Hashtags. Who would have thought, 10 years ago, that that little symbol would become such a regular part of life… heck, 10 years ago who even envisaged social media becoming what it has?

Whilst I don’t spend hours scrolling, I do quite like Instagram. It doesn’t have the political bent of Facebook and it generally seems positive and inspiring – unlike Twitter, which is to my mind the bitch of social media. For someone like me, who’s in the process of starting up a retreat business, it’s a good way of connecting with people who might be interested in what I’m offering, and I’ve struck up a number of mutually supportive online friendships with interesting, like-minded folk. An important part of ensuring that my posts reach the greatest number of potentially interested parties is hashtagging – where you type a hashtag followed by a key word, so that your post appears in searches for that word. It’s essentially free advertising which leads to more followers. It’s also, if you’re not careful, a slippery slope to an insidious ego-trip. ‘Likes’ are good, comments are great, new followers are the holy grail. It’s easy to see that number go up and get a little kick…. or see it fall, and feel a bit deflated. If I, a reasonably confident and self-aware 42 year-old woman, can be affected by that, it does highlight how it might feel to our youngsters… but that’s a whole other post.

Anyway, a few weeks ago that all got turned upside down for me, by a mistake that turned out to have a valuable lesson. As my posts have similar themes, I normally used the same hashtags – there didn’t seem any need to switch them up, as they were having the desired effect in widening my reach. Until, that is, Instagram’s algorithm decided that my repeated use of words like ‘yoga’, ‘yogatherapist’, and ‘wellness’, was getting a bit spammy.

Reader, I’ve been shadowbanned. *Hangs head in shame.*

A shadowban makes you invisible to anyone but your existing followers. Your hashtags show up in their threads, but not in the threads of anyone who doesn’t follow you, therefore rendering the whole concept useless. The ban can last from a few hours to several months, depending on how much of a slap on the wrist the algorithm decides you need. (Yes, it does all feel a bit Orwellian.) After researching the problem, I learned that the solution is to not use hashtags for a while – no problem as they no longer work anyway – and if that doesn’t work, to go cold turkey and take a break from posting altogether.

Initially I was quite pissed off – I was getting increased engagement up to that point, at a time when I wanted to raise my profile for the benefit of the retreat. But after accepting that I just had to do my time, it led me to examine my reasons for posting and why I was there in the first place. Was there some ego involved? Honestly, there probably was. So without the ego-trip of new followers in the cunning guise of potential new business, what was the real intention behind my twice-daily posts? Turns out I had some valuable and humbling lessons to learn.

Naturally, not everyone who follows a thread stays with it. Some followers decide that you’re not for them, and they fall away. In normal mode that happened, but more slowly than new followers arrived, so there was a steady overall growth. Now, without new followers keeping the side up, my numbers are falling.

And actually, that’s ok. What I offer won’t be to everyone’s taste – I can’t please everyone, I’m not pizza. But the people who stick around, well hopefully they get something from what I share, which is what my knowledge of yoga and my journey have taught me. I try to be as authentic (ie often silly, a bit sweary) as I can, because I want people to connect with me, not some airbrushed avatar. I try to be open about my own struggles in the hope that it helps another person. Sometimes I have to really dig deep to decide what to share, and it does take time every day, but post-ban I’ve come to think of it as a form of karma yoga – where we do what we can to help others without expectation of reward. I find it interesting that I don’t know who’s reading what I post – friends whom I didn’t even know read my stuff have frequently said that they found something useful, or that a post was just what they needed to hear.

So that, ultimately, is my reason for posting. Yes, it’s helpful business-wise to have a wide reach, but now I think of that reach as a greater potential number of people who might find a use for what I share. I’ve always said that if what I do helps just one person, then it’s worthwhile. The conversations I’ve had suggest that I might help, in some very tiny way, a handful of people a day, without necessarily knowing about it. That, to me, makes it massively worthwhile and inspires me to keep at it.

Who knows when my ban will be lifted. What I do know is that, far from what I expected, I’m grateful that it happened. And that is my real-life Insta-story.