Any of you other bloggers out there still frustrated and struggling after Instagram’s mysterious “shadowban” and non-chronological feeds algorithm updates this past year? You’re not alone. In fact, I’ve talked with dozens of bloggers, watching helplessly as our Instagram engagement and following plummeting after Instagram’s update seemingly targeting unsponsored businesses (like bloggers) on Instagram.
We get it Instagram, you want to make money through advertisements. But the beauty of influencer marketing is that we don’t advertise. Nor do we want to. Influencer marketing is about real, personal connections amongst people with like interests. Back in the good ol’ days when photos popped up in the order they were posted, my Instagram was booming with an incredible engagement rate and a follower growth around 100 per day. Unfortunately, those days are gone thanks to Instagram’s prejudice in what they’re showing in the feeds. But as with every artificial intelligence, there are indeed ways around it to re-grow your account back to its original glory.
Here’s what I’ve discovered, that’s helped me back on the upward charts of growing my Instagram following after the 2017 algorithm changes.
Completely re-think your hashtags
There are three, very important changes you should make to your hashtag Instagram strategy to increase your followers in 2017 and into 2018. Back in the day, I used to recommend starting bloggers to take advantage of all 30 hashtags in order to reach the largest audience. That’s no longer the case. First, reduce the number of hashtags you’re using. Instagram is treating over-hashtag usage like spam. If you want your hashtags to mean something, simmer down a bit, but not too much. I’ve found the new ideal balance is around 18-22 (though that’s not a science).
Second, no copy and pasting. What do you mean? Remember that list you made of the top 20 hashtags most relevant to your posts? The one you copied in the bottom of your caption or quickly added to your own comment section. Trash it. Copy-pasted hashtags apparently look a lot like spam to Instagram. It’s important to be original (we’ll be talking more about that below). Mix it up, and keep your hashtags original per post. That doesn’t mean you can never use the same hashtags, it just means they shouldn’t be verbatim ever single time.
Lastly, get specific. Using hashtags like #fashion and #minimalist may just sound like exactly what you’re doing, but there are presently 438,648,539 posts with the hashtag “fashion”, and that number has probably grown exponentially just since I’ve finished typing this sentence. The most impactful use of hashtags are those that wind you up in the “top posts” section.
If you think you’re in the top 9 posts of 438,648,539 #fashion today, by all means, #fashion. If not, try something more specific.
You can combine a couple of words narrowing your niche. #minimalistfashion spreads the same message as using both #fashion and #minimalist, but with only 58,434 posts currently, you’re a lot more likely to snag that coveted “top post” rank.
What’s so important about being in the top posts? If you don’t make the top post, your photo (no matter how gorgeous) will be buried within minutes, totally hidden from the eyes of your potential followers. By achieving the “top post” spot, your exposure time can be extended up to a couple of days! This blows up the opportunities you have to reach new fresh eyes, and grow your Instagram account. I’ve found targeting hashtags under 50K current posts is the sweet spot. Find yours.
Oh yeah, and that shadowban thing? Make sure the hashtags you’re using haven’t been banned. As with many of Instagram’s rules that don’t really make sense, Instagram hasn’t published a list of “do not use hashtags,” so you’re going to have to keep doing checks since who knows when they’ll update that again. You may be surprised on how some innocent tags may be blocking your post entirely. To see if you’ve been shadow banned, try a shadowban scan to see whether or not you’ve made it onto Instagram’s growing “naughty” list.
Engage, engage, engage
We all know, this has always been an important part of the Instagram community, not only in developing new followers, but also maintaining personal connections with those people you’re already connected to. After Instagram’s chronological feed change, this is even more important. Why? Because Instagram is trying to show mutual accounts the photos they are most closely related to… so if you’ve been commenting or liking your followers photos, Instagram is going to read that you guys are totally cool, and they’re probably going to want to see your post.
Be active, be real, or don’t expect it in return. This is a time investment I promise will pay off in the long run.
Instagram is coming hard on anything that even remotely smells like spam. That includes taking a sideways look at you if you’re leaving the same or similar comments all round town. Be original if you want to grow your following on Instagram. We get that you “love it!” But as with life, sometimes love just isn’t enough. Be specific. Not only in what you’re commenting on other people’s posts, but how you respond to your friends commenting on your own. Instagram is a family, and saying I love you just isn’t enough. You’re going to have to prove it.
Experiment with a business account
Remember that part about Instagram wanting to increase their ad revenue? One option is, play ball. If they want you to pay for ads or face the consequences, give it a try. There is a lot of mixed rumors online about whether switching to a business account with inevitably drive your engagement down as Instagram “catches” you and seeks to run you dry. But, there isn’t been any evidence, and the reviews are pretty mixed. So if you dare, give it a try. You can always switch back. I’ve updated my Instagram account to a business account to take advantage of swipe-up stories and some additional analytics. I may even try an ad. Though it’s too early to tell if it’s had a negative impact, I’ll be sure to keep you guys posted (or when you see my account return as a personal account, you’ll know what happened).
Instagram’s algorithm changes have definitely improved the social landscape in some ways. Those truly spammy accounts that are trying to buy followers, likes and comments or get them through bots are slowly getting shut down, and no one will miss those. But Instagram’s secondary motivation in boosting their ad sales has definitely taken a tole on unsponsored, authentic accounts.
These ways have really helped me continue to grow my Instagram account without having to invest a budget.
There are so many things I could talk about like quality of photos, tagging featured brands and searching for campaign hashtags, but this post is already so long, so we’ll save them for another day. Hope you’re able to rebuild your Instagram to its original glory with these growth hacking tips!