Shopify Ecosystem

Shadow Banning And Your Influencer Marketing Campaign

shadow-banning-and-your-influencer-marketing-campaign

A shadowban might just be a minor inconvenience for the average social media user, but one of these unexpected and often easy-to-miss penalties could severely damage your influencer marketing program if not immediately addressed. Social media and influencer managers must keep close watch for any sudden loss of engagement, followers or any other red flags that might indicate a shadowban, and step in to fix the problems before it’s too late.  

Shadow banning is when a user is blocked or partially blocked on social media. The penalty is different from simply booting a user from an online community. Through shadowbans, the affected user can still access the community and leave comments, but the user’s posts will not be visible to anyone else accessing the site. 

The goal of shadow banning is to discourage the banned user from visiting the site after their engagement takes a drastic dip.  It is also an effective method to silence spammers and clean up an online community from bots or users who aren’t in the community for its intended purposes. 

While shadow banning has evolved into a trend found exclusively on social media, its roots date back as early as the 1970s. The early days of online gaming began on multi-user dungeons (MUDs) which offered players a virtual, text-based world where they could set up Dungeons and Dragons-style competitions in real time. 

Trolling was common in these communities the same way it is in the current digital landscape. But instead of a shadow ban, undesirable players were instead turned into “toads” (literally, in the context of the game) that were still recognized as a part of the landscape, but virtually invisible to other players. 

Shadow banning as it is known today came about in the 1980s and ‘90s with the rise of bulletin board systems (BBS). These systems ran software that allowed users to log into a system that essentially operated as a massive message board. Certain users possessed various administrative powers including “twit bit privileges.” These privileges allowed admins to flag harmful users as “twits,” which allowed them to continue reading public discussions but eliminated their visibility from the rest of the group. 

Rich Kyanka, the creator of Something Awful forums, said his site moderators coined the term “shadowban” in 2001. “We would use it as a joke and only do it to people who were intentionally trying to troll others,” Kyanka said in an interview with Vice News. “None of the moderators used it very often, and we got rid of it within a year, replacing it with simply banning the person.”

Regardless of whether its intention was serious or not, shadow banning has taken on a life of its own over the years. If not addressed immediately and effectively, shadow banning has the potential to serve as a death sentence for your influencer marketing campaign. 

A shadowban will cause your influencers’ follow counts and engagement rates to plummet. It will also cause their content not to show up in hashtags and essentially silence the voice that can be so critical to the growth of your brand. Frankly, a silent influencer is virtually useless to your campaign, so make sure to catch warning signs early to minimize the inevitable damage a shadow ban will cause your program. 

Overview of shadow banning by platform and how to tell if it’s happened to your influencer

TikTok

How to tell if your account is shadowbanned

Most TikTok users spend their time on the platform’s “For You” page (FYP). This page features a constant flow of videos that are curated to a user’s interests, making it easy for them to find content and new creators who are posting material that falls within their scope of interest.

Man confused by shadow banning in front of a computer
Man confused by shadow banning in front of a computer

A shadow ban will cause creators not to show up on FYP. Creators might not immediately know if they are absent from the page, but a sudden drop in engagement and/or followers is a huge indicator. 

Another way to discover whether or not you have been shadowbanned is to create a unique hashtag that isn’t being used by anyone else. Search the hashtag after you have made a post with it. If it doesn’t show up with any results, there is a very high chance you have been shadowbanned. 

Possible reasons for a shadowban

TikTok only wants users who bring positive attention to the platform. . If your content isn’t falling in line with the platform’s guidelines, you likely won’t be getting featured on the coveted FYP any time soon. 

TikTok will not hesitate to shadowban, or even permanently ban, users for posting content it deems inappropriate. Examples of inappropriate content include:

  • Hateful behavior
  • Violence
  • Illegal activity
  • Harassment and bullying
  • Nudity and sexual activity

TikTok will also flag accounts that spam or appear to be bots. The best way to avoid this is to not follow too many accounts in a given day, even though the method might be effective for gaining new followers.

How to lift a shadowban

There is really no tried-and-true method when it comes to lifting a TikTok shadowban. Fortunately, most users report that their ban doesn’t last much longer than about two weeks. 

The best use of that time is to go through your feed and clean up any content that could be deemed inappropriate by the platform. The posts where engagement and/or follower count begins to drop is a good place to start.  

Instagram

How to tell if your account has been shadowbanned

Instagram prides itself on promoting authentic content and won’t hesitate to ban users it believes to not be upholding the same values. If you have recently noticed a dip in followers and/or engagement, consider using Instagram Insights to take a deeper look at the data to find out when and where a shadowban might have occurred. But keep in mind that to do this, you’ll need to have a business or creator account. 

You can also use an approach similar to the hashtag method mentioned above. Make sure you are checking the hashtag search results from an account that doesn’t follow the account in question. If you find the post this way, you can rest assured your issue isn’t a shadowban.

Possible reasons for a shadowban

Instagram is working to clean up the swarm of comment section bots that arrive seconds after a piece of content is posted. Make sure you aren’t using bots anywhere in your Instagram strategy and consider removing any of your followers you suspect could be fake accounts. 

Hashtags are a great way to expand your reach on Instagram, but using them carelessly can get you banned. Creators should shoot to keep hashtags in the single digits and remember to stay up to date on hashtags that have been banned by the platform to avoid tripping Instagram’s authentic content alarm bells. 

Buying followers is the last trigger to consider when it comes to Instagram shadowbans.  A high engagement rate is essential for a successful Instagram influencer, so this method won’t do you much good anyway. 

How to lift a shadowban

Start by reviewing  Instagram’s community guidelines before you do anything. If you have been shadowbanned, there is a good chance you’ve violated one or more of these guidelines without even realizing it. 

Then go back through your posts and clean up any content that might not fall in line with the guidelines. This includes any bot activity, excessive hashtagging, banned hashtag, or illegal content. 

In addition, you can reach out to Instagram through its support page. Let them know what problems you are experiencing and if there is anything you can do to make your account reach the highest level of compliance with the platform’s guidelines. 

If none of these options work, consider shutting down the app for a few days. Oftentimes a suspected shadowban will take care of itself in less than a week. 

Facebook 

How to tell if your account has been shadowbanned

Shadowbans are fairly common on Facebook and can happen to just about anyone. Sometimes these shadowbans are implemented by mistake, but it is important to make sure you are actually affected by one before you begin to take steps to correct it. 

To do this, all you need to do is post on your feed  and ask someone you know if they can see it in their feed.If it doesn’t, you have likely been shadowbanned. 

Possible reasons for a shadowban

Facebook unveiled its “remove, reduce, and inform” strategy in 2016, which is meant to cut down on content the platform sees as problematic. The  goal of the policy is to “remove content that violates its policies, reduce the spread of problematic content that does not violate its policies, and inform people with additional information so they can choose what to click, read, or share.”

In other words, content that violates Facebook’s community standards will get you booted from the platform. Content that doesn’t violate the community standards, but is still seen as problematic (like misinformation and clickbait) will greatly reduce your reach.  

Since Facebook owns Instagram, the platforms share many of the same qualifications for a shadowban. This means no banned hashtags, bot behavior, or general disrespect for other users. 

How to lift a shadowban

Similar to TikTok and Instagram, there is no one action that can get a shadowban lifted every time, but reaching out to Facebook for guidance on why you might be having problems is as good a bet as any. A representative from the platform will audit your page for you if you contact advertising support in regard to your ad account, if you have one. 

YouTube

How to tell if your account has been shadowbanned

Like the other platforms on our list, a sudden drop in engagement and following on YouTube is a good indicator you are experiencing a shadowban. The methods for confirming your shadowban are similar, as well. 

Post some new content with and make your hashtags and keywords as specific as possible. Then search the content from a separate account. If the content is visible, your engagement decrease is happening naturally and you can start workshopping ways to get it back to where it needs to be. 

Possible reasons for a shadowban

Your YouTube shadowban is likely due to a violation of the platform’s community guidelines and policies. Youtube is fairly strict on a number of areas including:

  • Spam and deceptive practices
  • Sensitive content like child safety, sexual content, and self injury
  • Violent and dangerous content
  • The sale of regulated goods
  • Misinformation

You could also be shadowbanned even if you are not in direct violation of the platform’s guidelines. In the past, uploaders have faced a penalty for being reported too many times by viewers who simply didn’t like their content. 

How to lift a shadowban

The first thing you should do is report the issue to the YouTube support team. Follow the steps and a member of the team will contact you via email to explain the issue you’re facing and offer advice on how it can be resolved. In the meantime, go back through your content and make necessary tweaks after you have familiarized yourself with YouTube’s policies. 

Knowing what to do is important in the event of an unexpected shadowban, but remaining vigilant and catching shadowbans before they have time to damage your campaign beyond repair is a critical job for social media managers. Make sure everyone in one of these roles — including influencers — stays up to date with policies for each platform and best practices for posting. 

Remember, the goal of your influencer marketing campaign should be to create authentic and genuine content that engages your audience. If this is done successfully, your brand likely won’t have to worry about violating any rules that could result in a shadowban or worse.

Special thanks to our friends at Grin.co for their insights on this topic.