I landed in Manila this afternoon. It felt different this time - maybe because I know this will be home for the next few months. It felt final. More final, at least. Not forever - I'm coming back to the US, I'm sure of it - but when I landed I didn't have that rush, that high, that usually comes from knowing I only have two weeks on the island and that I must savor every second. I didn't feel that as much today - instead I felt very, very calm.
Call me naïve, but it blew my mind how frequently – and how easily -- people “cheat” at social media. And while all these black-hat tactics can be used across multiple platforms, I’m mostly fascinated with them being used for Instagram.
I only started working in SEO this year (that’s search engine optimization, mom - except I gave up trying to explain to my family what this is, and now whenever someone over the age of 50 asks me about my industry I say “internet marketing.” Or if I’m feeling particularly playful, I tell them I fux with Google rankings.) so you could say, despite my many years of browsing the Internet (insert obligatory #millennial), I’m a novice in my field – all things considered.
OK, so I knew about buying followers – bot accounts, basically, which are coded to follow you, Like your posts, and sometimes – for the advanced bot – even comment on your posts. Ah, the beauty of AI…
But it goes deeper than that. (“We have to go deeper!”)
Into the rabbit hole we go.
There’s social media pods, which is 9 times out of 10 a Facebook group OR a Viber/WhatsApp group or a Slack or Discord (ok, a 3rd party platform, you get it) filled with people who have mutually consented to liking and commenting on each other’s posts.
(If you look at Yelp – a platform that insists it’s NOT “social media” – you can see the work of pods more evidently; for example, a popular Yelper may post a review for the gas station down the street and within 15 minutes there’s 30+ upvotes validating how “useful/funny/cool” said review is.)
There’s also the case of sell-out feature accounts, and this surprised me more than it should have, considering I work in SEO. Yeah, you know that super artsy food account you’ve been following? The kind that says “Use #MYHASHTAG to be featured” on their profile, so all aspiring foodie bloggers tag them in the hopes of being featured and getting more promotion…?
MANY OF THESE ACCOUNTS ACCEPT PAYMENT TO BE FEATURED. It’s basically the same concept as those blogs that accept paid guest posts. You literally pay them like, $50 and suddenly you’re featured. It’s less about the organic content and more about the $$$.
And here I was thinking Instagram was run on aspiring photographers or honest creatives. It turns out THE SYSTEM IS CORRUPT. It’s pay to play, all the way.
Yeah, there’s the honest photographers or curators on Instagram still. The ones who think if they throw enough popular hashtags in their caption plus excellent content will guarantee a slow but sure hard-earned success.
You just haven’t heard of them because they’re buried by the black-hat Instagrammers.
I collaborated with my team here at Eminent SEO to create the infographic below, accompanied by a brilliantly written piece by my colleague Remy, who goes into more depth regarding the black-hat tactics I briefly mentioned above:
I was never one to feel restless or antsy by staying in one place for too long.
I think I'm a little vanilla, in that sense. I enjoy routine. I appreciate predictability.
I like staying at home.
And yet, after a series of unexpected events... here I am, about to embark on a sorta-kinda-ish spontaneous journey to Manila.. where I will be residing for the next 2 or 3 months. Or so.
A new home, albeit temporarily.
I haven't lived in Manila since I was 13. I spent two years going to Brent International School, before moving back to San Ramon, California with my mom and sister in 2007.
I would be lying if I said I wasn't terrified. I've been searching my mind for WHY I'm so anxious for this big move - but I can't pinpoint why. In all likelihood, moving back home is going to be exciting and fun. I haven't lived in the same roof as my little sister in years. Why am I so nervous?!
Despite how exciting living in Asia will be, I think I'm going to be a little homesick for Arizona. And I'm going to miss the routine I've built here.
It's not a forever goodbye - I'll be back - I just need to put on my big girl pants. Kind of like how I moved across the country to attend Boston University. Except now, I'll be moving across the entire planet.
THINGS I AM EXCITED FOR WHEN I MOVE TO MANILA ON OCTOBER 17:
- My family, obviously. 90% of my extended family lives in Manila too, so that'll be great.
- Awesome food. ESPECIALLY compared to the drab foodie community of Arizona. My Instagram is going to be flourishing, LOL.
- Cheaper cost of living.
- I can reap the benefits of living with a parent, i.e. FREE DINNER!!!! Thanks mom.
- I would love to reconnect with old middle school friends from my Brent days.
- I'll have time to tour the beautiful beaches and cities of the Philippines: Palawan, Boracay, Cebu, Davao, Baguio, etc.
Adventure is good. I must not fear jumping out of my comfort zone. In the wise words of some probably drunk freshman biddie stumbling down Commonwealth Avenue.... YOLO.
Manila, I'm coming for you.
Despite Pokemon Go being launched over a year ago, I've noticed that the community is still going strong - if you know where to find them.
The hype's died down, that's for certain. I predicted - correctly - that after the first couple months, all the bandwagoners would have quit, and only the true Pokemon fans would be left.
I've played Pokemon Go every single day since launch, with the only exception being a 2 week hiatus because my phone was stolen (it happened a few days after the second gen launched - I was MISERABLE) and another 1 week period where I desperately begged my sorority sister in France to try and catch a region-locked Mr. Mime for me (spoiler alert: she didn't find any) because my ten-year-old cousin had gotten one, and I was jealous.
What stood out to me during the initial hype was how crazy it felt to sit at home and obsessively play Pokemon Moon on my Nintendo DS, and then whenever I had to venture outside and do errands, I put the DS away and whipped out my phone... to play Pokemon Go.
It's kind of fun being consumed by Pokemon.
The introduction of legendary raids have really awakened my excitement for the app. Despite failing to catch Articuno and Moltres, it was exciting to meet random strangers in seemingly random locations around Tempe in an effort to work together to battle a legendary.
I met a 34-year-old woman who was absolutely hilarious... At first, she took me off guard, because I can be a judgmental ass and - well I'm just going to go out and say it - I totally thought she was on drugs. She was talking a mile a minute. But I soon realized she was fucking awesome when she started name-dropping the most recent 3rd party gym raid tracker and more impressively, the /r/TheSilphRoad subreddit. (If you don't play Pokemon Go or surf reddit obsessively, the sentence I just said was probably absolute jargon to you.)
In a nutshell... this lady was a total Pokemon nerd. And being a low key Pokemon nerd myself, I thought she was freaking awesome.
It also blew my mind that she was level 34. (I was only 30 at the time. OK, fine, I still am technically, but once I pop a Lucky Egg and evolve my Pokemon, I'll be 31.)
And then I felt kinda bad for judging her and thinking she was on crack or something. Like, she was probably just super friendly and nice. I need to remember this moment, so future Nicola can avoid acting like a judgmental asshole again.
Later on during the Pokemon Go hunt, I met a level 40. This time she was a very quiet, very meek-mannered but nice foreign woman. I say foreign because she had an accent but I really couldn't quite place it - Spanish maybe? Or Mexican?
In fact, during the raids, I obsessively checked all the other players' levels and I found myself on the lower end of the spectrum. 30 was considered low!
It was very, very humbling to say the least.
You know that quote where it's like - There will always be someone prettier, smarter, and younger than you?
It kind of felt like that.