Charlie Plante woke up on Sept. 12 to an odd email from Instagram about her account. Taking it for a bot or a spam email, she deleted it. Several hours later, the business owner realized the magnitude of that one-off email.
Plante runs a vintage shop called Muzi, located in the Dominion Building, and operates her business mainly via Instagram. "My website is just a landing page with information [about] where I'm located. I use Instagram to sell to my customers. I do story sales multiple times a week. It's really my only form of communication," she tells Vancouver Is Awesome over the phone.
She adds that prior to Instagram's email she's never received any complaint from the social media company or any notification that her account was violating their terms of service. "It just came as a complete shock."
The email from Instagram came in around 12:30 a.m. on Monday (Sept. 12) and by the time Plante woke up around 9 a.m. and tried to log in, she was "completely locked out without any warning."
'Not getting any response from Instagram'
Instances like these, though very common, are detrimental to small businesses, especially those who rely mainly on social media platforms like Instagram to sell and communicate with customers.
"When I started this vintage shop, I started selling on Facebook Marketplace and I had 90 followers. I grew my following to over 3,000 followers that were very, very loyal followers and that were very engaged. I built a really tiny little community organically just by myself," says Plante.
Plante has since made a new Instagram account and has received support from other business owners in the community, but has been anxiously waiting for a reply from the social media platform.
"I've had dozens of people in the vintage community re-posting my new account and tagging media, tagging Instagram, tagging [Instagram's business account and] just trying to help. People are finding my [new] account but I'm not getting any response from Instagram," she says.
A week later, Plante was able to log in to her account again. "I immediately checked settings and violations and zero were listed. I don’t think I’ll ever find out why my account was taken down in the first place," she tells V.I.A.
Removed Instagram accounts are common but detrimental
Plante's story is far from uncommon.
Despite the platform's emphasis on e-commerce, even replacing the heart-shaped activity tab with a shopping section to urge users to purchase while they scroll, many business owners contend with removed accounts.
Vancouver luxury consignment business Mine and Yours also had its Instagram account removed despite having around 48,000 followers. Unlike Plante, who was able to get her account back in a week, their account was offline for months before its sudden, inexplicable revival.
Mine and Yours' founder, Courtney Watkins, says she receives messages from business owners asking for advice on getting back their accounts on a near-daily basis. In fact, it happens so often that Watkins now has a document with advice and methods at hand for those who need it.
Watkins had tried several avenues to get her account back when it was removed, including trying to contact Instagram through Facebook and getting media coverage on the situation.
"If you've ever run an ad [on Instagram] then there is a chat system there. We reached out to them almost every single day," Watkins details her efforts. "I don't know if Mike from Facebook was a bot or if it was actually a person but we could never get anyone on the phone. And we just kept hearing the same thing. They said 'You violated community guidelines,' but they wouldn't tell us how we violated them."
She adds that her business' Instagram account was coincidentally restored the day after media picked up her story, "but again, I have no idea," Watkins restates.
How to recover your deleted Instagram account
There are several precautions that Watkins takes for her own business' Instagram account that she also recommends for fellow business owners.
A small safety measure Watkins now does is add a disclaimer at the bottom of each post. "We now say this product is not affiliated– or we are not affiliated– with any brands or trademarks."
However, Watkins' main piece of advice is for small business owners to connect with customers on multiple platforms, and not rely solely on Instagram. She suggests avenues such as an email list, website, and a TikTok account. "It's much easier to connect to your customers through Instagram [but] if you can be on as many platforms as possible, then if something does happen to Instagram at least you have these other channels."
How does Instagram decide which accounts to remove?
Whether it is content or an account, if it goes against Instagram's Community Guidelines they will take it down.
Since the platform has amassed 1.44 billion active users as of 2022, it can be difficult to keep track of each account. Therefore, Instagram has taken an advanced approach.
"We use a combination of technology and reports from users to determine if certain content goes against our Community Guidelines. We then use either technology or a review team to remove anything that doesn't follow our standards as quickly as possible," writes Instagram.
They add that "the number of times something is reported doesn't determine whether or not it's removed from Instagram."
Which Instagram guidelines could apply to small businesses?
Violation of Community Guidelines is a common theme among business owners who have had their Instagram accounts suddenly deleted.
In short, the guidelines ask users to post authentic content, not share nude photos or photos of that nature, follow the law, respect others, not glorify self-injury, be cautious when sharing newsworthy events if the content contains graphic violence, and to facilitate genuine interactions.
"Overstepping these boundaries may result in deleted content, disabled accounts, or other restrictions," warn the Community Guidelines.
Of all listed, the guidelines that may vaguely relate to businesses are ones regarding authentic content and genuine interactions.
Posting authentic content
The first guideline instructs account holders to "post authentic content, and don’t post anything you’ve copied or collected from the Internet that you don’t have the right to post." Such content could include images taken from Pinterest.
An article by TurboFuture, which dove into the legality circling the photo-based app, writes that "Pinterest has a non-exclusive, transferable worldwide license for the content on the site. This means that any content posted there can be shared and saved by others. This applies to Pinterest only; it does not mean you can take content from there and post it somewhere else."
However, there is an exception. The article adds that "unless you are certain the image can shared (like if you have permission from the owner or if it is in public domain), you should avoid sharing the image outside of the site."
Re-sharing content within Instagram could also violate this guideline. An instance could be posting content created by other users without permission or credit to that user.
Facilitating genuine interactions
The second guideline asks users to "help us stay spam-free by not artificially collecting likes, followers, or shares, posting repetitive comments or content, or repeatedly contacting people for commercial purposes without their consent," Instagram writes.
"Don’t offer money or giveaways of money in exchange for likes, followers, comments or other engagement. Don’t post content that engages in, promotes, encourages, facilitates, or admits to the offering, solicitation or trade of fake and misleading user reviews or ratings," they add.
It could be the case that business accounts may get mistaken for committing these violations.
Instagram also suggests several precautions and tools to protect small businesses from harassment, spam, or blackmail. These tools may also help small businesses avoid being flagged for not following the guideline.
Instagram's advice includes:
- Restrict people to approve their comments and direct messages
- Block people from interacting with your business account
- Control who can tag or mention your business in their posts and stories in Settings
- Pin positive comments to show up at the top of your post
- Filter inappropriate, offensive, or bullying comments manually (the manual filter will hide specific words, phrases, numbers, or emoji)
- Control who comments on your posts or turn off commenting for a specific post
- Control who can send you direct messages
What to do if Instagram deletes your account?
The app adds that "if you think your account was disabled by mistake, you may be able to appeal the decision by opening the app, entering your username and password and following the on-screen instructions."
Those who don't see a disabled message may be experiencing a login issue, while those who have deleted their account, or had someone with access to their password delete their account, have "no way to restore it," confirms Instagram.