Everyone who is heavily involved in the Instagram world has noticed that the last few months have seen less engagement from their followers and a more difficult time growing. We're all freaking out because besides the hard feeling of no one "liking" our art, we also think Instagram = Business.

I'm not going to claim to be the expert here, but based on a few helpful posts I've read (here and here), these are the tips I found to be most helpful, and my conclusion on what to do about the Instagram shadowban:

Tip #1: Don't overuse hashtags:  The days of copying and pasting a paragraph-long chunk of hashtags may be over. Rumor has it that Instagram recognizes this is a hack to get more followers, and they're cracking down on the use of hashtags that are irrelevant or inappropriate. Some people have said it will help to put the hashtags in the caption instead of the comments. Its also a good idea (shadowban or no shadowban) to work a little bit harder to find the best, specific, most relevant hashtags you can find, and only use those. 

Tip #2: Don't use a like bot, and don't act like one: Instagram has been publicly attempting to get rid of spam accounts and fake likes or followers (thank you, Instagram), including shutting down Instagress (which some people separate as "not-spammy" because it's not forcing any followers in return).  This affects us in three ways: 1. If you're using Instagress, you may get marked as a spam account. 2. You may see a decrease in likes because your former likes were coming from spam accounts that got shut down. 3. Even real, manual liking and following could look like spam to Instagram if you're over-doing it. 

Tip #3: Don't worry too much about that "test it" site: There are lots of opinions on both sides about the site that supposedly allows you to see if your post was shadowbanned. It could be legit, but the point is, if you're seeing fewer likes and followers on your account, you are generally affected by this. I wouldn't worry too much about the site.

I spent a full day thinking so much about all of this... What will the future of Instagram look like? Is it all just a game now? Will we be back to where you have to be super rich to succeed instead of having a free, global network where you can actually be discovered and make a living as a tiny business? On the other hand, I'm glad Instagram is cracking down on spam accounts because they're really really annoying. And as frustrated as I am by the possibility that Instagram is manipulating everything to make more money... that is a good business move for them. 

Here are some ideas I think will help to keep in mind:

Thing To Keep In Mind #1: Maybe we need to throw back to face-to-face networking. Some of the accounts I follow that have grown the fastest in the last year have happened because they are dynamic people who are constantly getting connected with people day to day in real life as well as on social media. The more interesting and involved you are in real life, the more loyal your followers will be and the faster you'll grow. And that's something Instagram can't really control.

Thing To Keep In Mind #2: There are still ways within the app to get great engagement on Instagram: I've seen some success in altering my editing style: brighter, warmer, more saturated images, for example, will likely catch someone's eye in the explore page more often than a minimal, desaturated photo (as cool as those are) just because they pop more. I've also found that iPhone photos do well because they feel relatable, and captions that tell a story or ask a question can help. It's still good to consider timing, sharing on Facebook, hashtags and tags, etc. There are still lots of tools that will help, even if it's more work and less predictable results than it was in the past.

Thing To Keep In Mind #3: Even if Instagram = Business, Followers don't necessarily mean business. Followers help, but it depends on your field. Some of the most successful photographers I know (financially speaking) have hardly any followers on Instagram. In the same way, I know several people with tons of followers on Instagram that are dirt poor and barely scraping by. In my opinion, followers and engagement matters if you want to get paid as an Instagram influencer, because companies will hire you based on your stats, but if you're just trying to get new clients and you're using Instgram as your portfolio or marketing strategy, you might be able to be just as effective without engagement. 

What do you guys think? Any helpful Instagram strategies out there?