Social Media

How Ham Made Me Learn More About Instagram Shadowbanning

A sudden, consistent drop in reach and engagement on Instagram usually means one of two things. Either Instagram’s algorithm changed recently or you’ve been shadowbanned. Since I spent last two weeks trying to figure out which one had happened to me after a funny incident involving ham (hamcident?), I wanted to share what I’ve learned.

What does it mean when your Instagram account is shadowbanned?

Your account is still active and accessible, but your content appears less often or not at all in Instagram’s different feeds: the home page, the explorer page, and specific hashtag feeds.

Removing or limiting your content from these feeds means fewer people will see and engage with it. It might not sound dire at first, but it can have a severe impact on brands and businesses. Being discoverable to new audiences (particularly through the explorer page) is part of an effective strategy for Instagram growth. A shadowban limits your account’s growth and can even cause you to start losing followers.

Reasons Instagram accounts get shadowbanned

  • Your content or your account has been reported for “inappropriate” inappropriate content enough times to reach the reporting threshold for Instagram’s automated community-safety policies
  • You’re using a bot/automation service to gain followers

What happened with my account? And why was there ham?

First, I have to point out that I still use a personal account on Instagram, not a business one. That means I don’t have access to analytics data. I started wondering if I’d been shadowbanned after I posted a picture that didn’t get a single like after 4 hours. I immediately suspected it was due to the hamcident.

You see, I was researching some restaurants for an article I was writing and came across one where some menu items had descriptions that mentioned “ham powder.” The discovery of this horrifying-sounding seasoning led to an exchange of ham puns with a friend on Facebook Messenger. They were so delightful that I took screenshots and posted them to my Instagram story for all to enjoy.

Soon after, I got a notification from Instagram that my content looked branded, and I needed to appropriately mark any content that was sponsored. I tapped the option that said it wasn’t sponsored content, but the notification still remains at the top of my feed two weeks later.

Instagram screenshot. "Review branded content. If your post is branded content, add a paid partnership label to show your followers who you're working with. See branded content policies. Add paid partnership label or this isn't branded content.

The first post I put up after that happened was the one that had no likes after 4 hours. It was very sad. My husband worked hard on making me a mojito, and he thought it came out so pretty that I needed to post it. He was sad when no one liked it.

Since the notification about sponsored content wasn’t going away, I thought the lack of engagement on that post was related. So I experimented with my content a little, using the universally loved content of cat pictures as my litmus test. That post, too, barely got any attention. Bianca’s feelings were very hurt.

Then I set out to learn about shadowbanning and discovered that it’s actually really easy to test your account. Thankfully, it turned out I hadn’t been shadowbanned. The August 2022 Instagram algorithm update just happened to roll out while I was in ham land.

How to check if you’ve been shadowbanned on Instagram

  1. Reach out to someone who has an Instagram account that doesn’t follow yours to help with the test. (I asked a friend who doesn’t have her own account, but manages one for her work.)
  2. Create a new Instagram post using hashtags you regularly use. (It’s helpful and an overall good practice to not use tags that are insanely popular with millions of uses; opt for something still in the thousands.)
  3. As soon as the post goes live, ask your test partner to check the recent feeds for the hashtags you used.

If your partner sees your post, congratulations! You are not shadowbanned. But if they don’t, bad news.

Infographic on how to test if you've been shadowbanned on Instagram
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Check if your content could legitimately be causing your audience to report you and stop posting that kind of content. If there’s nothing objectively offensive about your content and you believe you’re being reported unjustly, get in touch with the customer support team and bring lots of screenshots to support your case.

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