Imagine posting your content on Instagram, but no one except you could see it.
Imagine being practically invisible—on a visual social media platform.
It’s the stuff of Instagram nightmares and yes, unfortunately, it does happen.
Note – it’s not shadowbanning! Instagram have referred to the practice as ‘limited distribution’.
And it’s usually brought on due to black hat marketing tactics that violate Instagram guidelines.
Black hat strategies are usually designed to grow your Instagram account in ways that are often unethical. Instead of focusing on real, authentic growth on Instagram, these practices attempt to game the system for the sake of more followers, likes, or comments.
Needless to say, black hat Instagram marketing tactics can be very damaging to an Instagram account. You probably already know that. So if one of these accounts has made itself into your client portfolio—we’re here to help.
This guide will help you get a better handle on the situation, understand whether your account is undergoing limited distribution, and what you can do to get back on track.
Let’s get started.
Black Hat Instagram: Find Out if You’re Guilty
So you’re guilty of black hat Instagram marketing. Or are you?
Sometimes, you may find your clients are completely oblivious about what is considered “black hat” in the world of Instagram marketing. A marketing tactic that may seem like an obvious “hell no!” to you, may sound like a “genius hack!” to them.
Bearing this in mind, know that simply asking your clients, “Did you use any sketchy methods to grow your Instagram?” may not get you the answer you need. To get a true, realistic picture of why the Instagram account is struggling—you may need to ask more direct and specific questions about the tactics they have used before you took charge of their account.
Below are some of the most common black hat Insta tactics that get accounts hit with limited distribution and/or action blocked. Review your account to see if you can spot any of the issues. If not immediately obvious, ask your client, specific questions about these issues.
Content that violates guidelines
The first step in auditing your Instagram account is to review the content. Nudity, self-injury, violence, hate speech, or any graphic content is a complete no-go on Instagram. Additionally, spammy content also angers the Insta AI gods.
By the way, spammy content could mean images with lots of text, captions promoting Bitcoin (you know the ones), over-the-top salesy videos that aren’t related to your brand, or even sharing unrelated links in your profile or stories.
If your account is guilty of posting content that goes against Instagram’s community guidelines, there can be consequences. Sometimes Instagram will automatically remove content that violates their guidelines, but often your content just stops appearing in your followers’ feeds and you become invisible.
Posting too many times
Go postal on social but you know, like a normal person. Posting too much and too often also makes your account look spammy. If you’re a small business posting several times, you’re going to annoy your followers and likely get unfollowed.
Too many unfollows, or being reported by users for spammy content send Instagram a signal that your account isn’t exactly providing the best experience on the app. This leads to your content being suppressed and showing up less and less in feeds.
Too much interaction
Engaging on Instagram is great but there can be too much of a good thing. There are limits to how much you can interact with other accounts on the app. This includes taking actions such as liking, following, commenting, and sending direct messages.
Hourly and daily action limits vary depending on the age and trustworthiness of your account. You may not be able to follow more than 7-10 accounts per hour or can only leave 2-5 comments per hour.
Instagram wants actions and on the platform to authentic. As we mentioned above—too much interaction in a short period of time usually leads to action blocks. Action blocks can last anywhere between 24 hours to two weeks.
Using the same hashtags over and over
Hashtags and Insta go hand in hand. But if Instagram’s cryptic “issues with hashtag search” statement above is anything to go by—use them but don’t abuse them.
It has been common practice amongst Instagram marketers to create hashtag sets for accounts and use the same set of hashtags on every post. Too much of this too often and your account risks facing limited distribution.
Also, review the hashtags being used on the account. Sometimes, hugely popular hashtags become overrun with inappropriate content. Seemingly innocent hashtags like #prettygirl, #boho, or even #snowstorm are now tags best left out of your sets due to the spam they attract.
When a hashtag becomes a spam-favorite, Instagram will often limit its usage. If your account has used that particular tag, it will stop appearing under that hashtag. However, what’s worse is that your content will likely stop showing under other hashtags used in the same set as well.
Buying fake followers
Follower growth on Instagram needs to happen organically. As this gets harder and the social media landscape gets more competitive—many brands are buying Instagram followers to appear bigger than they actually are.
While the numbers may get an ego boost, your engagement rates will plummet when your follower base is fake. The lower your engagement, the less valuable your account to Instagram. This means your content will be surfaced less often as the Insta AI starts to believe your followers don’t really like or want to see your content.
Engaging in follow/unfollow
Follow/unfollow is exactly what it sounds like. Account owners will follow other accounts in the hope that these accounts will follow them back. Once they get this return follow, they unfollow them.
This is a blatantly spammy practice yet somehow it is repeatedly recommended by many Instagram amateurs. It is Instagram’s version of “get rich quick.” Needless to say, rarely leads to a genuine or engaged audience. While the follower numbers might grow, all other metrics suffer. Too many follow/unfollows and the account is also at risk of being action-blocked.
Using Insta-unfriendly services
There are many third-party Instagram services and bots out there that promise growth, engagement, the moon, and the stars.
Guilty as charged? Don’t lose hope yet. In the next section, we discuss how you can undo the damage of black hat, and recover your client’s Instagram account from the ban.
If you’d like to learn more (or educate your clients) about how to grow an Instagram authentically, learn how to grow your following sustainably organically here.
The Fix: 7 Ways to Bounce Back from Black Hat Tactics
While black hat marketing can do a lot of damage to your account (and your business’ reputation)—recovery is not unheard of. Your goal must be to bring your account back into the white hat, community guideline following, authentically engaging world of Instagram.
Here are some suggestions that can help you recover your affected Instagram account.
Do nothing for 48-72 hours
The first rule of bouncing back: do nothing.
Yes, you need to clean up your account and post new content. You definitely need to build a real (not bought) community. But first, just stop.
Sign out of the app. Change your password. You could even delete the app from your phone for now and reinstall it once your break is over.
2-3 days should be the minimum break from the account. Some Instagram experts even recommend stopping for about two weeks to really give your account the best shot at recovery.
Doing nothing on Instagram acts as a reset for your account. It allows Instagram to review your account and check if you’re still in violation. Not posting or actively engaging on your account eliminates the possibility of any future transgressions.
Once your self-imposed hiatus is over, it’s time to spring into action.
Tip: Remember, take it slow. Try not to do too much, too fast. Remember what we said about too many interactions making you look like a spammer?
Revoke 3rd party app access
First things first, get rid of any apps or third-party services that your account may be linked to. Of course, we don’t mean that you remove legitimate tools like Sked Social that help you simplify your Instagram scheduling and posting.
Remove any other services that may have been used to follow/unfollow, automate liking or commenting, and the like.
- Sign in to your Instagram account on desktop
- Go to Settings > Apps and Websites
- Check the list of apps on the Active tab.
- Remove any questionable apps and websites.
Review and remove hashtags
Next, review the hashtags being used on your posts. Have you used the same sets over and over again on multiple posts? Or maybe you’ve used a banned hashtag. A quick Google search will help you identify the hashtags to stay away from.
Start deleting all hashtags from your posts. If you know exactly when your saw content start to decline in quality or engagement, you can delete hashtags on posts starting from that date. If you’re unsure, delete hashtags on at least two weeks worth of content. If you have used the same hashtag sets on posts older than that, continue deleting on as many posts as necessary.
Tip: If you want to create hashtag sets to streamline your Instagram process—great! But, be mindful about using these sets. Don’t use the same set in every single post—especially if the hashtags aren’t relevant to your post. Create a few different sets and only use tags related to your actual content.
Switch to a different type of profile
Another strategy you can try is changing the type of Instagram profile. If your Instagram is a personal account, switch to a business profile. If you already have a business profile, switch to a personal profile. You can always switch back again once your account is restored to normal.
While it is unclear exactly why this practice works, many Instagram users believe it has worked for them. It may be another way to “reset” your account in Instagram’s eyes.
Remove fake followers
Whether or not you purchased followers for your account, it’s likely your Insta has some fake followers. It’s time to do a cull.
Remember—stay away from the sketchy third-party apps. This is a manual process. Review your followers one by one and block any that seem suspicious.
While doing this, be careful not to get action-blocked for being over-zealous in removing your ghost followers. (the irony!) Remove a few at a time each day so your account doesn’t get flagged for spammy behavior.
Report the problem to support
It could also be helpful to report your issue to Instagram support. Instagram receives thousands of support requests each day so this may be a long shot but it’s worth trying.
- Click on the cog icon on your profile.
- Go to ‘Report a Problem’
- In the box that appears, write a brief note about your issue. You could simply state that you don’t see your posts appear alongside the hashtags you used.
The most important tip to keep in mind when working on your account recovery—be patient. Yes, it’s frustrating to watch the client’s Instagram account languish recovery can’t be rushed.
It’s tempting to apply all the fixes in a rush but all the over-the-top activity could result in getting action blocked or limited distrubution – again! Take your time with your fix. Do a little at time so you don’t appear suspicious.
It may take a couple of weeks to get out of it. Pay your dues and just follow the steps outlined above. In the long run—you will have a clean Instagram account that you can work on building up again.
How to Revive Your Account and Monitor Progress
To reiterate that last point, changes to your account won’t happen overnight. Educate your clients about the damage black hat tactics have caused to their account. Explain that the recovery process is slow but you are working on it. Feel free to send them this article too.
Start posting again
Once you’ve cleaned up the account, it’s time to get back on the horse. Start creating and sharing content on your Instagram account.
Needless to say, your content has to be of the highest quality. It should be interesting and valuable for your community. It should also follow the community guidelines we discussed at the beginning of this article. Since you’re trying to revive your account, ideally you want to post every day. Maybe even twice a day.
Remember to only share content that is relevant to your industry. Don’t be tempted to share random meme content just to chase a few likes in the short term. You need to stay hyper-relevant to get your community’s attention back to your account.
Also, this is not the time for promos and ads. Again, it’s tempting, we get it. Promos always get engagement but this boost is usually temporary and does you no favors. Stick to value for now. Promos can be back on the menu once your account is back in business.
Note: Once you start posting again, you will probably notice a drop in followers. You will lose people who didn’t realize they were still following you or aren’t interested in your account anymore. However, on the plus side, you will also notice who is interested in your content, who likes your posts, and who engages with you.
- Post quality content
- Post consistently
- Post relevant content
- Don’t post promos or ads
Engage with your followers
As the genuine comments and DMs start rolling in, engage with them. This is your real community and it’s time to get them involved again. Actively engaging with your followers also tells Instagram that you’re posting quality content. More engagement usually leads to your content showing up in your followers’ feeds more often.
To drive more engagement with your followers, don’t forget to make the most of Instagram Stories. Post engaging stories and polls. Ask questions. These smaller interactions also count as engagement and are great signals for Instagram.
Watch the hashtags
As you know by now, if your account is facing limited distribution, your content would not appear when searching for the hashtags you used. To avoid this from happening again, make sure to only use relevant hashtags.
Once you clean up your account and start again, keep a close eye on the hashtags you use. See if your content starts to appear with the hashtags you use. If it does, it means the ban has lifted and you are no longer invisible.
Keep an eye on engagement rates
Having a huge number of followers can be a huge ego boost however it’s never been the right metric to use for Instagram success. Your engagement rate is a much better metric to go by.
Keep an eye on the interaction on your page. Likes from real people, genuine comments, responses to your Instagram Stories are all good measures of real interaction with your account.
Report on progress
As your engagement rates start to improve and your followers skew more human than bot, you can start reporting your progress to your clients.
To demonstrate your progress, share:
- Your new, better quality content.
- Week-on-week improvements in engagement rates.
- Screenshots of your content appearing in hashtag searches.
- Screenshots of genuine interactions with your community such as comments, DMs, or even poll participation.
Black Hat Instagram: Just Don’t Do it
So what’s the moral of the story here, kids? Don’t do black hat.
You probably already know that but remind your clients too. Educate them about what real, authentic Instagram growth looks like—and it doesn’t involve buying followers or using bots to leave comments.
As the saying goes, if it’s too good to be true—it probably is. Using black hat tactics on Instagram or any other social media channel is short-sighted. Any growth you get from these tactics will likely be temporary.
For sustainable, authentic Instagram growth, stick to the community guidelines, post quality, and valuable content, and engage with your community like a human and not like a bot.