The truth about shadowbans (and how to REALLY use hashtags on Instagram) - Smart Creative Social
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The truth about shadowbans (and how to REALLY use hashtags on Instagram)

Over these last few months it seems everyone’s Instagram strategy has been turned upside down. What’s the real truth about shadowbans on Instagram … and how should you really use hashtags on Instagram? You might have noticed that your posts aren’t getting the great engagement they got in the past, you’re not gaining new followers, or worse, you’re losing followers on Instagram. But we’re not alone. I’ve been spending hours researching and testing an updated Instagram strategy for 2017 and it’s just now, a few months after the biggest changes to Instagram’s algorithm, that everyone’s starting to release their findings.

How to use HASHTAGS on your Instagram Story! PLUS the truth about shadowbans - what you need to know about Instagram strategy for 2017, how to use hashtags, and why shadowbans are bogus

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Recently Instagram expert Jenn Herman was a guest on Tailwind’s Facebook Page, where she shared her insider knowledge about Instagram strategy for today. Jenn’s strategy meshes with almost everything I’ve found in my own research and testing. Jenn’s an amazing Instagram expert and I can tell you from experience that these strategies work; they’re the same strategies we’ve been using on our accounts and that we’ve been teaching our social media strategy clients since the May algorithm changes on Instagram.

Side note: did you know that Tailwind also allows you to schedule INSTAGRAM posts? CLICK HERE to try Tailwind for yourself!

Here’s the recorded Facebook Live session with Jenn and Tailwind:

The Truth about the Instagram Shadowban – Live with Jenn Herman

Posted by Tailwind on Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Now, this is a 40 minute video. I figure you probably don’t have time for that so I broke this video down to the key points you need to know for your Instagram strategy today.

The truth about shadowbans and banned hashtags

Shadowbans are not “real”. Instagram and Facebook both won’t comment on their existence … and the term started with a photographer who equated her posts not showing up on Instagram with an old tactic used in forums to stop showing a person’s posts. I’ve used the term loosely but from here on out I will try to be more accurate in my terminology to help avoid confusion.

The shadowban may be hypothesis but “banned” hashtags are real. According to Jenn, no one knows who coined the term “banned” but Elisa thinks we should call them “inactive. I agree!

Using banned hashtags is a waste of a hashtag. Why? Banned or “inactive” hashtags are hashtags whose search results on Instagram have been limited. This means when anyone searches that hashtag, Instagram is not showing a top 9 plus all the search results but rather shows a few dozen posts and then a message at the bottom of the screen that recent posts are hidden because of reports of inappropriate content.

#easter is a prime example of a banned or “inactive” hashtag. Your posts using this hashtag won’t show up in search results. But using #easter or any banned hashtags DOES NOT affect how your post shows up in other active hashtag search results. There was a rumor going around that if you use ONE banned hashtag that your post won’t show up in the results for ANY of the other hashtags you’ve used but that’s just false.

Banned or “inactive” hashtags happen a lot around holidays as spammers try to capitalize on the increase in searches for that hashtag. Some hashtags stay banned, like #easter, and others become active again after the heavy spamming discontinues. Avoid using banned hashtags because they’re just a waste of a good hashtag!

How to use hashtags in 2017

According to Jenn, hashtag search results and the posts featured in the top 9 depend on what you have been searching and interacting with. I know the top 9 looks different for everyone but I have not seen that the results below that are any different. We’ll be running experiments on this in the DIY Hashtag Club beta group and in the Smart Creative Social community to see if this rings true.

Use specific hashtags (like those in DIY Hashtag Club ?) that really relate to your content. For example, Jenn uses #InstagramTraining but not #girlboss or #entrepreneur. Even though those hashtags relate to her business,. they are not as relevant to each specific post and they have hundreds of thousands of uses, meaning they have little value as far as making her post show in search results.

As a rule of thumb, avoid hashtags with hundreds of thousands of uses or millions of uses because competition is so high for those hashtags, you’re likely not going to get any visibility from using them.

What to post on Instagram NOW

Jenn says to focus on making great content by posting 1 post per day or 1 post every other day.

Put energy into the caption and the photo. Instagram can read the content in your photos and captions and uses that info to determine who to show your content to. Your photo needs to match the caption and needs to match the hashtags. In a recent post on her blog, Instagram expert Liz Dean explains how Facebook and Instagram use a tool called Lumos to “read” the images in photos in order to determine what’s in the photo.

Know that if you post something not quite as engaging, like a call to action to check out a blog post, that you’re going to see less interaction on that post. And that’s okay; make informed decisions about what you’re posting and why. And try to make each post as valuable as possible.

Jenn and Elisa both reference the Tailwind hashtag tool in this live. I’ve used the tool and it’s GREAT if you are just now trying to learn a hashtag strategy or want an easy way to manage your hashtag lists.

But if you want to dig deeper and have a more robust, long-term hashtag strategy, I recommend joining DIY Hashtag Club where you’ll get lists of hashtags delivered for you to use each month PLUS lots of training on strategy, how to choose the BEST hashtags, and how to use hashtags effectively.

Click HERE for more info about DIY Hashtag Club

What’s up with my low engagement on Instagram right now?

Everyone is seeing a drop in engagement on Instagram because so much of the previous engagement was bot activity. You could be building a legit following and other people’s bots could still inflate your numbers by interacting with your content.

Everyone’s follower growth has slowed or reversed. This again is part of the reset as Instagram gets back to authentic real engagement and cleans out the bot activity. Everyone’s performance baseline needs to be reset to new limits since previous baselines were inflated by bot activity.

Which Instagram features to focus your energy on in 2017?

Instagram is pushing Instagram Stories and Instagram Live in 2017. I’ve heard this on Jenn’s Facebook Live but also from experts speaking at VidCon, Social Media Marketing World, and on numerous Facebook Live broadcasts. Use these two features to give your account a boost on Instagram.

On every single post, use the location tag and at least 9 hashtags.

You can now use hashtags and location tags in Stories in addition to posts. And in Stories, you can use a hashtag on each one. If your Story has 10 parts, you can use a different hashtag on each part of the Story. But if you are at an event or trying to drive awareness for a certain hashtag, you can use the same hashtag over and over throughout your Story.

How to use HASHTAGS on your Instagram Story! PLUS the truth about shadowbans - what you need to know about Instagram strategy for 2017, how to use hashtags, and why shadowbans are bogus

The Official Mixup used #NationalIceCreamSandwichDay in her story by adding the hashtag sticker to her Story.

How to use HASHTAGS on your Instagram Story! PLUS the truth about shadowbans - what you need to know about Instagram strategy for 2017, how to use hashtags, and why shadowbans are bogus

When you click on the hashtag in her Story, it takes you to a page showing the Instagram Stories with that hashtag in a circle at the top, followed by the top 9, and then followed by every post using that hashtag.

Why did Instagram kick out all the bots and automated tools like MassPlanner and Instagress?

Instagram was doing a mass clean out in preparation for pulling the platform back to it’s roots. All of the bots and automations running rampant on Instagram led to false engagement and inflated follower numbers. Many people used these tools to appear to have a more engaged account to attract sponsors and attention.

Instagram did a mass delete of fake accounts, which really affected larger Instagram accounts who seem to be targeted the most by fake accounts (or who might have purchased fake followers in an attempt to make their account seem larger than it really was).

In April and May of 2017, Instagram began sending cease and desist orders to popular bots and automation service providers such as MassPlanner and CrowdFire, to cut down on fake interaction. Instagram is making a move to more authentic interaction and follows from real people on the platform. As a result, engagement has dropped and follower growth has slowed or stopped … but you can now be more confident that the majority of your engagement and followers are real people who really want to see your content. All we really “lost” were the fake follows and fake engagement from bots.

Now, we all need to educate sponsors about the changes on Instagram and why our numbers aren’t as amazing (and also not false!) like they were just a few months ago.

There are still bots on Instagram and there are still ways to manufacture or artificially stimulate engagement and followers. But Instagram has made it a lot harder for these “strategies” to be used and I have a feeling they will continue to do so.

Instagram rolled out new updates to the API so that approved third party apps can now gather more information about followers and other metrics. Social Insight, one of the approved third party analytics tools we use for Instagram, recently released their followers analytics tab. Start to look for more features and updates from Instagram approved partners whose services you use, like Tailwind.

What changes could be coming?

Jenn believes Instagram may get rid of hashtags in two to three years. I suspect it is because of the abuse of hashtags by spammers. But, they did just introduce hashtags into Stories. So maybe it’s the WAY we use hashtags on Instagram that will change. Only time will tell …

What do you think about these Instagram strategies and the shadowbans?

Let’s continue this convo in the comments!

How to use HASHTAGS on your Instagram Story! PLUS the truth about shadowbans - what you need to know about Instagram strategy for 2017, how to use hashtags, and why shadowbans are bogus

About the Author Jennifer Priest

A craft industry professional for over 14 years, Jennifer Priest has been featured in major publications and online by the likes of Apartment Therapy and MSNBC. Jennifer's digital marketing consulting firm, Smart Creative Social, has a prestigious client list in the craft and hobby industry, connecting influencers with brands, developing digital marketing strategy, and guiding clients in creating a solid social media strategy for their brand.

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