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How much time have you spent growing your social media audience? What would you do if it all disappeared tomorrow? And what can you do to protect yourself?

Over Memorial Day weekend, Art Gallery Fabrics designer Maureen Cracknell was considering ways to celebrate her Instagram milestone of 30,000 followers. Saturday evening, she was sent notification of an unusual login from another city and state. Within minutes, both her Instagram account and her Facebook page (with over 130,000 followers) were deleted. She has tried contacting Facebook, but has not been able to get the accounts reinstated. Her only option is starting from scratch, which she has done under the new handle @maureencracknellhandmade.

Eileen Hull had a similar experience in April. Her Instagram account was hacked and taken over by an imposter. She notified Instagram and followed their instructions to have her account restored. Instagram acted by deleting the account which included over 3,300 posts chronicling Eileen’s journeys across the US in her trailer “Scotty,” photos taken with her fans, and images of items Eileen lovingly created over the years. Eileen is now starting over with the new handle @eileenhull.

It is easy to forget that Instagram accounts are not the property of the user. If you haven’t read Instagram’s Terms of Use recently (or ever), you might be surprised at how few protections there are for the users who create Instagram’s content. As Brittany Ratelle, a lawyer who specializes in creative entrepreneurs, explains, “When you share any content on Instagram, you are granting a wide license for Instagram to share it how they want to — but they are not guaranteeing that they can protect your content or your access to it.”

Set Up Two Factor Authentication

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Quilt by Maureen Cracknell in her new Sun Kissed fabric collection.

With the risk that our social media followings can be deleted in moments, how can we content creators protect ourselves? The first step is two-factor authentication.

Setting up two-factor authentication in Instagram takes less than two minutes. Go to your profile. Click on the three bars in the upper right-hand corner, then go to Settings > Security > Two-Factor Authentication. Click “Get started.” You’ll have the option between getting a text message with a code, or using an authentication app. If you choose the text message option, Instagram will send a text to the phone number you provided when you set up the account. If you don’t have a phone number linked to the account, it will prompt you to provide one. Once you enter the code, two-factor authentication will be turned on.

Once two-factor authentication has been turned on, you’ll be given a list of five codes to store in a safe place. If you lose your phone in the future, these codes will allow you to log in to Instagram from another device without having to wait for your replacement phone.

Control Your Content

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Sizzix wrapped journal designed by Eileen Hull.

Instagram and Facebook are easy to use platforms for creators wanting to connect with an audience or community. Allowing these services to become the exclusive way to engage with your audience is risky when the creators have no control over the platform. Creating multiple ways to connect with your community makes you less reliant on a single platform. As Ratelle explains, “I advise my creativepreneur clients to also build connections with their target audience on platforms they can own and control, like through an email list.”

Email lists are a strong alternative because you control the list. While you may hire a service to help you create and distribute your content, the list itself belongs to you. You decide how much content to create, what it looks like, how often it is sent out, and you can move it to another email distribution service any time you like. Check out our price comparison list of email service providers to help you choose the one that best fits your needs.

Self-hosted websites or blogging platforms are options. Paying a hosting service to host your content keeps you in control. Even if you use services such as Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube to connect with your audience, directing them back to a site you control gives you some measure of protection. However, hosting services have varying levels of reliability, so do your research and invest in a back-up system to protect your work. Need help? See our article on how to choose a web host.

Protect Yourself Now

Take steps now to secure your accounts, and make a plan to grow the platforms that you can control. Cracknell wishes she had heard this warning, “Having my social media accounts hacked is something I never considered would happen to me and as a result, I was not cautious. It took the awful experience of having all of my personal and business social media accounts hacked and permanently disabled in just a few minutes time for me to realize the importance of taking advantage of every available way to protect myself from hackers and I urge everyone to do the same!”

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