Is Shadowbanning a Threat to Social Media Engagement in Multifamily?



Feeling invisible on social media? Sensing that nobody “likes” your posts anymore? You may be on to something. A stealthy form of online punishment known as shadowbanning has just gone mainstream. It turns out social media accounts have been silently removing user posts from the public eye and not telling them about it. That’s right: social platforms are exercising their right to make you, and your properties, invisible—and posing a problem for your apartment marketing strategy.

What exactly is shadowbanning?

Shadowbanning makes a person or company’s hashtags disappear from public feeds, rendering posts undiscoverable to anyone outside their circle of friends.

In other words, when a social media platform such as Instagram or Twitter believes that an internet user violated the terms and conditions of their contract, they put the user on a hashtag time-out. Shadowbanned users can still post, but their content is hidden from outside viewers and kept boxed in, invisible and unsearchable to anyone except their followers.

These actions are part of a noble effort to stifle abusive activity, but social media platforms still prefer to keep their shadowbanning policies more or less a secret.

Which social channels does it apply to?

Instagram and Twitter are the two leading shadowbanning culprits. Neither of them have officially admitted to the policy, but they’ve been dropping hints.

A few months ago, Twitter announced its anti-harassment initiative, a campaign to muzzle the reach of users engaging in abusive activity. Soon after, images from users of a Twitter email began to surface:

“We’ve detected some potentially abusive behavior from your account,” the emails read. “So only your followers can see your activity on Twitter for the amount of time shown below.”

It appears that when the Twitter bots detect just the right amount of inappropriate language, they issue a temporary 12-hour ban.

Instagram’s shadowbanning, on the other hand, is completely covert. A user won’t even know it’s happened unless she is aware of Instagram’s unspoken shadowbanning policy.

The effect of the ban can’t be underestimated. When new Instagram algorithms were implemented in 2016, users reported a drastic decrease in engagement. Hundreds in the frustrated Instagram community complained, and Instagram issued this response:

The message seems clear: “focus on your business goal rather than hashtags”. After admitting to a hashtag glitch, Instagram rather loosely implied that Instagrammers were the ones who could fix it.

What are the implications?

Given that hashtags are key to discovery on Instagram and Twitter, a shadowban is no laughing matter.

For multifamily Instagram account holders, this means fewer residents and less revenue. Thriving accounts stagnate. New accounts under a shadowban will find it impossible to build a following.

How do you know if you’ve been affected?

On Instagram, engagement drops, follower count falls off, and photos don’t appear in hashtag feeds. But how do you know whether it’s real or imaginary?

Fortunately, you can confirm whether you are shadowbanned or just plain paranoid with the new web app, the “Instagram Shadowban Tester”. It checks to see if Instagram content is publicly visible. If you’re struggling with low engagement on Instagram, take the test.

Alternatively, post an image with an underused hashtag. Log in from a friend’s account and unfollow your profile. If the hashtag pops up in the search, congratulations – you’re in the clear. If not, it’s likely you’ve been shadowbanned.

What behavior causes a shadowban?

On Twitter, shadowbanning is an anti-harassment effort meant to clean out the trolls. The more political or verbally offensive you are (not the usual case for a property management professional), the more likely you are to be banned.

Instagram’s shadowban is an attempt to filter out the spam. The more suspicious your account appears, the more likely you will be banned. Any behavior that violates community guidelines (spamming, copyright infringement, inappropriate content) is subject, but spam detection algorithms often trap unwary business accounts and keep them invisible for weeks or months at a time.


Actions that result in an Instagram shadowban:

1. You’re using bots to post pictures for you

This one is a given, as it directly violates Instagram’s Terms of Service. Instagram traces the IP address of each post. If they see an IP address from Chicago one minute and El Paso the next, a red flag goes up. Using bots such as Mass Planner, Followliker or Instagress to boost your following is sure to land you in the shadowban club. Software that posts images for you also results in a ban.

2. You’re using broken hashtags

Instagram can’t keep up with 700 million monthly users, so they search and destroy inappropriate content by its trending hashtag. Last year, Instagram cracked down on hashtags like #easter and #kansas which were purportedly being used to hide explicit content.

3. You’re exceeding activity limits

Instagram set parameters on how many actions can be taken on Instagram within a day or an hour. The limits are really quite generous. Though these may differ, the general rule is not to exceed 150 likes, 60 comments and 60 follows/unfollows per hour.

4. You’ve been reported

Instagram takes these reports seriously, and without the manpower to check a personal profile, they either disable or shadowban the account.

How to ­get rid of a shadowban

1. Stop posting with bots, period

As Instagram advised, “Be creative.”

2. Go offline for a few days

Not accessing your Instagram account for 48 hours can give Instagram time to reset. After 2-3 weeks, they may automatically lift the ban. When you return to Instagram, be sure to manually engage with the platform (no machines!) and abide by their limitations. If you were relying on the bots before, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can grow a following without the help of third-party applications.

3. Carefully examine your hashtags for innuendos

One way of checking this is to search all the hashtags you have used. A limited hashtag will display an empty feed or a notice that it’s been removed. Edit the broken hashtags out of your old posts or simply delete the images that contain them.

4. Don’t try to hack the system

Overloading your image with 30 hashtags and commenting on them with another 30 hashtags is a bad idea. Too many hashtags will eventually get you in trouble. Abiding by the rules is the quickest way to prosper.

Even though there’s ample evidence that Instagram algorithms deliberately shadowban business accounts, nobody really knows whether it’s a glitch or not. Instagram remains intentionally aloof on the matter, leaving all the guesswork up to us. In the meantime, if you follow the rules, post inoffensive language on Twitter and behave like a human (not a bot) on Instagram, we see no reason for your property’s accounts to go under.


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Sarah is a Dallas-based journalist who writes local news, blogs and content for major media outlets. She’s contributed to NPR, 91.7 KVRX and South by Southwest and has worked with international teams in Japan, China, Italy and Africa

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