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    • Please join us in welcoming noted photographer, author and artist Trey Ratcliff for a Cake Panel!

      Trey will be answering questions starting at 4:30 PM PST this Monday, June 10, so please submit your questions in advance of that time.

      About Trey: Trey Ratcliff is an artist on a somewhat quixotic mission to help spread consciousness and mindfulness to the world through photography and creativity. Running the #1 travel photography blog in the world, StuckInCustoms.com, has taken him to all seven continents over the past decade, and Google has tracked more than 140 billion views of his photos, all while building a social media presence with over 5 million followers.

      Chris Anderson from TED called him a “pioneer” of the now ubiquitous genre of High Dynamic Range photography. Ratcliff had the first HDR photograph to hang in the Smithsonian Museum and, sales of his large-format limited edition prints to fine art collectors worldwide have grown into a multimillion-dollar business. In 2012, he moved his family and photography business to Queenstown, New Zealand, before it became a trendy doomsday contingency plan. He is based there with his wife, three children, and their dog, Blueberry.

       About Trey's new book, "Under The Influence - How to Fake Your Way Into Getting Rich on Instagram": Join photographer Trey Ratcliff, of the #1 travel photography blog StuckinCustoms.com, as he exposes the cunning tricks Social Media Influencers use to buy their way into the lucrative, multi-billion dollar world of social media brand sponsorship, world travel, and free merchandise. Discover the Instagram black market, hidden in plain sight. Meet these fake “Influencers” – with seemingly glamorous lives, but no real sway on social media – who are fraudulently cheating the system by buying likes, comments, and followers. You’ll find out how little the social networks and agencies are actually doing to protect major brands across every industry, who these Influencers are defrauding to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars each year. In "Under the Influencer - How to Fake Your Way Into Getting Rich on Instagram," take a trip through the behind-the-scenes economics of social media, learn how to spot fake accounts, and discover how it’s possible to stay zen on the Internet – without needing to unplug completely.

      Welcome Trey!

    • First of all, thank you so much for joining us to discuss your book, Trey! Starting off around page 20, where you discuss nostalgia for time-driven content being served up to viewers vs algorithm-driven content. Do you think that there’s going to be a switch back to time-driven content feeds for social media platforms?

    • As long as the biggest social media platforms are free, they will never go back to the time-driven algorithm because it hurts their profits. I've talked to senior VPs at Facebook and they know full well that you are NOT interested in seeing that your old boring high school friends have made a fruitcake and want to show the world. They know what you want to see to keep your finger sliding on the screen as long as possible. The more your finger slides on their slot machine, the more money they make.

    • I think hiding likes is a great start, but it's not as impactful as hiding follower counts. If they take away showing likes, the follower count becomes even more important. As we all know, that number is easily faked (we bought 110,000 followers for the fake account in the book). People will be even more encouraged to buy fake followers for fraudulent or egotistic reasons. 

    • You mention encountering a lot of aspiring influencers in the field. As an original influencer, and one with deep relationships to other proto-influencers, do you feel there’s room to add to the influencer ranks? You mention how difficult it is to start from scratch with building a social media presence with legitimate test account @GentTravelNZ on Instagram:

      "the control account, @genttravelnz, had difficulty getting over 100 followers in the same 30 days. I even mentioned it several times from my own personal account, @treyratcliff, to try to help it catch up. Being attractive, featuring exotic settings, and even getting a genuine shoutout from a big account can all help build a following organically, but it’s not enough these days and it wasn’t enough for @genttravelnz.”

       Do you think there’s hope for people who want to build genuine presences on existing platforms nowadays? Or should they keep an eye out for new platforms like Cake and others to get that early-mover advantage?

    • Yeah, this is a good plug for Cake (unpaid, by the way!). The future is about having conversations. Look at great podcasts hosted by people like Sam Harris, Kevin Rose, Russell Brand, and so many more - these are long conversations about interesting subject matters. After you listen to these discussions, you come away with more clarity of thought and ideas. The world is inherently chaotic. Facebook and Instagram can add to that chaos and the chaos in your own mind. Conversely, platforms that allow for more erudite conversations are perfect antidotes. 

      Now, to the more pointed question of getting a significant footprint on social media. I would not worry about that so much. Take whatever you create and put it on all social media, new and old. There's nothing wrong with sharing your creations and thoughts. Engage with the right people that respond to you. You don't need millions of followers. For reference, I advise you read Kevin Kelly's "1,000 True Fans" at https://kk.org/thetechnium/1000-true-fans/ 

    • On page 55 you discuss the possibility of buying Instagram Story Views, among other things that people may be more aware of, like buying followers, likes, or comments. Was there anything that you discovered that surprised you while writing about the possibilities of artificially “enhancing” one’s social media growth? 

    • I was surprised by how anything can be purchased, included Linked In connections. What kind of loser would do that? I also found it a bit depressing to not be able to believe in numbers and statistics around these things. My background is Computer Science and Math, so I've always believed in numbers. And now, when I see a number attached to a brand or a person, I just don't trust it. It bothers me that so may people DO believe in these numbers. 

    • Prior to reading your book, I was unfamiliar with Buzzfeed’s piece on Instagram “pods”:

      Groups that encourage liking of member posts to artificially boost engagement. You bring up Joseph Harper as one brand marketer who’s taking a stand against artificial metrics. Do you feel there will be others to follow?

    • I doubt it. There are not enough Joseph Harpers in the world. It takes a lot of time and deep dives to unravel the and surreptitious activity. Most marketing departments just want big numbers so they can make nice Powerpoints to show the boss. I know one thing for sure: The boss wants the truth. If the numbers are bad then you can make course corrections. But if you don't get the right data, you're gonna hit an iceberg. No one wants to see Jack sink again while Rose cries. 

    • On page 75, you mention “Secret Giveaways” but those aren’t referenced elsewhere in the book - can you share more context on what those are?

    • This was a reference to one of many methods used by Influencers to gain followers. There are a few Influencers exposed in the book as well as their various tricks. People sometimes offer an amazing "Secret Giveaway" just to get followers. It's secret because nobody every finds out who wins. In many cases, there's no giveaway at all. That's the real secret. 

    • On page 85, you mention “digital human” generators as a source of profile pics for bot accounts. We’ve written about digital humans here on Cake before; 

      Do you think that this type of technology, as it continues to advance, will render even more murky the influencer market with things like Lil Miquela?

    • Yes. It's about to get weird out there with completely artificial Influencers. The best AI Influencers will be those that are good storytellers. Being digitally attractive will get you a long way, but, as we all know from movies and TV, the stories are what really matter. It's difficult for an AI-created human to have a believable story, but we all know it's possible from seeing Pixar movies. 

    • On page 166, you suggest that Instagram “cut out” the middleman of agencies by offering to broker influencer relationships directly. With all the updates being announced for the platform, do you think this may be one of them?

    • I don't know. I think my suggestion in the book is quite brilliant, if I do say so myself. Instagram should absolutely be the middleman and broker deals between brands and Influencers. Last year, there were over 400 new agencies created to broker deals. Most of them are total frauds, started by fraudulent influencers. Brands don't know who to trust. I've worked with brands who have recommended the most ludicrous fake Influencers to join me at events. They just trust these agencies and don't have time to do the research themselves.

      That said, Instagram may be just as bad as the agencies unless they go through and clean out the gunk. There are a lot of bad actors in the system now with fake numbers. No brand should trust any Influencer until they do their own deep dive. We have credit background checks, criminal background checks, etc... but there are no Influencer background checks because all the data remains a mystery behind the Instagram wall. 

    • Oh, just have fun. I'd love it to be like Cake. Just have a conversation about what's going on and how this space is changing every week. 

    • Tough question. I deal with this with my 10 and 13 year old girls. I suppose that I advise to follow my lead! I tell the girls they are beautiful and awesome every day. I show them that beauty has very little to do with what you look like and it's on the inside. I try to get them to go on walks... play a lot of board games... basically anything I can do to get them from looking at screens all day. I don't want to keep them off social media or Youtube or whatever all day. That's unrealistic. I just try to keep them somewhat balanced. 

    • You touch on many different kinds of selfies in the book: whether it’s dangerous selfies or ridiculous selfies, “look at my amazing life” selfies or “selfie zones,” friendsies or groupies - it seems like the key takeaway you have for readers is to be present in the moment, and that the most meaningful experiences are those where you’re present to enjoy them and not pursuing the “perfect shot” at the cost of your safety or wellbeing. With the Instagram Aesthetic changing, do you think we’ll see more of the non-selfie posting on social media, and more people exploring different aesthetics? 

    • No. I don't think that article is accurate. It's one of many articles that is a bit click-baity. Research shows that putting your face in a photo garners 30% more likes. Now, personally, I don't do that. But other people are encouraged to do this because of the public scoreboard of likes, comments, and followers. Also, it's basic human behavior to respond more favorably to human faces than other things like trees or cars. 

    • On page 236, the shot you used of people lining up to take a selfie at the top of the mountain reminded me of this recent NYTimes article about the “Everest traffic jam” --

      Or the environmental degradation seen as a result of people wanting to take selfies in the California Poppy superbloom of this past spring. 

      Do you think that there’s a responsibility to change people’s approach to photography to save landmarks and cities from too much impact?

    • The core problem is the ego. This takes a lot of self-work to release this rather deleterious feature of the human psyche. The ego says that it is more important to show a photo of myself in poppies than to protect the poppies. I think if everyone on earth did an Ayahuasca ceremony (or DMT) then they would see how everything is connected and how silly the ego is.