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Instagram: The Truth...

Quite frankly, Instagram is Pissing. Me. Off… with its algorithm, shadow banning and profit boosting advertising. As I scrolled through the same old brands at the top of my feed wondering why I no longer see any relevant content I wondered: Is Instagram’s business acumen and profitability stifling creativity and freedom of speech on social media? And is Instagram becoming a discriminatory force in the social media world? Well here’s the T… 

I have been using Instagram now for several years, and for me it has previously been a hive of fashion, friends and fun. The whole structure of Instagram has changed since it was first launched, pitched to us as a glorious new form of social media that was picture based, something that was new and exciting at the time, a concept that really fit into the growing popularity of iconography. However, as the popularity and rise of the social network grew, so did its uses, with more businesses, famous faces and industry insiders using the app as a tool to aid them. For a long time it’s been great, it’s been a tool to socialise with likeminded individuals, make new friends, reconnect with old ones, and like me, to use the app for work, as a business tool for the growing number of millennial bloggers, writers and artists who require the exposure social media can give them to work your way into an industry that can be hard to get into. I started with no friends, or followers should I say, and I have used the app to create traffic to my own website where I blog about fashion and beauty. For me, Instagram is a social tool, and in the early days it very quickly became a place of friendship as the social app aided me to be as social as I liked, and we all loved it. 

Fast forward several years, and I now have a very small 6,100+ followers, and I personally follow over 1,100+ people back, whom I love to follow and interact with. The app aided me to interact with PR companies and industry insiders and now for the past 4 seasons I have attended London Fashion Week and had so many opportunities presented to me for which I will always be grateful for. However, there is a growing number of users, like me, that have noticed something. In an app that once gave your freedom of speech and a fair user experience to all users, Instagram seems to have forgotten small pages like us, with engagement shrinking, likes dwindling and with friends and followers saying they no longer see our content, what’s is going wrong?

The Algorithm Well, you may have heard of the Instagram algorithm, something that was presented when the app changed its timeline from a chronological one, to a carefully curated feed, naturally curated by Instagram of course. This wasn’t a popular move at the time, with people complaining,  yet they all seemed to have stayed with the app and moved on. The algorithm however, from experience, doesn’t seem to be working for me. Instagram is a business, and I understand that, but Instagram is a form of social media, and this algorithm does not seem to be reflecting that, favouring large celebrities and brands, and missing out pages with small followings, and these small pages are my friends, friends that unless I search for, no longer show up on my feed. It’s common knowledge that the algorithm only allows you to see a small percentage of posts and this in itself is stifling creativity and also the reach of your photos or videos. You were less likely to miss posts when they were in chronological order simply because they were all posted and there to view, the algorithm does not make all posts available on your feed. Very often you may notice that posts are simply out of date and no longer relevant also, I had a post yesterday at that top of my feed that was 2 days old! Shadow Banning This is something that I only recently found out about. It was during London Fashion Week as I was gossiping with fashion-friends during the shows about the poor Instagram engagement issues that I was welcomed into the secret of shadow banning. Shadow banning is where Instagram will stop your posts being seen under the hashtags that you have used, therefore hindering your reach to new potential followers. It took a little online research to find out why this happens, and unfortunately it’s not really good news. Shadow banning is a feature Instagram has to help stop spamming and negative Instagram activity, such as the use of BOTS and fake followers etc, but it is increasingly evident that more and more genuine accounts are being caught up in the ban, and mine is one of them! Instagram will look out for accounts that may post too many times under the same hashtag and therefore banning the account being shown up under that used hashtag. I have also read that if a hashtag suddenly has a lot of activity and posts under it, then the whole hashtag itself can be shadow banned, not just your account. The annoying fact of the shadow ban is that you don’t know you have been shadow banned by Instagram. You post as normal but simply won’t get much interaction. The shadow ban also doesn’t just ban you from certain hashtags, in the process of banning you, it bans ALL hashtags you used on a post, so don’t think you are safe by using as many hashtags as you can in an attempt to get a wider reach, if you have been shadow banned, you’re screwed. This is something that has happened to me, and it wasn’t till London Fashion Week that I had noticed. I am someone who used to copy and paste the same hashtags to each post, I did this because all my posts are similar & aimed within the fashion community, therefore tags such a #OOTD #FahsionBlogger #Blog etc were relevant to me and therefore used a lot. However according to the secret shadow banning, this can be deemed as spam, and innocent accounts, like mine can get blocked. This could be yours too! On my research I did also note the use of BOTS & apps where you can buy fake likes and followers, not only is this false, but for those of you that have done this, could be harming your reach. This is one of the things that the shadow banning looks out for, and if you are a naughty fellow that uses such things, you may be shadow banned also.

Business Accounts vs Personal accounts As bloggers, brands and media personalities grow their following, many opt to change their Instagram accounts from a personal account to a business account. With the lure of extra features on a business account that promises extra in-depth information on your followers, where they are located, when they are active, and interesting data on the reach of your posts, you can see why many people opt to change. However, does having a business account harm your social reach on Instagram? This was a subject that was harder to research online but I do want to highlight to you all that Instagram is a business. It isn’t a nice little place where you can share ideas and thoughts through your photos anymore. Instagram’s owners use the app to make money, and this is something many people forget. So why would Instagram discriminate between business and personal accounts? Well, simply put, if you are a business account they presume you are looking at promoting and making money through your Instagram, and business are known to pay for extra promotion on its social media posts, and therefore if you promote a post to reach a wider audience you pay Instagram a fee. So if your post on your business account just “happened” to be not doing well, a business account is seen to be more likely to pay Instagram a fee to promote it, earning them money, with you hoping it reaches a vast audience on the app. I’ll be honest and say that I’m speculating on this theory, but it is very plausible, and as I changed my account back to a personal one I did notice slightly more engagement, but it was only slightly!

Those are the issues I’ve personally faced, but there’s also a more sinister problem that isn’t really talked about. According to many research articles & journals online, Instagram is known to be one of the worst social media outlets for mental health. Many people use Instagram, and other forms of social media to display a perfect persona, which is common, however with instagrams tactics, constant media pressure to be young, happy, affluent and pretty, instagram could be seen as taking its own part in the rise of the ever growing number of secretly unhappy users. In the words of my friend Saffy, @StyleGrimoires: “The direction instagram has taken, is only going to make people feel worse. Your own friends don’t see your pictures, likes dwindle and you feel like you’re not good enough. All because Instagram doesn’t think your content deserves to be seen. They’re fuelling the issue.”

Instagram’s wholesome image that it created following its successful launch is somewhat now tarnished, with news of shadow banning, fake accounts, bots and underhand tactics to engage you into using its paid for services. I am personally totally over the discriminating between accounts. My account, even though it has a small following is just as valid as an account with a large following, so Instagram, please sort yourself out! Get rid of your automatic systems of shadow-banning and tactics to boost you profit and give us back the friendly Instagram community we once had.... 

With a special thank you to Saffy @StyleGrimoires for your help with this article, and a thanks to Simona Jausovec for snapping these shots back in September 2017 during London Fashion Week, taken at Itsu in Covent Garden.