Starting a new Instagram account? You've been warned.

I wanted to test out what it is like to create a brand new account. I maintain a private one for friends and family, but not anything you might call professional or business-related.

I was starting to like the service  SoGro, which I've been testing for a few days now. They specialize in building up an Instagram following. After writing my first book, I decided to start both a new Twitter and Instagram account, then build up a following using a few apps. (I'm also testing one called  Staged and another called  Tweepi--more on that later.)

Of course, there are no easy answers in life. I know full well, as a Twitter user since the social network debuted, that the best way to build a following is slow and steady, posting consistently, sharing great content, and interacting with influencers.

I would even say there is not really any better way to build up a following for this new form of marketing, and I believe it really works. The mantra "consistent quality" is one I've used with students when I've done some mentoring at a college. Organic followers know how to find good content; if you post it they will follow. It's worked--my normal Twitter account is "pure" and I've never used used an app to ramp up followers quickly.

But when you start a brand new account, you want to pick up a little steam. Plus I wanted to see if they actually work. In a few days, my Instagram account went from two followers to almost 60. I was happy with the nice burst. SoGro reps tell me this is not the best way to use the service--they prefer you have an established account--but I wanted to start from ground zero and see if I could build up some initial momentum.

These apps essentially do what some social media users do manually. The service looks for like-minded folks and follows them for you. In most cases, people will follow you back. We're all happy. I scheduled quite a few posts on both new feeds, and then started doing a little of my own follows once in a while--not in a robotic fashion, just searching and browsing for people who have shared interests. Both Staged and SoGro do roughly the same thing, never blasting people like spam. I like the services because they make it pretty clear how they work. Sadly, this is about when the trouble started.

For whatever reason, Instagram did not like my account and disabled it, citing a violation of terms of service. That seemed unfair to me, and did not include any explanation, so I followed the prompts to file an appeal, which means I had to prove I own the name of my book and the website domain (for some strange reason).

Let me pause here and say--in an age of rampant online abuse and trolls, I do understand the need for security. Yet, after digging out my domain registry and sending, it seemed odd. Why all the security rigamarole? I was asked to prove I was legit.

Then, it got even weirder.

I received another email instructing me to take a picture of myself holding up a sign showing a number the Instagram team sent me. My face had to be clearly visible and well lit, and it had to show my hand holding the sign. It can't be "too small, dark, or blurry" as instructed. It felt oddly heavy-handed, like a robot overlord asserting authority.

It's really bizarre, because I have no idea why they are asking me to take that photo. Are they trying to prove that I'm a real person and not a bot? Did they think a spambot is involved, and they want to make sure a computer (which can't take photos of itself) is not involved? Why all of the extra steps? Why not just send a code to my cell phone? Every other site I've ever used, including Twitter and Gmail, use two-factor codes.

The email signed off with: "Keep in mind that even if this account doesn't include any pictures of you or is used to represent someone or something else, we won't be able to help until we receive a photo that meets these requirements." How incredibly weird.

So, of course I turned in the photo. That didn't help, actually. Instagram also requires an official document, something like certificate of formation or a tax filing. The book came out a few weeks ago, and there isn't any official documentation--other than the book itself. So I sent a picture of that. Nothing. I was stuck in a loop, a human communicating into a void.

Then I contacted Instagram public relations.

They released this statement:

"We work hard to provide the Instagram community with a safe and secure experience. When we become aware of an account that has been compromised, we shut off access to the account and the people who've been affected are put through a remediation process so they can reset their password and take other necessary steps to secure their accounts."

Within a few hours, a new email arrived. My account was activated again.

Did I do something wrong? Not sure. Does it seem weird to have to prove I'm a human so I can go back to taking pictures of my book and add a few quotes? Absolutely. I'm all for tight security, but--really? A picture of me holding a sign with a number? It feels like the next step is to start hooking up electrodes to our bodies to power The Matrix.

Published on: Jul 26, 2018