I tried (and failed) to become an Instagram guru

The life of a rock star social media celebrity may not be as worthwhile as building hospitals in war zones, but it looks a hell of a lot more fun. Imagine all of those trips behind the red velvet rope to a world where beautiful people like and respect you as you effortlessly acquire wealth and influence. Alas, it's not as simple as shoving your face on Instagram and waiting for the cash to roll in -- if you want to quaff champagne with the Jenners and Swifts, you'll need to put in plenty of effort.

So is it possible for any old schmo, like myself, lacking any sort of talent but plenty of enthusiasm, armed with little more than a smartphone, a DSLR and Photoshop, to become Insta-famous? All I'd need is an instruction manual to get me on my way and the time and space to build up my 'celebrity' status. Thankfully, there's a whole firmament of social media gurus, influencers and shamans willing to share their secrets to accruing a monster following. In fact, if you were to sift through all of their words of wisdom, who knows, maybe you could write the definitive social media bible.

Now, I'm not the first schlubby journalist to attempt to break into the upper echelon of D-list web celebrity. Hell, there are plenty of better-prepared and better-looking folks who've tried this without much success. Take Bloomberg's Max Chafkin, who even employed the social agency Socialyte to aid his quest toward Instagram stardom. My ascent to the social media stratosphere won't be aided by anyone because I've been tasked with doing this the hard way.

The rules are pretty simple: Set up an Instagram account and use whatever (legitimate) means to push my following as high as possible. I figure that, equipped with the knowledge that all of those star gurus can offer, it'll take me less than a month before I'm packing 100,000 followers. Along the way, I'll scour every how-to, every online guide, and learn from the master himself, Vaynerchuk, and it'll be a piece of cake.

Rule Number One: Use Hashtags

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and so does my quest to become a beloved Instagram influencer. I set up an entirely blank account -- serenecoops -- and wait for an army of fans to descend upon me.

It doesn't happen.

The first lesson I've learned is that building a following on Instagram can't be done passively, and it doesn't happen overnight. I'm pretty sore about this fact, since I'm very obviously an as-yet-unheralded genius and it's about damn time that I started getting some appreciation. Second, I should probably start posting some images to my feed to remind the internet that it should be hungry for what I give it. For my first submission, I share a picture of my face, explaining who I am, what I want to achieve, and get precisely zero likes for it. Bastards.

But I forgot to add any hashtags to my post, and as social media guru Garry Vaynerchuk would say, "Instagram's about hashtags." The advertising tycoon got his big break selling wine on social media and now has a reported worth somewhere north of $160 million. "Do not post anything on Instagram without your first comment being 15 to 20 hashtags," the businessman says in his widely circulated tutorials.

For my next post, I liberally spray hashtags into the comments in the hope of garnering some love. And, amazingly, it works -- with three people double tapping my shot of some books in quick succession. By the end of that day, six people (okay, five and myself) have liked the image, although no one felt motivated to click follow as a consequence.

A post shared by Dan Cooper (@serenecoops) on

Instagrammers also need to have some sort of thing, especially if you're not a famous person already. You need to build a narrative whereby you become known for one or two things that people can come to you for. I figured that while technology would be an easy win, I didn't want my now-imminent Instagram fame to impinge upon my job. Not only are there plenty of folks doing that brilliantly already, I also didn't want to spend even more time taking pictures of smart watches.

But what else am I qualified to talk about, if not technology? I've got a small hankering for fashion, even if my build means that my clothes are more about masking my own inadequacies. I like watches but wondered if there'd be enough of an audience there for me to talk about them incessantly. I like reading, do DIY and perform comedy on the weekends, but none of those seemed like good enough causes either. Not to mention that anything adult or too naughty would be flagged by Instagram's highly-prudish filtering.

Rule Number Two: Leverage Fear

One of the trends I keep coming back to on Vaynerchuk's own account are his "inspirational" memes, delivered on a near-daily basis. The entrepreneur seems to specialize in images that end with some variation on the phrase "You've already lost." He also uses pictures of himself that wouldn't look out of place in a Nike catalog, overlaid with quasi-meaningful phrases.

A post shared by Gary Vay-Ner-Chuk (@garyvee) on

A post shared by Gary Vay-Ner-Chuk (@garyvee) on

One thing that I've spotted, however, is that they all seem to induce in me some sort of existential panic as I'm constantly being told to work harder. I should be maximizing my time, stop listening, start doing shit. I should stop caring about other people, but also care too much about everything. I should stop worrying about my own feelings but also be advised that my own fear of failure is holding me back from greatness. After a five-minute stroll through his feed, I'm gripped by a number of mid-life crises all at once.

A post shared by Gary Vay-Ner-Chuk (@garyvee) on

A post shared by Gary Vay-Ner-Chuk (@garyvee) on

The key lesson is that fear is a great selling tool, and if used correctly, can get people to pay attention to your Instagram. The trick is to leverage that subtle anxiety that, I'm sure many of us have, we're frittering away our time here on Earth. Deep down, I know I'm already giving one hundred percent working in a full-time job, raising a child and trying to renovate a house by myself. That's not enough, however, and I should also be working on my own startup, reading a book a week, training for an ultramarathon and making enough money to buy my own sports team.

A post shared by Dan Cooper (@serenecoops) on

I set to work, finding pictures of myself doing things that I can overlay with useful phrases and lots of cool symbols. Another thing I learn, thanks to Fast Company, is that Instagram's most popular color is blue, so all of my images are tinted with the hue in Photoshop, and then I use the Clarendon filter to double up on the amount of blue on show in each image. And, actually, this combination of factors does prove effective, in its own weird way, often garnering me five or six likes within minutes of publishing.

A post shared by Dan Cooper (@serenecoops) on

Rule Number Three: Maintain your energy

I'm reminded of Jessica Vasquez, a social media celebrity going by the name JessiSmiles. She quit the much-loved six-second comedy network Vine after finding the pressure to produce content too much. "You can say that it's six seconds, but six seconds -- putting it out there in front of millions of people to tell you what they think about it is hard." I'm feeling the same, putting all of this effort to craft an image and then email it to my phone so that it can be uploaded via Instagram's mobile app. In fact, the user interface itself forces everything to be slower than it could otherwise be done, be it adding comments with hashtags and editing images. It helps sap my already-ailing momentum.

On that subject, posting a list of hashtags in your comments is a nightmare because there are several opaque rules that enables Instagram to block your postings. After preparing a list of hashtags that I could paste in on the tail of every image, it would frequently be blocked, much to my dismay. All of this ensured that I began missing days, feeling lethargic and generally wanting to avoid spending time on Instagram.

But my efforts were, at least, noticed by David*, a social media marketer who got in touch to offer me his skills. David is a "social media marketer," who promises to essentially take the legwork out of building a following by doing it all for you. "You've got a LONG way to go," wrote David in an Instagram direct message, "it will pretty much be impossible to get there without any marketing help."

David's job is to log into his client's Instagram accounts and perform "outward engagement," industry speak for liking, commenting and following targeted users. These users are identified through niche influencers, locations and other variables, that are then intended to juice your own attention. The more attention you give, and the more you receive, the more prominent you're expected to become. Depending on how much cash you hand over each month, you can also get Dave to slide into other people's DMs on your behalf.

And, to be fair, David does look like he's at least capable of starting me on the ladder, having accrued 14,500 followers on his own account. He shares his other clients' profiles with me that all have similar counts -- and he promises to get around 1,000 new followers each month. Prices start from $49 a month and run all the way up to $199 if you want everything, including a weekly analytics call.

Unfortunately, my budget remains zero, so I'll never know if David could work his magic on my account, but the recognition does at least reinvigorate me. If I'm already worthy of attention from social media promoters, perhaps this is all something worth persisting with.

* Names have been changed.

Rule Number Four: Engage

There's something missing from my Instagram game, and that's the fact that I don't use the service to interact with others. I'm one of these folks who gets itchy about sending a Facebook friend request to people, even if I've known them for years. Consequently, the idea of copying Vaynerchuk's exhortations to slide into everyone's DMs in the hope of becoming a better marketer gives me hives.

But, as hard as it is, I begin doing it, responding in kind to every comment that pops up on my images and trying to reach out to others. The process is slow, mostly because I generally treat online interactions as meaningful, rather than simply process of shooting platitudes at everyone in my digital vicinity. I offer some very generic comments on the things that people have added and, again, see my likes spike. It seems that the more effort you put in, the more successful your account can be.

A post shared by Dan Cooper (@serenecoops) on

depression for teenagers.

A post shared by Dan Cooper (@serenecoops) on

I've given up trying now, and I don't think that the hallowed world of earning $100,000 per promotional image is within my grasp. I won't be receiving a free outfit from my favorite tailors or get invited to New York's hottest new nightclub. After a month of work to try and cultivate my image into that of a hot young influencer taking the Instagram world by storm, I managed to accrue a total of 18 followers, although that number is now falling by the day.

  • Total Posts: 20
  • Total Follows: 18
  • Total Likes: 231
  • Number of Protein Powder retailers that followed me: 2
  • Digital Marketers that followed me: 6
  • Churches: 1

Trump to sign directive ordering NASA to return to the Moon

President Trump's administration hasn't been shy about wanting to put people back on the Moon, and now it's taking action to make sure that happens. In a statement, the White House said the President would sign Space Policy Directive 1, which orders NASA to lead an "innovative space exploration program" that sends astronauts to the Moon and, "eventually," Mars. Details of what the policy entails aren't available at this point, but the signing will take place at 3PM Eastern. The date isn't an accident -- it's the 45th anniversary of the landing for the last crewed Moon mission, Apollo 17.

Vice President Pence shed some light on the motivations in October. The symbolism of returning to the Moon is a factor, of course, but Pence also saw it as a way to "build the foundation" for trips to Mars "and beyond." Both the presidential transition team and NASA's director nominee Jim Bridenstine have floated the possibility of mining the Moon, but there's no immediate indication that this will be part of the directive.

Whether or not the strategy is a good one is up in the air. Some support Pence's approach, arguing that the US needs more recent experience with human exploration than the Apollo missions before it travels all the way to Mars. It could also help create a lunar station that simplifies Mars voyages. However, there are concerns that the insistence on a moonshot won't help much, and may only serve to delay a visit to Mars at a significant expense to the public. And of course, there's the question of this being used to justify a shift away from the climate science that the current administration hates so much. Whatever the reasons, the debate is largely moot -- the US is going to try for more astronauts on the Moon.

Source: Reuters


Trump to sign directive ordering NASA to return to the Moon

President Trump's administration hasn't been shy about wanting to put people back on the Moon, and now it's taking action to make sure that happens. In a statement, the White House said the President would sign Space Policy Directive 1, which orders NASA to lead an "innovative space exploration program" that sends astronauts to the Moon and, "eventually," Mars. Details of what the policy entails aren't available at this point, but the signing will take place at 3PM Eastern. The date isn't an accident -- it's the 45th anniversary of the landing for the last crewed Moon mission, Apollo 17.

Vice President Pence shed some light on the motivations in October. The symbolism of returning to the Moon is a factor, of course, but Pence also saw it as a way to "build the foundation" for trips to Mars "and beyond." Both the presidential transition team and NASA's director nominee Jim Bridenstine have floated the possibility of mining the Moon, but there's no immediate indication that this will be part of the directive.

Whether or not the strategy is a good one is up in the air. Some support Pence's approach, arguing that the US needs more recent experience with human exploration than the Apollo missions before it travels all the way to Mars. It could also help create a lunar station that simplifies Mars voyages. However, there are concerns that the insistence on a moonshot won't help much, and may only serve to delay a visit to Mars at a significant expense to the public. And of course, there's the question of this being used to justify a shift away from the climate science that the current administration hates so much. Whatever the reasons, the debate is largely moot -- the US is going to try for more astronauts on the Moon.

Source: Reuters


Apple confirms it’s buying music recognition app Shazam

Well, that was fast. Following reports on Friday that Apple was planning to buy music recognition app Shazam, CNBC reports that Cupertino has confirmed the purchase. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but TechCrunch estimates the agreement to be worth around $400 million. The site was also the first to report news of the acquisition Friday afternoon.

"We are thrilled that Shazam and its talented team will be joining Apple. Since the launch of the App Store, Shazam has consistently ranked as one of the most popular apps for iOS," Apple said in a statement to CNBC. "Apple Music and Shazam are a natural fit, sharing a passion for music discovery and delivering great music experiences to our users."

As we mentioned last week, Shazam's tech already works with Siri to identify songs and it's available for use on both iOS and the desktop. Pairing Shazam with Apple Music makes a lot of sense, but given the fact that the app also offers image recognition tools, Tim Cook & Co. could have bigger plans for its new purchase than just audio.

Source: CNBC


Apple confirms it’s buying music recognition app Shazam

Well, that was fast. Following reports on Friday that Apple was planning to buy music recognition app Shazam, CNBC reports that Cupertino has confirmed the purchase. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but TechCrunch estimates the agreement to be worth around $400 million. The site was also the first to report news of the acquisition Friday afternoon.

"We are thrilled that Shazam and its talented team will be joining Apple. Since the launch of the App Store, Shazam has consistently ranked as one of the most popular apps for iOS," Apple said in a statement to CNBC. "Apple Music and Shazam are a natural fit, sharing a passion for music discovery and delivering great music experiences to our users."

As we mentioned last week, Shazam's tech already works with Siri to identify songs and it's available for use on both iOS and the desktop. Pairing Shazam with Apple Music makes a lot of sense, but given the fact that the app also offers image recognition tools, Tim Cook & Co. could have bigger plans for its new purchase than just audio.

Source: CNBC


The best gifts for a console gamer

Don't worry, we're not out to start a console war in our comments: If you're in the market for a new games system, the Xbox One S, PlayStation VR, Nintendo Switch and 2DS XL all made it into our holiday gift guide, for different reasons. Once you figure out which platform is best for your intended, we have a wide assortment of games and accessories, from a 400GB microSDXC card to a custom Xbox controller to the PlayStation Gold wireless headset, among other things. Find all that and more in our gift guide at the link below.

Source: Engadget Holiday Gift Guide 2017


Google’s Pixel AR stickers are available starting today

During Google's Pixel 2 event in October, the company teased its upcoming AR stickers and starting today, Pixel users can actually get their hands on them. Those with Pixel phones running Android 8.1 Oreo will have access to AR stickers like Foodmoji, 3D text and celebratory balloons and champagne just in time for the holidays. And ahead of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Pixel users can also get a pack of Star Wars-themed AR stickers.

You can check out the Star Wars stickers in the video below or the image above and overall they look pretty great. They seem to have a much better quality than the Stranger Things AR stickers that we've seen previews of before and are also being released today. And they look way better than that Snapchat Star Wars Lens.

To add these stickers to your photos or videos, just open the camera app, switch to AR Stickers mode, select which sticker pack you'd like to use and the drop the stickers into the scene. You can then resize them and move them around and they'll also interact with whatever else is in the image.

The new AR Stickers are rolling out to Pixel users over the next few days and Google says more sticker packs will be released in the future.


Ataribox pre-orders start this week, without any game details

Excited for the Ataribox? Well, starting December 14th, you'll be able to lay down $250 - $300 for the retro-modern console. The company emailed the news to fans recently and even teased that there will be a chance for the "earliest supporters" to snag one at a discounted price. No, there still isn't a firm release date for the console (last we heard was "late spring 2018"), or word on its included games. So, you know, proceed at your own risk regardless of how cool those design prototypes might look.


NASA’s high altitude ER-2 scans California’s wildfires

For the second time this year, swaths of California are burning out of control thanks to unseasonably warm and dry temperatures. To better study what's happening and assess the environmental impact, NASA deployed its high-altitude ER-2 aircraft with a host of scientific instruments on board. In the image above, sunlight glints on its prop as it flies over the Thomas Fire in Ventura county at around 65,000 feet.

The ER-2 has been scanning the blazes with a couple of interesting instruments that have flown, or will fly aboard the international space station (ISS). One of them is the AVIRIS spectrometer that can penetrate cloud, dust and smoke to see the ground below. While providing a clear image of the ground, it can also measure fine details in vegetation like water content and plant species growing. Eventually, a similar instrument will be launched into space.

On the flight pictured above, however, it's carrying another instrument, the Cloud-Aerosol Multi-Angle Lidar (CAMAL). It was originally developed to a validate space-based version of the instrument called CATS, which operated for 33 months aboard the ISS, before going out of service last month. Now, CAMAL is being used for a similar purpose aboard the ER-2. Unlike other types of LiDAR used to scan the ground, CAMAL can study pollution, smoke, clouds and other atmospheric phenomena.

Another view of the Thomas Fires from space

Ideally, NASA flies the AVIRIS spectrometer over regions before a fire starts to get a base measurement, then overflies the same spot again afterwards. Comparing the before and after images gives researchers an idea about the severity of a fire.

Meanwhile, when the blaze is active, the area can be scanned with the CAMAL LiDAR to get a picture of the dust, smoke and cloud cover in the area. Using the space-based version of the instrument, for instance, NASA scanned the October wildfires, finding plumes extending as high as 2-3 miles that created "the worst air quality ever recorded in many parts of the Bay Area," NASA's CATS team said.

"The vision is that these types of measurements could be available from space in the next decade," said JPL's Rob Green. "The resulting information would then be used to develop fuel maps in advance that could be used to make better predictions about where you could mitigate risk by clearing brush and trees." CAMAL can also be used by researchers to study cloud formations and learn more about climate change, which is helping fuel the wildfires in the first place.

Source: NASA


Netflix leads the streaming pack with nine Golden Globe nominations

Nominations for next month's Golden Globes ceremony were announced this morning and streaming services had a pretty decent showing. Netflix led the pack with nine TV nominations while Amazon and Hulu each received three.

Netflix's The Crown took two nominations -- one for Best Drama Series and another for Best Performance by an Actress, which went to Claire Foy. Stranger Things also received two nominations -- another Best Drama Series nod and one for David Harbour, nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Master of None received two as well with the first going to the show itself for Best Comedy Series and the other going to Aziz Ansari for Best Performance by an Actor. Ozark, 13 Reasons Why and Glow each received one nomination each. All were for Best Performance by an Actor or Actress and they went to Jason Bateman, Katherine Langford and Alison Brie.

Two of Amazon's went to the brand new show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. One nomination was given to the show for Best Comedy Series and the other to the show's lead, Rachel Brosnahan. The third nomination was for Kevin Bacon's role in I Love Dick.

All three of Hulu's nominations were for The Handmaid's Tale. It received a Best Drama Series nomination and Elizabeth Moss and Ann Dowd received nominations for Best Performance by an Actress and Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role.

The Golden Globes ceremony will air on January 7th on NBC.

Via: Variety

Source: Golden Globes