Is Instagram's Algorithm Actually Hurting Your Growth?

Is Instagram's Algorithm Actually Hurting Your Growth?

Instagram's algorithm is a complex and often misunderstood beast. While most creators try to "crack the code", some common Instagram strategies may actually be harming your growth.

In this post, I'll share examples of how the algorithm can limit accounts unfairly. You'll learn which behaviors trigger "shadow bans", and how to reset your standing with Instagram.

Disclaimer: All images featured in this post were generated using DALL·E 3. While the visuals are a testament to the capabilities of this AI model, any text associated with the images might contain errors or inconsistencies. Enjoy the creativity, and please pardon any textual hiccups!

The Creators Caught in the Algorithm Trap

Recently I consulted with a creator named Brooke (not her real name). Despite having 13,000 organically grown followers, her account was stuck.

Engagement remained mediocre. Her Reels would fluctuate between 1,000 to 7,000 views. Just enough sporadic success to keep her hoping - but not consistent growth.

Upon auditing her profile, Brooke seemed to be doing everything right. Her content quality was on point for her niche. She was posting consistently. So what was limiting her reach?

It turned out Brooke's account had all the hallmarks of an algorithm-imposed "shadow ban". This is when Instagram restricts an account's reach and discoveries without outright banning them.

Shadow bans aren't discussed officially by Instagram. But through extensive testing, I've identified the types of behaviors that trigger them. This happens even when you aren't visibly violating policy.

Here are some examples of innocent behaviors that can tank your Instagram standing:

  • Using engagement pods or exchanges: This signals to Instagram that you care more about vanity metrics than providing value.
  • Aggressively following/unfollowing: Mass following people only to unfollow later destroys trust in the community.
  • Overusing hashtags: Repeating the same tags frequently comes off as spammy.
  • Buying followers or likes: Inauthentic growth is easy for Instagram to detect and penalize.
  • DMing people en masse: Mass outreach triggers spam detection.
  • Violating community guidelines: Even minor or accidental offenses get tracked.
  • Having an outdated account: Letting your account go stale for too long confuses the algorithm.

In each case, Instagram will lower your "trust score". This makes you appear higher risk, limiting your reach and stifling growth.

But here's the frustrating part - once your trust score drops, it's nearly impossible to regain Instagram's favor. You might see an initial boost, but most creators end up stuck again soon after.

For Brooke's account specifically, the red flags were:

  • Most of her followers came from pre-2022 viral moments. That audience had disengaged.
  • Lots of early followers were friends/family who didn't match her target niche.
  • The sporadic viral spikes had attracted the "wrong" audience.

For accounts like these, a fresh start on a new profile tends to be the only solution. Let's walk through why that worked wonders for Brooke.

Succeeding with a Fresh Instagram Profile

Given Brooke's limited reach and disengaged followers, we advised creating a brand new profile.

Sure enough, within just a few months her new account grew exponentially:

  • 37,000 engaged followers
  • 500,000+ Reel engagements
  • 7.6 million Reel views

How did she pull this off? It came down to two key factors:

1. Targeted Content Strategy

Brooke focused on creating content precisely matched to her ideal audience. She doubled down on content types and topics that performed best.

With a blank slate account, the algorithm served her content to real potential customers. This supercharged organic reach.

Brooke also focused on high-value educational content over vanity metrics. This built trust and authority.

2. Fresh Trust Score

By starting completely fresh, Brooke's account had no historical dings against its trust score.

The algorithm was able to clearly see that her account valued community and engagement. This gave her the momentum missing from her old profile.

Within a few months, the algorithm consistently pushed her content out further. If she tried salvaging her old account, it could have taken years to undo the trust score damage.

Key Takeaways

While Instagram wants creators to succeed, their algorithm decisions aren't always transparent. Your account can be "shadow banned" for innocuous behaviors.

However, with a strategic content plan and fresh trust score, it's possible to unlock exponential Instagram growth.

The key lessons are:

  • Study your analytics to identify algorithm obstacles early. Don't assume you're "doing everything right".
  • Be extremely cautious about vanity metrics. Don't chase follower counts over engagement.
  • If you have an outdated inactive account, start fresh. Old disengaged followers will only limit your growth.
  • Spend the first few months focused on high-value content for a specific niche. Build trust and calibrated reach.
  • Remain patient and consistent. The algorithm needs time to gather enough data before consistently promoting your content.

Instagram still provides immense opportunities - but only if you play by the algorithm's rules. Now you have insider knowledge to build an account set up for long-term, trust-powered growth.

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