Instagram users noticed a change in how the platform works for them since the new code put into place in Jan. 2018. Some have seen a steep drop in engagement. People with multiple accounts saw certain accounts work as usual, while others lost most of their views. This is the story of how my account went from healthy to losing my engagement reach and some ideas on how to handle the changes to grow your account in 2018.

I wrote 900 words on my approach to Instagram tagging and tested methods on my own accounts while also having other people try it out on theirs. I was looking forward to having it in illustrated article format so I didn’t need to explain it any more.

I made an example post for Instagram and used every aspect I wanted to explain. I posted it at the right time of day and went to look up a few things to put finishing touches on my article. I like to double check things and read earlier that many people saw a serious drop in engagement. A new algorithm was released in January, but it wasn’t until February 16th that myself and a lot of people started seeing large changes affect their accounts.

This older post of mine was going to be another example of effective tagging.

I went back to Instagram and my carefully crafted example post had no likes or other engagement. This was the first time I posted and didn’t immediately get responses. While I was in the middle of finishing an article on Instagram engagement, I failed to get engagement for the first time. I was beyond frustrated. My reliable views were gone and my article had to be scrapped because I didn’t know how to fix it.

I was frustrated because I knew that I had to write a new article. One of the biggest photography posting platforms had just gone through major changes, changes my account took in the teeth, and this was going to make an article on Instagram even more important. First, I had to get a handle on what was going on. I sorted through forums, tweets, other Insta accounts and did my best to help people weather the current changes on Instagram.

This once popular tag may have doomed my example post due to being a ‘toxic tag’

Avoid toxic tags

The most important thing is to stop using mega-tags. Using the really big tags like #istagood, #l4l, #igdaily, and #igdaily used to be key to building an audience outside of your social circle. Large specialty tags like #weedstragram and #ebony also no longer work. Many users are now claiming these tags are ‘toxic’ and significantly hurt the reach of your post.

It’s possible this is a glitch rather than Instagram’s intent. So far, my own test posts and posts on a few accounts I track, this toxic effect absolutely seems to be happening. What tags no longer register and what tags are toxic to your account isn’t fully known. I am pretty sure they are still tweaking and will continue to tweak it. I’ve seen reports of #tbt not working, but it does work as I am writing this. Whether these tags are actually toxic or just disabled, it’s still good to keep them off your posts.

#tbt, or Throwback Thursday, is a big part of Instagram culture so there is a good chance it was disabled by mistake. Even a temporary blocking of a tag can hurt it’s momentum and it’s usefulness.

What tags work and what tags are banned appears to change a lot. Any attempt to make a canonical list of banned tags may quickly get outdated, but this is one of the better lists I’ve seen.  They rolled out a big change and are still making corrections to the new code. Conflicting reports about what tags work and many people only seeing a noticeable difference weeks after the new code into into place shows this. Still, there are things you can do to up your game.

The biggest problem is that some of these tags still come up as suggestions when posting. I just tried a test post using my iPhone and #weedstragram came up as a suggestion when I typed #weed. That was from the app, not autocorrect.

How I am handling this so far is by only using a few tags and checking them by hand.

Other strategies for Instagram in 2018

Use Instagram Stories. It’s a new feature they are pushing. Stories get highlighted at the top of the app. Playing along with their new feature should give you a boost.

Be careful of third party tools. They are likely out of date and Instagram is cracking down on anything that seems bot generated. Ironically, I had a caution against them in my original article as well, even though they can produce good results.

When looking up tips or trying to troubleshoot a problem, filter by date. This is important for lots of problems with both social media and pretty much anything digital. SEO, or search engine optimization, will put the older articles on the front page of your search.

Click Tools to get an option to narrow the date range. For Instagram articles I’d always start by looking at articles from the past month only, then branching out.

Engaging your core audience is more important than ever. It’s gotten harder to show up in even the medium and small tags. If your core followers aren’t responding to your posts, you might not get that boost you need into have a wider reach.

Always keep an eye on top influencers and some mid-tier accounts that outperform you. If people figured out how to work the system better, they might not want to share secrets. Listen to what people say but also watch what people do.

Post regularly if you can. This is a double edged sword for photographers. I curate what my account page looks like carefully. If someone looks at my Instagram, I want it to look as polished as possible. When I don’t have good enough material at hand I just don’t post that day.

Engage with us! We would love to be helping photopigs get established and get views on Instagram or on other platforms. Comment with your accounts or use #photopigs so we can find you!

What is Instagram looking to do?

One thing I always liked about Instagram was that I opened the app twice a day. Once to post, and then about 30 minutes later to see how the post did. I spend maybe seven minutes a day total on on Insta. The lion’s share of my engagement was immediate. A lot of Instagram users check once or twice a day, and usually at very set times. They want to change that up and have people checking and thinking about it during the day. Engagement being drip fed motivates checking more often.

A concern I have is that the new tagging algorithm is going to drive Instagrammers more and more into fairly narrow themes. I like showing the full range of my voice as a photographer on Instagram. Engagement means more to me when it’s from people on the same wavelength. I do a lot of landscape shots, but they are landscapes from the point of view of a geek who likes walking through mines and going to steampunk events. Several years of my photography was only of indie bands I like or or spooky things to entertain a small group of Creepies. While I think having a distinct personality will become more important, having your account show your full range is going to be penalized.

They may also be looking to motivate us to promote our Instagrams outside of Instagram itself. I am fairly new to Instagram, but promoting my account within the platform was going well. I felt no need to promote myself outside of the app. They likely want me pulling in new users by promoting my account on other sites.

And finally, they are likely looking to monetize more. Countless brands and companies use Instagram to build their customer bases. They are likely looking to make it harder to build a brand without them taking some off the top.

There’s a silver lining

Some people say that these changes will make things harder on new users and small brands. Business Insider notes that the Instagram changes are coming on the heels of Facebook changes that also limit people’s ability to reach others without paying up. Time will tell if they are right. Being on top of changes can bring good opportunities, though.

In summary

The meta is changing at an alarming rate. I am still somewhat in shock that my account got hit with the changes while I was polishing my article. If I wasn’t so particular about double checking things and making demonstrations, I might be looking really silly about now.

Once I got over my initial annoyance, my opinion on the changes is split. For my personal account, I am cautiously optimistic. I’ve been seeing likes from older content of mine roll in. I also tend to get more personal satisfaction out of catering to more niche audiences than competing with all the photographers ever. I’d much rather have all posts in chronological order and for algorithms to be gone, but that isn’t going to happen. For the photopigs Instagram that I need to get rolling, I was super confident that I’d be able to get us lots of exposure and momentum once we’d settled into a regular posting schedule. Now, it’s going to be more of a challenge.

I will continue to experiment with Instagam’s new code. Right now I am using the #format where you work #keywords into #paragraphs rather than just listing them at the end. I don’t think it’s helping, but it’s good to be a bit experimental with social media. Much like with video games, you need to poke at it to figure out it’s mechanics. If I come up with good hints or information I will keep you up to date. If you have any tips or insight into Instagram in it’s current state I’d love to hear about them! I would really, really love to hear them.

If you like landscapes by nerds who walk in mines and listen to steam powered robots, My Instagram is here and my website is here.  The Instagram of the photopigs is here if you want to see sneak peaks of what we are working on and behind-the-scenes shots of our projects.


    • I’ve heard that, too. But I don’t want to dilute my feed. I guess I can toss up some old content once it’s summer, so it’s less obvious that I am posting old stuff.

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