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. Gasp!

Because of the notorious shadowban, some marketers have stopped using hashtags entirely. That’s a problem in itself. Here’s why and how you should absolutely still be using hashtags in your social media marketing strategy on Instagram—plus a few ways to determine if your account is in penalty.

Why You Need Hashtags In Your Content Marketing Strategy

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 business account analytics to see the reach you receive. If you’re using the recommended 30 hashtags per post, you should have exposure in the hundreds if not thousands per post. 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.

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. Learn how to do smarter hashtag research with this guide.

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 30 percent of customers say they’ve bought a product or service after discovering it on Instagram—and 120 million users in 2017 visited a company website, emailed, and direct messaged because of what they found on Instagram. 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. Since there are over 100,000 banned hashtags on Instagram currently—about seven out of 10—and no great way to access the list as a whole, 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 Over 30 Hashtags Per Post

As of 2018, Instagram allows 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!

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. Also, keep your Instagram content fresh for users and Instagram standards with these tips.

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!

How to Determine If Your Instagram Account Has Been Shadowbanned

Part of the reason why the Instagram shadowban is so unnerving is because 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.