Why your Instagram engagement has dropped and what to do about it
If you have noticed a sudden decline in your Instagram engagement, this post is for you.
Lately, I’ve been hearing the same complaint over and over; that people are getting fewer comments and likes on their posts.
Some attribute the drop in post engagement to the algorithm, others blame 3rd party scheduling applications (such as Grum, Planoly and Schedugram) for their marked decline in Instagram lovin’. The infamous #shadowban has also been bandied about as a possible cause. However, after looking at my own accounts and those of my clients, I think that the answer is much simpler than this.
Which is great news because the solution is pretty simple.
I think that the decrease in engagement is less about your preferred posting platform, the algorithm or the powers that be “hiding” your content due to your chosen hashtags (although I DO love a good conspiracy theory!). I attribute the change to three factors:
1. There are now more users on Instagram
Whaaat? That seems pretty simplistic doesn’t it? But here’s the thing, the number of Instagram users has grown exponentially in the past 6 months. Instagram has now surpassed 1 billion <insert Dr Evil laugh here> users. That’s a lot of people vying for space in your feed. It’s basic mathematics; the more users, the less likely your content will appear in the one and only Instagram feed.
2. Instagram user behaviour has changed
As one of my favourite people on the internet, Tyler J McCall said recently, the party has moved from the feed to Instagram Stories. If you’re not using Stories you’re missing the party; you’re stuck inside talking to the elderly neighbour about her rheumatism when you could be poolside sucking down jelly shots and riding a giant inflatable swan (feel free to insert some other form of fun in lieu of intoxicated swan steering).
Instagram Stories are now watched by 500 million people every day. By the time I’ve finished writing this post, that number will likely have grown again. Your audience’s attention is now split between the feed and Stories. We all know the power of video for accelerating the Know > Like > Trust factor and Stories deliver that and then some. Snackable content that you can watch while multitasking is where it’s at for our attention deficit society.
Stories also provide a fantastic opportunity to connect and engage with your audience and the good ol’ algorithm LOVES engagement and favours those accounts with high levels of interaction.
3. You aren’t playing by the rules
It’s called social media for a reason. When was the last time you truly engaged with other people’s content? Engagement is a two-way street so if you aren’t liking, commenting, sharing or sending DMs to other accounts, this affects your own account performance. Try spending 10 minutes per day on focussed engagement. Seek out your ideal customer/client/reader via hashtags or the Explore tab and take the time to read, watch and engage with their content. You’ll notice the difference on your own posts in no time. Not sure how to do this? Grab your free 5-Day Engagement Plan.
4. Your posts aren’t showing up or you’ve been “shadowbanned”
It is normal for posts not to appear under certain hashtags as Instagram indexes content based on what is written in your caption and/or image alt-text. If these do not align with the hashtags used your content may not appear. If you use very large hashtags, your content is also unlikely to appear due to the sheer volume of posts. If your content isn’t appearing under ANY tags, however, there's a chance you've been shadow banned.
Shadow banning is “the act of blocking or partially blocking a user or their content from an online community such that it will not be readily apparent to the user that they have been banned.” – Wikipedia
On Instagram, when an account has been shadowbanned, content is visible only to the person posting. Other users cannot see it in the explore page or under hashtags. Instagram has confirmed that they do block certain content (see this statement from Instagram) but they do not explicitly say what “signals” are taken into account when deciding to block a piece of content citing only “community guidelines” as a factor.
Anecdotally, “spammy behaviour” such as the use of 3rd party automations to like and comment on posts, posting the same comment on multiple accounts, liking hundreds of posts at once and even posting, deleting and reposting can incite a shadowban. In addition, if your content is being reported by your audience your content could be hidden.
To check if you have been shadowbanned, ask another user who is not currently following you to search for your content under the hashtags you use. If they cannot see your posts, you may have been banned. Try these steps to rectify the situation.
Other factors that influence post engagement
> School holidays: If your audience are predominantly parents, pay attention to school holidays as this may effect if and when your audience is online and ready to engage. There’s nothing like a day spent trying to entertain children to suck the will to scroll out of you!
> Summer: Long hot days spent at the beach/park/dodging snakes whilst bushwalking may result in a temporary drop in your engagement as people choose to connect IRL (in real life) in favour of online.
> Daylight savings: Even an hour’s difference can shake things up on Instagram if your post hits before/after your audience is online. Any decrease in engagement around the changing timezones should quickly resolve itself once everyone gets their circadian rhythms back in check.
> Major events: If your followers are into events such as the Australian Open, the Olympics or (most importantly) The Bachelor finale you might notice a marked decline on your usually scheduled content. This should rectify itself once said event has passed (will you accept this Instagram post?).
The important thing is to know your audience and understand their rituals. These situational factors will cause your engagement to fluctuate. That’s fine and there is no need to panic if/when this happens. Simply adjust your post timings to suit these extraordinary circumstances. If, however, your engagement has been slipping slowly but surely over time, it’s time to shake things up.
How to boost your Instagram engagement
First of all, PLEEEEEASE, for the love of God, do not post those awful “this is a test” memes. This gimmick reeks of desperation and it’s honestly going to do nothing for your overall engagement, other than turn people off your account.
1. Step back and look at your account Insights as a whole
Sure, you may have fewer likes and comments on your feed posts but, if you are using stories, maybe you’ve got more engagement on them. If you have a business account, click the Insights tab to see (and track!) how much engagement your stories receive.
2. Prioritise Instagram Stories when planning your content
If you post twice daily to your feed, try taking this down to once per day and instead posting 4-5 stories throughout the day to see if this boosts your account’s performance. When crafting your stories, look for ways to encourage engagement – use the poll feature, ask questions and invite enquiries via DM.
3. Engage more with your audience to beat the algorithm
Instead of waiting around expecting others to engage with you, be proactive; The more YOU engage with your audience, the more likely your posts are to be seen in their feed and the more likely they will engage with you. Spend 10 minutes per day connecting with other accounts (like and comment on their posts and DM them). This boosts their account performance as well as your own. Win-win!
The one thing we can be certain of with Instagram, and social media in general, is that it is constantly changing. You need to adapt to these changes and go where the “money” is. If your audience is hanging out on Stories, then you need to be there too. Simple as that.
Get your 5-day Instagram Engagement Plan to engage with your followers and boost your account’s performance in as little as 10 minutes per day. Get your copy here.