The Truth About Instagram: Advice on Hashtags, Shadowban & Engagement

You can breeze past this post if you’re using Instagram purely as a social outlet to keep up with friends and what not (it’s intended purpose). I’m writing this post for anyone who is currently scratching their head about hashtags, the shadowban, and engagement if you’re using Instagram as part of your business. I’ve spent the last couple months confused, frustrated, discouraged and in the depths of the internet searching for answers to why the sudden drop off in likes and just visibility in general on Instagram. Like everything shared in this space, I am by no means an expert. I’m just purely sharing what I know from my own experience in hopes that it might make you feel less alone if you’ve been contemplating throwing your phone out the window and deleting Instagram entirely.

To give you some perspective. I started Household Mag. (the site you’re reading) and my Instagram account just under two years ago. In two years I have built a strong readership here on the site and my Instagram account has grown to over 61,000 followers, organically – no bots, no purchased likes or followers, no funny business. I have built a business I am proud of and this is now my job, full time (hence the panic when things shift).

In the first year of having my Instagram account I had several posts go viral, but even as things started to normalize, engagement was good, maybe even better than good. It seemed like for whatever reason I had found a niche and that it was resonating with people (or maybe I just gave birth to a really, really cute kid). Either way I took the jump and treated it as a business. Around this time my advice to fellow Instagrammers and bloggers who reached out was simple. Take great photos, use the right hashtags, participate in follow Fridays’ and partner with brands you love who will repost your images. That’s what we refer to as the good old days because even though that’s similar to the advice I would give today, the return isn’t anything like it was two years ago.

It was almost exactly a year ago when Instagram’s algorithm went from chronological to what they thought you’d like to see. For me this meant that only 20% of my followers were even seeing my posts and from there about 10% of those people actually engage. This is still (mostly) true today. So as it sits now I have 61,500 followers, 20% of them see my posts (at best) which is 12,300, meaning engagement will typically be around 1,230 (10%). Of course that ebbs and flows, but this is typically the standard if my posts are up to Instagram’s standards. These standards seem to be priority based for me – the posts that will always do the best are of Owen and I and it trickles on down from there.

The first and easiest way to increase visibility when I started Household Mag. was always to use hashtags, but this truly seems to be a thing of the past (at least for me). Hashtags seem to be okay if you’re using unpopular ones lightly, or if your account is brand new, but if you’ve had your account for a couple of years, have a larger following, or are using any of the super popular ones it seems they to contribute to the shadowban. If you have no idea what I’m talking about read this article, but there’s also this one that seems to call it’s bluff. What I can say is in the past few months I have definitely felt the affect whether it’s alleged or not WITHOUT contributing to any of the alleged reasons shadowban is supposed to come into affect – hashtags, bots, purchasing likes and followers or surges of activity.

There’s speculation that if you take a little Instagram break and stop doing everything I mentioned above the ban will be lifted. From my experience this is wrong. The only act I was guilty of on Instagram was using hashtags and in the recent months I’ve removed them, taken extended breaks and nothing seems to be working. On occasion I’ll try them and the ban still doesn’t seem to be lifted. I’ve noticed if they’re included in the caption of your post, not the comment there appears to be no ban when you check this site. But, even when I do this, my reach is no better than if I didn’t use them at all. So really, what’s the point?

Some sites suggest switching from a business account back to a personal, but I think at this point it is best to play by Instagram’s rules. What are Instagram’s rules? When word of the shadowban first came up this was their response. I honestly feel like I’m still searching for answers, but as of now this is my game plan.

1. Post the high quality visual content you’re known for.
2. Post consistently, but not too frequently. I aim for once or twice a day.
3. Write engaging captions.
4. Pay attention to active times via your Instagram business analytics.
5. Remove as many third party apps as possible. The only one I have connected now is Planoly.
6. Skip the hashtags unless they’re part of a campaign or project you’re working on.
7. Always include FTC disclosure information.
8. Utilize Instagram stories and video posts. Create & Cultivate shared a super helpful article here.
9. Use your other social channels to help drive traffic to your Instagram account. I always push posts to twitter, facebook and pin them on Pinterest.
10. Don’t beat yourself up over what you can’t control. I wrote this piece after essentially reaching my breaking point with it all and it might help you feel a bit better.

Any information I missed? I’d love to hear your insight.