You work hard to build your Instagram audience. You spend hours making content, figuring out the best caption and engaging with your audience. With all that work, you manage to make it up to ten thousand impressions on your Instagram posts — and then the next day you’re suddenly down to less than a thousand. What gives?
Instagram’s constantly changing algorithm is often blamed for losing engagement fast, but it turns out there might be something else at play that is preventing your audience from seeing your posts — specifically, banned hashtags.
Instagram’s Hidden Bank of Banned Hashtags
For however long now, Instagram has been banning hashtags without making the hashtags that were banned fully public. This decision to not disclose which hashtags were banned could come from the amount of backlash that the company received back in 2015 for banning #curvy. Body-positive activists were quick to point out that the app was banning a hashtag that was specifically created for curvy people and, considering Instagram’s history of treatment of the curvy community, they were not happy about it.
Today, #curvy is no longer banned, but there’s over 114,000 other hashtags that are — and they might just be preventing you from getting seen.
Although the #curvy community fought back and got the hashtag reinstated, today #curvygirls is one of the many hashtags that is on the list of banned words. Other banned hashtags include #tanlines, #assday, #costumes and #desk.
A number of the hashtags seem to directly target women. In addition to #curvygirls and #tanlines, the list includes hashtags like #fitnessgirls, #beautyblogger, #bikinibody, #petite and #models. If you were to look up these hashtags today, you’d find a message saying that recent posts from the hashtag are “currently hidden because the community has reported some content that may not meet Instagram’s community guidelines.” The fact that these hashtags directly target women isn’t entirely a surprise as Instagram’s community guidelines has special stipulations as to what constitutes nudity for women.
Another one of these hashtags, though, doesn’t just target women. It targets women who are monetizing their Snapchat. In fact, #snapchat is on the list of banned hashtags. So if you’re promoting your Snapchat on an Instagram post, your post just got banned.
What Happens When You Use a Banned Hashtag
When you use a banned hashtag, you can guarantee that your post is not going to get seen. Even if you use all thirty allotted hashtags, if just one of those hashtags is a banned one, all of your other hashtags won’t work either. That means that you’ll only be relying on your followers to get seen, which isn’t the best idea considering if a follower hasn’t been engaging with your posts, they’ll eventually just stop seeing it.
If you’re consistently using banned hashtags, you’re also putting Instagram on alert. And if they decide that your content isn’t quite within the guidelines, you might end up shadowbanned. That means that even if you stop using banned hashtags, it doesn’t matter. A shadowban prevents your posts from showing up for anyone other than people who are already following you. If Instagram deems that your content is very far outside of community guidelines, like if you show a nipple in any post, you may end up fully banned and, in an instant, you will lose all of the followers you’ve worked hard to get.
What You Can Do About It
Because of the fact that Instagram doesn’t publicize its full list of banned hashtags, it’s very hard to find a comprehensive list. Not only that, but some are permanent bans while others are only temporary. What’s banned today might not be what’s banned tomorrow.
To avoid using banned hashtags, you’re unfortunately going to have to look up each and every hashtag that you want to use before you publish your post. The hashtag will not show up in search until you type it fully out. Then, you’ll see a white circle with the hashtag next to it. Click to see if it has the “recent posts are hidden” message and then you’ll know if you’re looking at a banned hashtag.
It’s important to do this for every hashtag you want to use because you never know what could be banned. No one who is posting about desk organization is really expecting that their post is banned because they used #desk, but it is.
You work hard for your content. It may take more work to get your content seen, but your hard work shouldn’t go to waste just because you used #fishnets.
JackieMichele is writer and marketer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has appeared on Yahoo, Food and Wine and the Huffington Post. She’s been an editor, an influencer strategist and ghostwriter, a librarian and a teacher. Follow her Instagram at @jackie_gualtieri and contact her via email@example.com.
Header background image by Tofros.com via Pexels. Screengrabs by the author.