Okay. So in the big wide world of things (Syria, Brexit, Trump, KFC deliveries) having an issue with a social media platform is pretty much the equivalent of a middle-class problem. I am my own snowflake.
But, in the last few weeks, I've been having a problem with the humble hashtag. Y'know, the # sign.
It's got a checkered past the hashtag - as a marketing type of some years standing I've been used to seeing everyone going ape for it and slamming them all over their 'content' to get it to go 'viral' and quite possibly (and worst of all...) 'trending'
Anyway, as a photographer using Instagram - the natural home of photographic content - I'm now pretty used to the basic hashtag strategy involved to get my photos noticed on the main explore pages and not some little backwater of my own. To wit:
- 30 hashtags chosen to represent your photo.
- A mix of big hitter wider community hashtags and niche interests ones.
- Don't use the same ones all the time. Try new ones out.
So those were my 3 golden rules learnt at a bearded hipsters knee. However, about a month ago something changed. Usually, when I posted something new I'd get a few likes instantly and then it would climb and flatten off at around 50-60 likes and a few new followers. But suddenly... silence. Crickets. Tumbleweed.
Well, almost. My loyal-ish following kept liking what I put up for the most part, but where were the newbies? My reach and engagement had disappeared overnight - no one was seeing my photos. I've got a business to run here! Sob.
Well, turns out I'd been hit by the mysterious 'shadowban'. The name makes it all sound very supervillain, but basically, it means you've done something, somewhere - probably using hashtags - which has upset the algorithm gods of Instagram.
There's lots of cobblers spoken on the web about the shadowban, and because it's the internet you end up confused what's true or not (fakenews!) but after a bit of sleuthing this what I found.
- Instagram has a #shitlist. If you use any of these on the following link here you'll get yourself banner or worse binned. Don't do it, dude. Yes, you. In your pants. I can see you.
- There's a second list which constantly changes which no one is quite sure about.
- There's a rumour that the shadowban is placed upon business accounts that don't use a lot of Instagram advertising. I didn't find this - my feeling is that its big-corporate-tin-foil-hat brigade at work.
But, the good news - I escaped the ban. First of all, as you guys can tell I take a lot of street photography. Well, I'd been using #streetphoto which had appeared on the naughty lists (which considering some of its company seems a little mild but still...), so once I'd gone back and MANUALLY deleted it from 200+ posts they started to appear again.
However, that wasn't enough. Oh no. I took the hard road and went through every image and every hashtag to see which was broken. Finally, I sniffed out #instadaily - a pretty much benign mass hashtag which was my downfall - removed that, again off 100's of pics and bang - I was back in business!
Top tip btw - the best way of checking if you're back is to have a small time hashtag so you can see you're appearing - I use #worsfold which is hardly a mass market deal right now. If my image wasn't appearing there, it wasn't anywhere.
So, alls well that ends well? Almost. I'm pretty gripey at Instagram, to be honest. I mean, they don't owe me a living, but would it be too much to ask to implement a dialogue which says 'Sorry, you're using a banned hashtag - please choose another!' or send you an automated message? Could they not add some way of doing an audit or edit on your hashtags? It would appear not.
The only thing us users can do is keep a watchful eye. There are other tricks that people have done (moving back to personal accounts, taking a break of a few days etc) but it i think it's pretty much just having a good best practice to hashtags.
My process now is to use a clean set I keep and then throw the odd new hashtag in when I fancy - but check it's ok first and also check you turn up in your feeds post upload. It's just good practice as even the safe clean hashtags you're using now could end up falling under the shadow.
So, if you're suffering from a lack of likes then do an audit and check those tags. #goodluck