For a long time now many digital marketers (myself included), small businesses and other industry professionals have lived in fear of the great nefarious "shadow ban".
This, as it turns out is about as real and scary as the monster under the bed.
So what is "shadow banning"?
Shadow banning was a term used to describe an action whereby a social media platform provider would limit the reach and/or engagement of a user that it considered to be producing low quality content.
Users who were spamming, posting inappropriate content or using the platforms to engage with illegal activities could simply have their accounts deactivated for violating usage terms. But what about those who were simply producing low value content that reduced the quality of the user experience? Surely The social media platforms would want to do something about them?
Recent changes in the algorithms of providers such as facebook and Instagram have meant that users who had previously received high levels of engagement on their posts suddenly experienced a drop in interaction and reach. Of course, something had to be to blame for this phenomenon and so the term "shadow banning" was borne.
There are literally hundreds of theories or myths as to why someone may be shadow banned. Here are some of the most popular ones debunked....
Using banned hashtags will hurt your reach.
For those who aren't aware, a hashtag (#) is kinda like a search term. When you type in a specific hashtag, for example #dogs into Facebook, Instagram or Twitter you will see a list of all the posts that have #dogs used within them. Using hashtags is a great way of getting your content seen by people who aren't already following you on social media.
A "banned" hashtag is supposedly one that can hurt your reach, render all your other hashtags void or even get you "shadow banned" *insert scary music here*.
Now, technically banned hashtags do exist. There is no comprehensive list of banned hashtags. This is because a lot of them are only banned temporarily.
I created what I thought was a pretty definitive list of all the banned instagram hashtags HERE
However if you were to go onto instagram now and type in #popular (one on the list) you would see that this is now regularly in use.
However, a "banned" hashtag is nothing nefarious and will do nothing but come up with no search results. Therefore using one is simply a wasted hashtag.
In a 2018 interview Instagram product lead Julian Gutman categorically said that "Instagram doesn’t hide people’s content for posting too many hashtags or taking other actions."
Using the same hashtags will get you shadow banned.
Again, nope. For the same reason above, Instagram has said that post reach will not be compromised by anything you do with your hashtags.
Video is favoured by social media algorithms.
This does have a little truth in it. What you see on social media is based upon your preferences. Therefore if you watch lots of videos then you will continue to be shown videos. If you never click on videos then you will see less of them.
However the stats very clearly show an exponential increase in the amount of viewed and shared video content on social media.
So What is happening? Why has interaction decreased?
There are 3 main reasons why we are all seeing a decrease in the amount of reach that we are getting on social media.
1. The number of businesses now using social media as a focused marketing strategy has exploded! We are spending more time than ever before on social media, but we still only have one pair of eyes!
If we divide the number of monthly facebook users by the number of business pages in 2013 then each business would have an average potential audience of 77. By last year it was less than half that. Social media for business is getting more competitive.
2. Social media providers are getting smarter at spotting spam accounts and bots. In the last quarter of 2018 Facebook removed nearly 600million fake accounts. A lot of these accounts are run by bots and all they do is view content. These accounts contributed to a huge amount of view-count hits without providing any sort of meaningful customer potential.
This bot interaction is especially obvious on Instagram. How often have you uploaded a post to insta to have someone who isn't following you comment "Great pic" or "Love this!"? I'm sorry to tell you but @bravo297 doesn't love your content, it's just a bot. However useless this sort of pointless interaction is, it still counted towards your engagement so as the bots were expelled, everyones engagement dropped.
3. Platform providers (especially Facebook) are working very hard to create the perfect social media experience for the end user. If someone follows your business page but never interacts with your posts, Facebook will see it as irrelevant content. Over time the algorithm will start to reduce the number of posts that the user sees in favour of something they have shown interest in. If a page follower isn't seeing your content, you haven't been shadow banned, they just haven't shown any interest in your post.
So what can I as a business owner do about it?
1. Produce high quality, engaging and relevant content.
2. Don't be so sales-y. Only 1 post in 3 should be a direct sales post otherwise you just come across as spammy and boring.
3. If you want interaction, ask for it. Share a poll, ask a question, invite opinions.
4. Don’t get so hung up over the numbers. It's far better to have 100 followers that are your target market than 1000 who aren't.
Now, if you have been "banned" from a platform then none of this will be helpful to you. You need to look into what it was that the platform thinks you did and rectify it.
Got more questions? Contact us to see how we can help increase the effectiveness of your social media presence. firstname.lastname@example.org