I am so upset. First of all, I am writing this on Microsoft Word rather than WordPress on account of the fact that my Internet has died on me and now I have to lug my Macbook all the way to the office, on the tube, to scab off the wifi at work. And to avoid answering why Iâve brought my personal device in to blog during the lunch hour.
Okay, now Iâve got that real life frustration out of the way letâs talk about the third part of my Pay to Play posts about how the commercialization of Instagram has affected its users, particularly bloggers who arenât defined as casual accounts and not quite businesses either. Since my last post where I spoke about how big audiences mean less engagement, Iâve uncovered another twist to the thickening mystery plot that is Instagram.
Whilst a handful of my social media savvy friends believe that the shadow ban is a âscamâ and a fear tactic, my opinion is that if this is real and it certainly feels that it is – I would rather speak out about it now and admit I was wrong and got carried away with the hype than not mention it at all and sweep it under the rug.
So the story continues: In early March, I had finally returned to relatively high engagement. I was consistently getting over 1k likes for a particular set of photos, a healthy sign of recovery, although I canât pin this down to anything other than people must have really just liked the dress I had on. Just one week from posting the last image from that âpopularâ set, I started putting out photos from my Amsterdam trip. Although I wasnât aware of it at the time, in retrospect, I now know very well when the shadow ban might have hit me because I noticed a strange drop in likes but the same amount of comments. This told me that there were fewer accounts outside of my following that could see my content but my current audience was still as active as ever. As I have always considered my engagement to be pretty good, I just wrote this off as part of the algorithm. I also noticed how everyone else was suffering with the same issues and thought, okay this is normal, nothing to worry about â hence this Pay to Play series with the aim of hypothesizing and hopefully, calming down everyone who has anxiety over their statistics.Â
Notice that I said, âif I am affected at allâ. This is because this very popular site tells me that from most of the hashtags that I use, Iâve been obscured from the search â essentially, Iâm shadow banned. But can we really come to such drastic and final conclusions based off one third-part website? I still see non-followers liking, following and occasionally commenting on my images. Furthermore, Iâve had friends unfollow me to test whether or not I appear under hashtags and theyâve proven that I do. Confusing right?
Iâll let you make up your own mind about how real and dominant the shadow ban is but before you embark on your little investigation, I will tell you right now â none of these forums or websites is able to tell you how to lift the ban if you believe that youâve been inflicted. On top of that, most of the accounts or images that Iâve searched for using the shadow ban website have thrown up âSorry this post is bannedâ for everyone Iâve typed into it. I will admit that although this post does make a small contribution to the shadow ban conversation that is 80% speculation and 20% panic, Iâve tried my best to deduce the most concrete actions you can take to avoid being caught up in this:
Basically, if you can put your hand on your heart and say youâre a good, honest account yet youâve realized that youâre blocked from most of your hashtags, itâs because youâve reused them too many times. In short, in the eyes of Instagram, this is spammy behavior.
Itâs not quite âfairâ is it? Are we supposed to find 30 new, fresh hashtags every time we post? Are we meant to take days off from the app in hope that it âresetsâ and we can use the tags again? These are some ideas youâll find if you dig as deep as I have but if youâve found your search to be unsatisfactory then you might have already gleaned this: from Instagramâs lackluster response to this situation, I think itâs pretty obvious that this is not a priority for them to âfixâ. Therefore, if an app with resources to sort out this widespread âaccidentâ has chosen not to address it, it all points to the notion that âshadow banningâ is intentional.
I hope that by now youâve had some wine and moved through most of the stages of grief, because ideally youâll be onto acceptance and ready to hear âwhyâ. My initial premise for Pay to Play is that by encouraging users to buy promoted posts, Instagram can further monetize their product (we are the product). At present, only our followers can search for us via hashtags. Additionally, thereâs been a huge crack down on third-party websites such as Instagress. Put this together and it starts to paint a picture of how Instagram is limiting the ways we can self-promote, regardless of whether its legitimate or not.
Â Letâs look at the options that weâre left with: shout for shouts, spam liking (could also get you shadow banned if youâre not already affected), loop giveaways (because ânormalâ giveaways like the ones I currently do arenât actually for getting more followers but giving back to your pre-existing audience) and then there are the very grey areas that we all know about but shall not speak of.
At this point, you may be thinking â what the hell is the point of carrying on? If thatâs you, Iâd like to ask you why you started your blog or Instagram in the first place. If itâs for a business purpose, I do sympathise because I understand how important social media is for a brand.
In the case that an account has a product Â to sell, I think that trying out a promoted post is not a bad way to experiment with boosting your visibility.Â
If itâs to share your passion and creativity, then I am in the same boat as you and I want to remind you that although numbers do matter – because to say it doesnât is purely delusional (I mean why have you even read this far if it isnât important to you?) â everyone is in the gutter right now so pull through, keep proving that you can make amazing content and that youâre authentic in your motivation to do so. However, if itâs because you want free shit then I think you need to find another blogger that can help you because you wonât find much sympathy from me here. Sorry not sorry.
Onto what Iâve promised you – for quite a while I felt that maybe I shouldnât post the research that I did on the average likes of a UK blogger. I thought that since some people claim to be unaffected by this shadow ban and some blatantly have been, is it really fair to provide something to compare your numbers to? However, whatever changes happen, at the end of the day as long as itâs the follower or engagement count thatâs going to get you paid work or your dream collaboration, people are still going to care a lot. So here it is, bearing in mind that I collected these samples after the alleged shadow ban occurred:
What Iâd like you to take away from this post is that even if you think that the shadow ban is a very real threat: we have not been singled out. Â We havenât been suspended for suspicious behavior so relax; youâre not a social media pariah. This limitation on hashtags could very well be the new norm. And as itâs affecting like, everyone, you shouldnât care so much!
With that in mind, I have another request of you readers and I am aware that I may be going for a little too much but I think that this is important to speak out about this. I have noticed that thereâs a prevalent, snarky attitude about how some large accounts out there only have a few hundred likes a photo.Â
Please stop, you donât know whatâs going on with them, maybe everything they have has been bought – but maybe it hasnât and theyâre scratching their heads wondering why their hard work has stopped paying off.Â
From looking at my sample pool, there are major outliers where some accounts have much larger engagement rates than the average, and some that are shockingly low. However, itâs not nice to make snide remarks and as you can tell from my previous post, engagement is very much to do with visibility. Also, having read this post about shadow bans, now you have an explanation for why accounts have their content obscured from hashtag searches. As naÃ¯ve as this may be, I like to think that whenever someone is unkind about something, itâs because they canât relate to it but I hope that with this post you can.
So now I conclude my last post of this series, which I must admit was quite unexpected. I really thought Iâd be posting the engagement chart right at the start of the text and encouraging everyone to focus less on likes and more on content. I donât want to detract from that message even though this has become a huge topic piece on its own. No matter how large or small your account is, let me tell you that youâll get attention for your numbers but respect for your content. Just think about what matters the most to you and you can make up your own mind about where to set your priorities. Thanks for sticking with me for this third and final part of the series and Iâd love to hear your thoughts on my Instagram comments section.Â
Runway Bandits jacket and top
Club Monaco shorts
House Thirteen jewellery
Larsson and Jennings watch
Sam Edelman shoes
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