for “surging” activity meaning if you have 400 followers today and 600 tomorrow, something is up and nothing about that growth was organic.  If you were planning to buy followers or have purchased followers recently, you’re on the radar so start playing nice and quit buying your following.  


Be wary of PODS: A POD is a group of stylists (or people from any industry) who come together and say “hey, let’s all like each others Instagram photos and that will help to create organic reach for all of us”. That plan worked for a while but Instagram is on to that too.  That is also considered surge behavior so now instead of being pushed out publicly in to the feed to reward you for your high performing post, you’ll only make it out in front of those in your POD and a handful of others.  You’re basically telling the algorithm “put her posts in front of these 30 people who are liking her posts over and over because they seem to love her the most and nobody else cares as much”.  That isn’t what we want to tell the algorithm if we are trying to get out in front of prospective new clients.


Using auto-post services: I don’t think this affects too many stylists, but there are services that will actually post to your Instagram account for you and Insta isn’t okay with that.  Now, if you’re using a system like Hootsuite where you can organize your posts and then the platform will send you a push notification when it’s time to make that scheduled post happen, that is still totally fine, but if you were using some auto-post service that isn’t okay.


How do I know if I was Shadowbanned?

I’ll keep this blog post updated, but to date I haven’t found a super reliable way to check your personal status.  There are apps and websites that claim to check your account status, but I haven’t found them to be reliable.

What you can do is test an image yourself by posting your normal type of Instagram photo loaded up with your usual comments and hashtags and then logout of your account immediately.  Now, pull up your IG account (without being logged in under that username) and start searching those hashtags you just used.  Is your post coming up in the search results?  If not, that post or your account may be temporarily Shadowbanned.  

Long story short: play nice and don't rely on hashtag searches or any other hacks.  We don't know the future of Instagram or any social media platform, but we do know that all platforms constantly evolve.  This is just part of the deal.

Stop trying to beat the system and don’t sweat this whole Shadowban thing.  Post well composed photos, use great captions, mix up your hashtags, don’t be spammy, quit trying to cheat, put in a little more effort, get social on the platform and enjoy the ride.



I am not affiliated with Facebook or Instagram and these opinions are my own derived from various sources that I’ve read.

Want to watch more?  Check out the Facebook live I hosted about this topic below:

What's the deal with Instagram's Shadowban and how does it affect you as a stylist? Read more at: www.brittseva.com/blog Join my free FB community just for hairstylists at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/hairstylistbusinessbuilding/

Posted by Britt Seva-Social Media & Marketing Strategist For Hairstylists on Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Britt Seva