Hi everyone! This is set to be quite a long, wordy post all about shadowbanning and the future of instagram. If that's not what you're here for and you are just keen to find the recipe for this delicious glutenfree chocolate granola, then please scroll right the way down where you'll be sure to find it. If you ARE here for lots of info on shadowbanning, then I suggest you grab a mug of green tea, curl up on the sofa and prepare yourself for a long read!
Ok, you ready? So, I've noticed that there have been lots of posts on instagram about shadowbanning over the last week or so. But to be honest the whole shadowbanning thing isn't that new; I have actually known about it for several weeks, thanks to this brilliant post by Sara Tasker. Though I think she says it all, things have evolved slightly since then, which is why I thought I'd give you my take on it all if I may...
What is shadow banning?
I assume that most of you know what shadowbanning is, but just in case you don't, it is the term used to describe how instagram seems to omit a person from the hashtag grid of hashtags they have used on their image. So for example, prior to shadowbanning, if I tagged one of my images on instagram with #vegan, my image would appear in the #vegan grid. This meant that people interested in vegan food could easily discover my account if they looked at the #vegan grid. You can see what an important tool hashtags and hashtag grids are in order to drive traffic to your instagram profile; it's the best way to get new followers. It's also a great way to engage and connect with your preferred audience and with like-minded individuals.
Now the sneeky thing with a shadowban is, that if I check to see if my image appears in the #vegan grid, it will be visible to me and everything will seem totally normal. However, if I check the #vegan grid from another person's account, especially one that doesn't follow me and hasn't discovered me yet, my image may or may not be visible to them. Freaky right? The result is a massive drop of likes, comments, new followers and general engagement.
Why is this happening?
Initially there was a sense that people whose behaviour was not in line with instagram rules were being penalized and that in the process, rather accidentally, innocent accounts were being affected too.
So what type of behaviour am I talking about here? Well, stuff like using automated bots to comment on or like other accounts, using the same hashtags every single day (which looks spammy from instagram's perspective) or dodgy follow/unfollow practices.
There was a cryptic message from instagram at some point I have been told stating that they were aware that there were teething problems with the hashtag system and that they were working on resolving it. Some people speculated that perhaps there was a bug of some sorts and/or that instagram just couldn't cope with the large amount of users overloading their app; shadowbanning was their way of (temporarily) managing this influx of data.
Why I think this is really happening!
1. Like Sara Tasker, I think that there isn't really a shadowban in operation. Instead, I believe that hashtags - like the rest of instagram - are now no longer showing in chronological order but instead are subject to algorithms; this explains why my image would be visible to me but may or may not be visible to a complete stranger. My sense is that instagram always had the intention of making hashtag grids follow the algorithm system, it just took them a little longer to put everything in place!
2. I don't believe that there's a bug or that instagram can't cope with the current amount of users. Instead I'm rather convinced this is a very strategic move from instagram to ensure that users pay good money for what is in effect currently free ad space. Getting user to pay is their way of cashing in on the success of their app. Simples!
So what can you do about it?
The political activist in me would LOVE to start a riot and ask everyone I know to stop using instagram for 48 hours to see what happens! As a form of protest you know, to show them who's boss! But my pragmatic side says this is sadly the lie of the land and things are NOT going to change, if anything I anticipate matters getting worse. Though I wish I had some good news, when it comes to free reach and engagement, I don't. The change in algorithm during the summer of 2016 was just a taster of what awaits us and shadowbanning is merely a continuation of the plan instagram has for its future and the future of its users. I foresee things continuing in this vein, so brace yourselves!
I appreciate that this isn't a very helpful answer, so I've got some more ideas and suggestions below...
What does this mean for creatives wanting to share their work?
If you are genuinely serious about making art, algorithms, shadowbanning or other freaky instagram practices should not matter to you in the slightest. Sure, I TOTALLY get it, having people give you feedback and like and appreciate your photography is so uplifting. But, it's not the be-all-and-end-all. Remember the number of likes and comments is not a sign of how good or bad an image is! Your worth or your artistic abilities are unconnected to the amount of followers you have, so please don't be discouraged! Continue to post and enjoy the process of making and sharing. There was art before instagram and I sure do hope there will be art in the post instagram era too!
What does this mean for individuals wishing to connect with like-minded people?
I have e-met so many lovely people via instagram and I have ADORED connecting with them virtually. There are women across the globe who I consider my instagram buddies and if it weren't for the internet, I'd NEVER have met them. It sucks to think I can't see their posts and support them in the way that I want to. However, I will do my utmost to continue to connect with my instagram friends in real life, just as I have done for the past 3 years. Alternatively, if this is not a possibility for you, why now think about setting up a whatsapp group or a closed facebook group (I'm actually part of one of those) where you share thoughts, creative projects or your latest blog posts? I believe genuine, real connections will survive and setting up these little groups is time consuming, but so worth it as you are shifting the power from instagram's hands back into your own!
What does this mean for small businesses who use instagram as a marketing tool?
This is the million dollar question isn't it? As someone who not only earns money through sponsored posts on instagram, but who also uses social media to promote workshops, food photography classes and supperclubs, I'm one of the small businesses affected by this shift. It's unsettling, sure, but NOT the end of the world. There are a number of ways I am working towards ensuring I continue to be able to do what I love. For one I am offering an instagram mentoring service where I'll be sharing some tips and tricks. You can find out more about that on my events page ;). And secondly, without giving away the content of my mentoring sessions, I would suggest that you create a high quality platform that you update regularly where people can find you and your services. This platform can be a blog, a website or a little cafe in your hood. Whatever it is, ensure that it's something that you have full and complete control over!
Before I leave you with my final verdict and this week's recipe, 1 more thing for creatives and business reliant on instagram. I know instagram's move seems cruel and money oriented. And in many ways, it is! But they don't owe us free ad space. In fact they don't owe us anything. Let's take this shadow banning as a warning as well as an opportunity to think creatively about our businesses and how to find the dream customer. There are 1000s of ways to promote your business that don't include social media, so hang on in there. You got this ;).
And finally, where does this leave instagram?
Have you ever heard of MYSPACE? Hmm I don't blame you if you haven't. But, essentially it was this app that was MASSIVE back in the early 2000s . I think it even preceded facebook, but it's pretty much completely disappeared now. I never used it, so can't comment on how good or bad it was BUT my point is: apps - even those that seem massive and indispensible now - come and go with the tide. I suspect that instagram's time at the top is slowly coming to an end and I also suspect that somewhere in Silicon Valley there are some whizz kids creating the new and improved instagram-like platform/app, waiting to take the internet by storm.
Thanks everyone for reading through this long, long blog post. I'd love to hear your thoughts, concerns, questions and comments below :).
Also, rather than returning in 2 weeks, I'll actually already be back next week with a delicious recipe. See you then!
VEGAN GRAIN-FREE CHOCOLATE GRANOLA (V+, ChF, GF, GrF,P)
This granola is not only completely vegan but also glutenfree, grainfree, refined sugar free and paleo! Despite all that it's totally delicious! I hope you enjoy it :).
Preparation Time: 15-20 minutes
Baking Time: 4 hours
Makes: a large jar of granola
1/2cup/70g pumpkin seeds
1/2cup/50g sunflower seeds
1/3cup/50g Brazil nuts
1/3cup/65g cashew nuts
2tbs chia seeds
2cups/75g desiccated coconut
5tbs coconut oil
1cup/240ml maple syrup
1tbs vanilla extract
5tbs cacao powder
Preheat the oven to 100C/210F.
Place the nuts in a food processor and pulse briefly ensuring the nuts are slightly broken down but still chunky. Remove the nuts from the food processor, lace in a large bowl and add in the seeds and desiccated coconut. Set aside.
Over a low heat in a saucepan, gently combine the coconut oil and maple syrup, stirring continuously. Then add the cacao powder along with the vanilla, briefly stir until combined.
Next pour this chocolate mixture over the nuts and seeds, mix until everything is nicely combined and all the nuts and seeds are covered with chocolate.
Put the chocolate nut mixture on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake at 100C/210F for about 4 hours or until crisp and dry.
Once done, remove and let the granola cool before serving.
Tip1: You can use different nuts of course! Please take these as suggestions.
Serve with...home-made almond milk. YUM!