The penalty-that-shall-not be named—the Instagram shadowban—strikes fear into many content markers’ hearts. As it should. Nobody knows how long this slap on the wrist for reckless hashtagging lasts. And while it does, Instagram’s algorithm blocks your profile from new users’ feeds. More terrifying still, it doesn’t tell you this is happening. It’s a silent punishment. One that Instagram STILL hasn’t fully admitted to carrying out as a form of censorship.

Because of the notorious shadowban, some social media marketers have stopped using hashtags entirely—or very sparingly. But that’s detrimental to growing your Instagram following and getting the exposure you’re striving for.

Here’s why and how you should absolutely still use hashtags in your social media marketing strategy on Instagram—plus a few ways to determine if your account is in penalty. If you need help with social media marketing in general, check out our DIY downloadable social media kits.

Why You Need Hashtags In Your Content Marketing Strategy

1. Reach

Hashtags are the SEO of your social media profiles—helping people find your content through organic search. Even if you only have a few likes per post, check out your Instagram for Business account analytics to determine the reach you receive. If you’re using no more than 30 hashtags per post, you should have exposure in the hundreds if not thousands of users.

Choosing to forgo hashtags means you won’t get that organic algorithm boost and appear in front of current and prospective followers. That’s a big price to pay to avoid a small risk of falling victim to the Instagram shadowban.

2. Relevance

Being a part of the conversation about breaking news, trending topics, holidays, and general interests is huge. Hashtags help you do this! Plan these events into your hashtag strategy so you don’t fall into obscurity while competition engages with your customers.

3. Conversion

We’ve established that hashtags are vital to getting in front of potential customers. Why is this important? Because hashtags help you make sales! About 70 percent of shopping lovers say they use Instagram to discover products to buy. Use hashtags in your bio in conjunction with your website link to make the connection from Instagram to sale easy. Also, consider adding hashtags to your stories and a swipe-up option to take users directly to your product page. The shorter the funnel, the quicker the sale.

How To Hashtag Responsibly and Avoid the Instagram Shadowban

Avoid Banned Hashtags

Banned hashtags aren’t just x-rated, inappropriate, or offensive. Sometimes they’re as benign as #TGIF. The good thing about hashtags is that you can always get creative. If you want to hone in on the Friday-loving crowd, try to spell out #Thankgoditsfriday instead. A few years ago, there were over 100,000 banned hashtags on Instagram. Unfortunately, there isn’t a great way to access the list as a whole.

So what can you do? Google hashtags in your industry to safeguard yourself from using a banned hashtag. If you’re not using these hashtags as spam and in a bad context, you should be safe from the Instagram shadowban.

Don’t Use More Than 30 Hashtags Per Instagram Post, And Try to Stick to 10

Since 2018, Instagram has allowed users to include 30 hashtags per post. While there’s debate over whether you should use all 30, if they should be in the main caption or in a comment, or if you should add asterisks between post copy and hashtags, the shadowban doesn’t seem to care.

Just don’t use over 30 hashtags per post. Otherwise, they’ll be nullified and you won’t rank for any. This is Instagram’s valiant attempt to prevent spam from infiltrating feeds. Obey and be rewarded! Stick to 10 tags per post and you should be in the clear.

Don’t Use the Same Hashtags Over and Over

Instagram favors instant, authentic, and human content. Even posting from scheduling platforms seems to tip off the algorithm compared to manual posting. For the most part, if you act like a human instead of a bot, you shouldn’t get shadowbanned. This includes mixing up your hashtags in every post. While it’s okay to repeat a few branded hashtags, you shouldn’t use the same #Friyay or #wellnesscompany tags each time. If you need help with hashtag research, download our 365 Days of Post Ideas, Social Media Planner, and Ultimate Social Media Strategy Guidebook!

Don’t Market Illegal Products or Services

As a digital marketing agency that specializes in the health and wellness industries, we have to tiptoe around products and brands that contain and sell CBD, cannabis, and THC. Some accounts that overtly promote these products on Instagram get their accounts deleted entirely. This is way worse than a temporary shadowban, so read up on how to market your cannabis and health and wellness products responsibly and legally. If you need more help, reach out! We’re experts in the FDA and social media guidelines required in the health and wellness space.

How to Determine If Your Instagram Account Has Been “Shadowbanned”

Part of the reason why the Instagram shadowban is so unnerving is that it isn’t clear when you’ve been penalized. The only way to be sure is to look over analytics and see if your growth has stalled or dropped, search for hashtags you use and see if you show up, or ask users to see if your content is present in their feeds. If you think you’re shadowbanned, don’t freak out. Just amp up your social media efforts and cross-promotion on your other channels until the air clears.

The shadowban is something to be wary of, but not uproot your entire social media strategy. Follow the tips above to use hashtags to your advantage so they benefit you and do no harm.