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Sunday, 1 October 2017

Instagram Algorithm, Shadow Banning and Pods Explained

I think we can all agree that there's a general consensus throughout the blogging community right now that Instagram is going down the pan, but I couldn't disagree more. With the new(ish) changes to the algorithm, I personally think people's issues with the platform are because they don't fully understand how to use it, or what the algorithm is actually doing. This in turn is made even worse by so many people spreading incorrect information over social media. 

Every day I'm seeing people getting so upset with the platform and I'm also seeing others discussing information that quite frankly, is completey incorrect, which is why I wanted to write this post. I'm not saying I'm an expert on Instagram at all. I don't have loads of followers and it's not a platform I particularly try really hard to grow for my blogs sake. I just like sharing my own photos, and like looking at others. I feel like I understand how the algorithm works so I wanted to share this with everyone to try and reduce all of these myths that are flying around.

Instagram Algorithm, Shadow Banning and Pods Explained

First things first, Instagram is not out to 'screw us', this is a phrase I'm seeing on a daily basis (and worse). Think about it, Instagram is, at the end of the day, a business. Without their customers i.e US, they have nothing, so it's only in their best interests to create a platform that meets everyone's needs. The new algorithm hasn't been created to affect any of us in a negative way, it is meant to make the customer experience better. 

So let me explain how it works...

The new algorithm works by taking into account our activity on Instagram, and giving us more of what we like essentially. If we like a certain type of photos, similar photos will show on our feed and discover tabs. If we like/comment/interact with certain people's photos and accounts regularly, the more you will see them on your feed. If you regularly check someone's account, the chances of their photos appearing on their feed is higher. Instagram is trying to do the thinking for us, by showing us the photos they think we'll like. 

Why don't some people's photos show on my feed?

If someone's photos aren't appearing on your feed, there's two things you can do. Firstly, go to their profile and turn notifications on. This will alert you every time they post which means you'll never miss a thing. But of course, we can't do that for everyone. If you want someone to start appearing on your feed, you just need to start interacting with them more. It may take doing it a couple of times for Instagram to work out you'd like to see their posts but manually go to their profile and like and comment on their photos. If you do this a couple of times, I guarantee they'll start appearing on your feed. You also have to continually interact with their content for it to keep appearing. Trust me, it does work, I've tested it on loads of people. 

Why is our feed out of chronological order?

One of the biggest changes Instagram has made recently is to change our feeds out of chronological order. Since this change was first released, Instagram has made an update to it which I've definitely noticed, for the better. The whole point is Instagram is meant to be showing us the photos they think we'll like near the top, regardless of time. I personally think this change has helped my interaction from followers. Before the update, I used to get likes and comments on photos for quite a short amount of time after posting but now the time I post doesn't really matter and the likes and comments seem to come in for a much longer period of time. This means that my content is appearing on people's feeds for a lot longer than previously with the chronological order. 

Whilst I understand we don't want to be seeing people's breakfasts at dinner time and we want to see what people are posting today, not yesterday, in terms of the time in which our content is shown on our follower's feeds, this update has really helped with increasing interaction on my posts. 

How can I be seen more by my followers on their feeds?

The simple answer to this is to encourage our followers to interact with our photos. Once they start liking our content, it'll be more likely to be shown on their feed. The best way I've found to do this, is by interacting with their content too. Taking time to follow, like, comment on other people's profiles is often reciprocated and it's a circle of increased interaction for both parties. 

This is a social media platform at the end of the day, and this requires social interaction from both sides. We cannot expect to never interact with other people's content but expect them to like and comment on ours. 

Are Instagram pods helping to beat the algorithm? 

For those who haven't already heard of them, an instagram pod is a private group chat of members who make a commitment to like and comment on everyone else's content. Some have very strict rules like every member needs to like and comment by XX time, otherwise they're removed, and others are more relaxed. So based on what I've said above, this is the reason Instagram pods were born. People think that if they're in a pod, it's grauratneed engagement, making their post look popular, and making them feel better about having higher 'engagement' and that their posts will show on more people's feeds. 

But do they really help increase your engagement? Not really. An instagram group can only have a maximum of 15 people (I think it's 15 any way), so yes, due to those 14 other people liking and commenting on your content, you may have a few more likes and comments than normal, and your content may appear on those 14 people's feeds more often, but it's probably not going to help you reach new audiences, which is meant to be the goal isn't it? Instagram knows that the same people are liking every single photo, every single time, and that the popularity of that photo is contrived, and not natural engagement. 

Most importantly however, instagram isn't silly. Like any website and social media platform, they are completely against inauthentic engagement and they're already putting rules into place to stop this. There are limits on how many times you can like or comment within a certain time frame to specifically stop this behaviour. I've seen plenty of bloggers who are in pods have a short term ban on instagram due to overuse. Everyone I've seen so far be banned on instagram has been involved with pods - not a coincidence. These rules put in place are already making it more difficult for people who are in pods to like and comment on everyone's posts regularly. My personal opinion is that at some stage, people who use instagram pods will be punished by Instagram. We've seen it happen with Google and people selling and swapping links, so I wouldn't be surprised if Instagram follows suit. 

Personally for me, being in a pod means fake engagement. We shouldn't need to TELL people to like and comment on our content, they should do it if they genuinely do like it, and it be of their own choice. It's pretty obvious the people who are in a pod because every single photo has the same kind of comments from exactly the same people each time, and it doesn't look good, and Instagram is on to it. 

Shadow banning

Another issue currently hitting many influencers is 'shadow banning'. Basically the issue of our posts not showing when certain hashtags are used, which therefore decreases our overall visibility and decreases our potential engagement. I've seen a lot of people say they've been shadow banned, and when I look on their profile, they're using the same irrelevant hashtags all the time. I'm not saying it's the case with everyone, but this is just one of my observations. 

Shadow banning is again, another way for Instagram to be cutting back on on people trying to cheat the system and people who spam. Examples I've seen of people being shadow banned are those that use popular hashtags on irrelevant posts. For example, #KylieJenner is a popular hashtag, there are almost 10 million posts on instgram using this hashtag, but are all 10 million posts actual photos that have any relation to Kylie Jenner? No. See the point? If you're posting a photo of make up, but using the hashtag #luxurytravel for example, Instagram sees that as spam because you're purposely using irrelevant hashtags in order for your content to be seen on popular hashtags, hence why you get shadow banned. Same goes for all the people that use #like4like #l4l etc - Instagram sees this as spam. 

So how not to get shadow banned? Use relevant hashtags and don't overuse them for the sake of it. Basically use hashtags for the reason they were intended; to allow people to search for relevant content. 

How can I use the new algorithm to grow followers?

Like I said, I'm not an expert on Instagram at all, but from my observations, talking to other people about the platform and from doing a lot of online research, the best advice I can give is hard graft. Everyone knows instagram is a hard platform to grow but it is possible,

  • Post regularly 
  • Post unique/your own content - don't copy other people's photos or take things from Pinterest
  • Use relevant hashtags, and not always the same ones - unless they are completely relevant to the photo
  • Follow/comment/like other people's photos
  • Don't use any kind of automated system or bot
  • Don't overuse the platform to the point that Instagram might think you're spamming
  • Promote your instagram account on other social media platforms
  • 'Follow trains' on Twitter and Facebook are a great way to find and interact with new bloggers
Problems Instagram still has to face

Of course Instagram isn't perfect and still has many issues to face, more so than any other platform in my opinion. There is an extremely large amount of people using bots and automated systems that really needs to stop. These systems either follow loads of people then unfollow them straight away, or mass like  and comment on photos. I'm sorry to say that even some of my friends use them/have used them, which upsets me greatly.

There is a large amount of people buying followers, which is something I've also seen a lot in the blogging community but I know the rest of us are waiting for the day when we wake up and those bloggers followers have completely dropped overnight.

I think there is a general mistrust in Instagram. It is a very hard platform to grow a following on, which is why a lot of people have turned to underhand tactics. A few years ago Instagram got rid of thousands of dead/fake accounts and so many people lost thousands of bought followers overnight, I'm just waiting for the day this happens again.

The point is, Instagram IS trying to make the platform a better place for all of us. They are trying to stop spam and stop people cheating the system so if we play the game right, we should have no problems. For now, the best we can do is support each other and use the platform in the way it is intended.

Feel free to leave your instagram links below.

Love Lauren xx


  1. Since all the changes I think I've actually had better engagement, and of course it has made me work harder to interact with others - which can only be a good thing! It's still kind of annoying at times, but I do understand the changes.

  2. Oh finally a post about instagram which is actually useful and is not just bitching about the changes! Thank you, this was really helpful :) x

  3. God this blog post is refreshing! I have been a little quiet on the tpic just because I can't be bothered to explain some of the points you make here but the points you make are absolutely correct! If you don't interact with your fave people of course their content isn't going to show up on your feed! A really, really brilliant post and very well written!xx

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  4. I found this sooo helpful. Thank you for doing this post x

  5. It would just be nice to have the choice to go back to recent posts (I was hoping with FB owning it, they would given FB still has it). Something is going wrong when the algorithm is showing you posts from months ago in top 9 hashtag 9, and your feed is showing you posts you've already liked. And the explore feed just explores mostly huge IGers and instead of flipping through photos on a theme, you get numerous pictures from the same person. Feels to me like something's not quite right. Added to that all the follow/unfollow stuff going on and things are going backward for me.

    While comment pods might feel like false likes, if they're people you follow anyway and would want to ensure you're seeing their photos, is it not just another way of getting notifications like you're suggesting?

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