How To Claim an Inactive Instagram Username Account
It’s been almost ten years since Instagram sprang into being back in 2010, and in that short time the site has become the dominant player in the photo and video sharing space. Companies jockey for brand positioning, “influencers” make good livings pitching makeup, clothes and travels to their followers, and the rest of us share cute pictures of our pets with our social circle. As is always the case when a new piece of Internet real estate comes into being, having the right username on Instagram can be very valuable. Company names, TV or movie titles, album names – any Instagram account with a catchy or memorable name is automatically far more valuable than ‘jersey_guy_10293x’.
Companies or influencers trying to jumpstart an Instagram presence often seek out these valuable usernames. There are numerous secondary markets where holders of good usernames can sell them, for sums ranging from a few hundred dollars into the tens of thousands. For the most part, the people making real money selling names are those who staked out some accounts in the early days and had the foresight to pick names that other users would eventually want. Sometimes a name becomes valuable because a movie or show or album comes out, and suddenly ‘BigBangTheory’ goes from being a great account for a physics student to being a highly sought-after property.
Another thing to consider is that a lot of Instagram accounts go inactive. The person who started them loses interest, or loses the password and never chooses to recover it, and as a result the account just sits on the site, unused. Is it possible to claim that kind of account for yourself, and to take it over? In this article, I will show you how to claim an inactive Instagram account.
The Bad News
First, the bad news. Instagram will not help you get access to an inactive or unclaimed account. If you created an account, you can recover your password if you still have access to the phone number or the email address you used when you signed up for Instagram. Just visit the password recovery page and they’ll get you back into your account. However, there is no way to gain access to an account without one of those two critical elements. No phone number, no email, no access. So even if an account hasn’t been used since the day it was created, Instagram won’t help you get access to it if you weren’t the person who created it.
So what can you do?
Try to Buy It
Just because the account is inactive doesn’t mean that the owner of the account isn’t around. It may be that they would be perfectly happy to sell you their old account. However, getting in touch with them may be the tricky part.
Of course, you can send a Direct Message on the Instagram platform itself. Of course, if the person is not active on Instagram, they might not see your DM for quite some time, if they see it at all. People can set up alerts that send an email or an SMS message when they get a DM, but not everybody sets that up, so your DMs may go to an unmonitored account, never to be read or seen.
You can check the bio of the account to get information about the account owner (perhaps). There are a few things to look for here. One, some people actually put a contact e-mail address in their bio, or their personal website’s URL. If that’s the case, your quest is probably already successful. Other people are more privacy-minded, and don’t put that kind of direct contact information there. However, they may include links or references to their other social media accounts, such as their Facebook page or their LinkedIn bio. In addition, you can search for the username itself on Facebook, LinkedIn and other sites. For example, if the Instagram account is ‘JoesTacoShackFlorida’, then searching for that string on Facebook, LinkedIn and other sites may well bring you to a more active profile page, where you can send a message or get up-to-date contact information.
If the account is public, or if it is private but you are a follower, you may be able to see the account’s Followers list. You can then send DMs to those individuals, asking them to help you get in touch with the account owner. It’s important that you not be obnoxious about this – if you send a thousand DMs to a thousand strangers, you are not going to make many friends on the platform. However, especially if the account has only a few followers, you may find yourself in contact with a real-life friend of the account owner, someone who will be happy to give you an e-mail address or social media link that will put you in direct contact with the owner.
How much should you offer for an account? Well, it depends in part on how much the account is worth to you. If you value an account at $100 but the owner won’t let it go for less than $1000, it’s unlikely you can reach a deal. If you have no idea how much to offer, you might look up similar accounts at Instagram account market sites like InstaSale and see what comparable accounts are being listed for.
Reduce the Perceived Value
This suggestion is a bit on the shady side, but if you are in contact with an account owner and they want more for the account than you are willing to pay, you might engage in some practices designed to make the account less valuable to the original owner. This essentially improves your negotiating position for a subsequent price discussion.
The basic technique here is to go and sign up for other social network sites using that account name, or something similar. You can also buy the top-level domain name for the username as well (so ‘JoesTacoShackFlorida.com’, for example). This has two possible uses for you in negotiating. One, the fact that all the other social media sites have that name reserved makes it less valuable if the original owner decides to start using the Instagram account again as part of their marketing. The alternative possibility is that the original account number will want the top-level domain, or the other social media real estate you have reserved, and will be willing to make a trade with you.
It’s a longshot approach, but worthwhile if you really want that particular Instagram account.
Wait for an Instagram Purge
If the account you want is genuinely inactive, and doesn’t have much or any content in it, then there is a very good chance that it will eventually be purged from the Instagram database. Periodically, Instagram conducts a purge of its systems where they drop accounts that are seriously inactive, accounts that have been banned, spam accounts, and other things that are cluttering up their data tables. It’s no guarantee, but it’s possible that the inactive account you want will be dropped, meaning that username will become available again.
Instagram does not announce the schedule for its purges, and you won’t get a head’s up to alert you to start trying to grab any usernames on your list. The best way to detect a purge is to follow one of the perennially-popular Instagram accounts that has a relatively stable follower’s list, and to check their follower count on a daily basis. If they have thousands of followers, then at least some of those followers are undoubtedly spam accounts or bots, and a purge is going to cut their follower list by some non-trivial quantity of users. So if your monitored account goes from 9,341 followers to 9,102 followers overnight (and there’s not some obvious scandalous post driving the loss), the odds are good that Instagram did a purge, and some usernames are now up for grabs.
Trademark or Copyright the Name
There is one approach that many users have reported is successful in asking Instagram to transfer an account, and that is when you hold a trademark on a name and can argue that the existing account is causing confusion for your customers, or when you have a copyright on content which you can claim is being infringed by the existing account. If you hold such a trademark or copyright, you can file a copyright/trademark violation report and attempt to claim the name as your own.
If the account is highly active you may not be able to take control of it via this process. However, many users have reported success in using this technique on an account that is currently inactive. So if there is a name you want, then acquiring a trademark or copyright on some related content using that name may be a successful strategy. Getting a new trademark is a difficult and expensive process, but getting a copyright is fairly straightforward. In fact, any time you write something for publication, you have an implicit copyright; you can file an official copyright registration to cement your legal claim, but the claim is created by the act of creating the work, not by the act of filing the claim.
Trademarking the username you want to use is pretty obvious, but how can you do something similar with a copyright? In essence, you want to create a work of fiction or nonfiction which uses that username in some capacity. For example, you could create a short story that is set in Joe’s Taco Shack in Gainesville, Florida, and then publish that story. You can then make a plausible claim that the Instagram username ‘JoesTacoShackFlorida’ is impinging on your copyrighted work, and could create confusion in your readers. That’s a fairly weak assertion; you’ll want to come up with something better if you actually try this route.
Close Might Be Good Enough
You can’t find the owner of the username you want, or they simply won’t sell. The copyright and trademark approach won’t work because someone else already owns the intellectual property. The account is active enough that it just isn’t going to get caught in an Instagram purge. What do you do now?
Well, you might not be able to get the exact account name that you want – but you can probably get one that’s pretty close. Instagram usernames can be up to 30 characters long, and can contain letters, numbers, periods, and underscores. This gives you quite a bit of flexibility in creating a name that is close to the name of your dreams. You may need to use a little imagination but the rest should be straightforward enough.
If you run a business, add a city or location to your name like ‘smithsbakeryLA’, ‘smithsbakeryinVegas’ or ‘smithsbakeryCA’. You can do the same for surnames or other names too. This can help maintain your brand and add a quick local identifier which may work in your favor. You can also add the type of business, so ‘smithscupcakes’ or ‘brownsbrownies’, ‘copelandcoffee’ and so on. You then combine your name with your main offering which will work for you.
If you’re a larger business or more established brand, adding ‘official’ or ‘real’ at the end of your Instagram account name can work too. Artists with common names often do this so you can too.
You do need to be careful about emulating established brands, however. If you create an account for MicrosoftSoftware, it’s a legal account name – but if you reach a level of success and visibility where Microsoft sees your account, they will shut you down promptly using the same trademark and copyright tools I described above. You can’t impinge on other people’s protected intellectual property.
Sometimes with some cleverness and preparation, you can claim the inactive Instagram account names that you want. Other times, you’ll have to settle for something that’s close.
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