The Unwritten Rules of Social Media: Shadowbanning, Bots, and Other Things No One Told You 


Heat Level: Hot: These tips are meant for marketing experts.

Bottom Line: Social media isn’t a quick fix - it’s a long game. What might seem like a good idea or a clever hack to grow faster can seriously hurt your accounts in the long run.

Do This: Avoid these seemingly-innocent shortcuts. Focus on growing your social media presence with proven, legitimate methods.

person walking on white background with shadowAh, social media algorithms. Part science, part web-magic, these weird bits of code are always changing and are the source of both joy and endless headache for marketers. As social media has evolved, the algorithms have gotten more sophisticated, especially when it comes to detecting shady practices.

Imagine this: you post a series of gorgeous photos of your new listing... and get zero interaction. What gives? Or you log into your Instagram account and get a notification that your account has been blocked. Uh-oh!

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn show no mercy to accounts that violate their rules, even accidentally. So today, we’re looking at some of the biggest unwritten rules you need to know to stay on the algorithms’ good side.


Let’s start with one of the most mythic and misunderstood social phenomenon: the shadowban.

What is it?

Shadowbans on social media refer to when a user has done something problematic, resulting in their content being kept hidden or given a lower priority in the algorithm.

You generally won’t know if you’ve been shadowbanned; but if your engagement and reach suddenly tank, shadowbanning could be the reason.

Shadowbans are most well-known (and debated) on Instagram. With an Instagram shadowban, followers are still able to see your posts but they’ll likely appear further down in the newsfeed. Your posts also don't show up in the Discover section or in hashtag searches - which drastically damages your potential reach.

Why would this happen?

On Instagram, the main offense is over-hashtagging. Using dozens of irrelevant tags in an effort to game the algorithm is a big no-no. Using bots and buying followers is another ban-able offense. 

What should you do?

In short, just follow the rules. Don’t abuse hashtags. Don’t buy followers. Don’t try to cheat your way through growing your presence.

If you think you’ve been shadowbanned, check out this article from Hubspot for more tips.

Bots and Automation

Here’s the thing about online automations - some are very great and extremely useful. Others are problematic at best... or cause for losing your social media account at worst. 

Good Robots

Using bots through Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and other messaging platforms can be a great way to get potential customers answers to their questions quickly and at all hours. 

Similarly, using a third-party automation tool like Hootsuite lets you pre-schedule content to go out throughout the day while you’re working on other things. 

Bad Robots

Basically, if it seems like a cheat or a hack, don’t do it. Using bots to automatically like other pages, gain followers, or anything else that fakes interaction on behalf of your page can have major consequences. Social platforms regularly do bot sweeps and delete all accounts that seem fake. And accounts that interact with these bots can also take a hit - guilt by association.

Engagement Baiting

What is it?

Engagement baiting means posting anything with the explicit goal of getting interactions to boost your page’s reach. Remember those annoying Facebook posts that would say something along the lines of “Like to vote for tacos as the best food, Love to vote for pizza”? That’s engagement baiting. 

What should you do?

There are legitimate ways to get great engagement from your followers. Facebook created polling posts for pages to engage their followers and get feedback. Instagram allows you to run polls and all kinds of other interaction-focused content in Stories. In short, use the built-in engagement options to open conversation with your followers.

What should you not do?

Don’t post something solely to get likes. If your end goal is just racking up likes, you’re missing the point. Engagement on social media is supposed to be a conversation, so post accordingly.

Like-Gating and Other Contest Rules

Like-gating is actually an older issue, but it’s worth mentioning because social media contests are an especially tricky arena.

What is it?

Like-gating referred to when pages would run social media contests where users needed to like a page to be entered. Facebook did away with this in 2015 to try to dissuade pages from focusing solely on getting likes. 

Why mention this?

Yes, like-gating went away a while ago, BUT lots of pages still try to use these kinds of tactics to grow their following. Running a contest on social media is a big deal, and it can be an awesome way to grow your social community, build awareness, and get new leads. Doing it the right way is worth the time and effort.

If you're thinking about running a contest on social media, read the platform's rules about contests. You can also work with a reputable vendor to make sure your rules and requirements are on the up-and-up.

Another reason we bring this up? Because social media isn’t supposed to just be about getting likes. Likes are basically a digital ego boost - they seem nice, but they mean basically nothing. Focus on building a strong community and getting quality leads. That will make your social media efforts worth the time and energy way more than racking up likes.

Bottom Line

These unwritten rules all come down to one thing: there’s no quick way to scam your way to social media success. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Move away from vanity metrics like follower counts and likes. Focus on growing something useful and meaningful for the people who follow you. In return, you’ll get great brand exposure and leads. Social media isn’t a quick solution anymore - it’s a long play that you need to do the right way.

Jess Clair self-portrait on Mount Washington
Jess Clair is the Marketing and Sales Project Manager at Joyce, Inc. in Pittsburgh, PA.
Working with ListingManager allows Jess to explore an alternate reality where she could one day own a house instead of renting. When she’s not focused on her daily to-do lists, Jess enjoys HBO binges, gourmet lattes, and playing with her dog.

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