Holly Rainey, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center’s hard-working social media manager, received the most dreaded of messages from Instagram recently: "Your account has been disabled”. 4200 followers, over 900 posts, countless entrepreneur stories, and hundreds of thousands of interactions TOTALLY disappeared without warning, and seemingly with no recourse. Frantic reports to Instagram and Meta were met by absolute silence, so we made the tough call to relaunch the official Knoxville Entrepreneur Center Instagram account as @knox_ec.
As I’m typing this article, we’re sitting around 800 followers, which is awesome, but a far cry from the loyal, engaged audience that the KEC team had spent years building. We are fortunate to have an email audience of nearly 10,000 people, as well as great communities on other social media platforms, so we’ve been able to grow our new account back pretty quickly. However, we have a long way to go, and it got me thinking about the importance of what marketing types call “owned” vs. “borrowed” audiences.
Owned audiences have ASKED to be part of your world – either through signing up for your email newsletter, visiting your website, or in some cases, giving you their phone number. You’re giving them (hopefully) valuable information – and they’re giving you trust, all with no “middle-man”.
A borrowed audience can be powerful, but platforms like Instagram depend on you doing all the work to build a following, while giving you limited control over who actually sees your posts and profiles, and no control over the platform itself.
I reached out to several of our local marketing experts for their personal experiences with social media misadventures, and for their advice to businesses big and small about how to cultivate a true, dedicated following – and how to keep them engaged.
Victory Harbin, founder of The Social Brand
I've helped a couple of clients through the nightmare experience of being "deactivated." The most important thing to realize is that when on a platform, we're at their mercy in terms of what's in their guidelines or not. Typically, fighting it is ineffective and the best thing to do is to start to rebuild as soon as possible.
I always advise clients to create a “sticky” experience where you're connected with your followers in as many ways as possible. For instance, although your main platform may be Instagram, how can you get their email address? Every platform has a lifespan, and your relationship with your audience will hopefully outlive that platform! Remember that different people connect with different formats of content – so cater to the different types of people in your content. Let them see your face, hear your voice, read your words, and all the other ways you can think of to communicate your message.
Jonathan Oldacre, Founder of Oldacre Agency
Unfortunately it happens! And it highlights the importance of keeping a multi-channel view of marketing. It's a good idea to start your marketing adventure with investments in owned media (i.e. delivering good content on your website, blog, and email campaigns) which gives you a solid foundation for marketing on borrowed channels like social media. Then when Facebook, Instagram, or whatever else crashes, you still have the ability to market your goods and services across other channels. If an account is deactivated, don't panic. Follow the process the platform prescribes, but understand you may have to manage the customer service experience. If you exhaust every resource, and you're still not able to recover a lost account...
Start fresh – Get to work and create a new account as soon as possible. This is a great time to refresh old branding, add Linktree to your bio, update messaging, and more.
Ask – Start a campaign with the sole purpose of building your follower count. Reach out to existing email subscribers and use other owned and borrowed channels to let people know what happened and ask them to like or follow your new account.
Get creative – People like content that resonates with them. Use the downtime to reset, think about fresh content ideas, and prioritize video whenever possible.
Pay to play – Consider running like or follower campaigns on social media to add some momentum to building back to pre-crash follower levels.
To quote a local marketing leader, Mark Schaeffer, "the most human company wins." To really get a true following that engages with you and shares your content, you have to provide value. It helps to shift your mindset from thinking about social as a platform (a place where I share things that are all about me) to thinking about it as communication with your followers. What do they want to see? What would serve them? What are they curious about? How can I help and give value in what I share on social? Adding these kinds of posts to your mix can go a long way. And engage with them, too. If someone is raving about your product or service, thank them, ask if you can share their comments, send them some swag. Be the most human company.”
Halee Sprinkle, founder of Czeck Yourself Marketing
My business Instagram account was frozen, or what they referred to as “restricted”, last July “due to breaking community standards.” I got this note with no further explanation or timeline of it being reinstated. It took 3 days for it to reappear. And let me tell you, I checked that account almost hourly for those 3 days. I received no communication from the appeal nor after it was reinstated. Just as quick as it was frozen, it was back! It was a heartbreaking moment to know all I had created, shared, and the audience I had built in my four years of business was just gone! Many of my followers had not followed me on other platforms nor captured my contact information elsewhere. This is when I started to be sure to diversify all my content so I had access to it elsewhere and began informing my audiences of the various ways to stay in touch with me!
When building a following you should always inform your audience of numerous ways to engage and connect with you (and repeat that information periodically)! These can consist of various social platforms you are present on, email address(es), your website, phone number, directories, and even other brands that you are connected to. Some of my audience members know my business just as much as they know I am connected with KEC’s Women In Entrepreneurship and Aught Coworking.
Hannah Collins Lee, CEO of Second Mile Marketing
At the end of the day, every business should diversify their communication touchpoints or else they're at risk of losing their audience or at least a significant chunk of their audience. We put our faith and sometimes our entire business models in one platform and there's no guarantee that something like Meta or Google will be around (or around in the same way) tomorrow. Connecting with folks on numerous channels, and making sure those channels are relevant to your target audience, is key.
Mal Alder, Founder of Alder & Company
It’s honestly really frustrating that a social media company that prides itself on its number of users is purposefully structured not to help small businesses. Not only does Meta have a very strict ‘pay to play’ model when it comes to businesses trying to increase their post reach and engagement, but they also refuse to implement a reliable resource for reporting and resolving issues on their platform. Most resources are in the form of user-generated topic forums, which aren’t very helpful outside of reassuring you are not the only one experiencing said issue.
My advice to small business owners is to diversify how and where you tell your story or sell your products. Do not rely solely on social media, especially just one social media channel. We always recommend brands have a website, even if it is a simple landing page with information on how a potential customer can reach you. Cultivating an engaged email list is another great way to stay in touch with customers outside of social media.
If there is one big takeaway from our experts on “owned” vs. “borrowed” media, it’s this: Diversify. Use social media where it makes sense, stay consistent, and provide relevant value to your audience. Also … don’t count out “old-school” communication tools like email newsletters. If you’ve got any big lessons to share, or just want to connect with KEC, we’d love to hear from you. Create a post, tag @knox_ec or #madeforknoxville, and tell the world about your own entrepreneurial adventures.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: How to build back social media following and survive deactivation