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“Fake Famous” and the Tedium of Influencer Culture

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The HBO documentary “Fake Famous” opens on a seemingly beatific scene: in the golden sunlight of Los Angeles, to the strains of an operatic score, we see a string of young, seemingly carefree people, posing in front of a hot-pink wall. Mugging for iPhone cameras held by friends, or angling their faces up to their own devices and snapping selfies, they are participating in a popular contemporary rite, the film’s writer and director, Nick Bilton, tells us in voice-over. These people have come to L.A., he explains, not to break from the hustle of everyday life, by relaxing and “taking in the sparkle of Tinseltown.” Rather, they are there to continue the hustle. The pink wall—which, functionally speaking, serves to hold up the Paul Smith clothing boutique on Melrose Avenue—has become one of the world’s top tourist destinations; it’s an eye-catching but blank-enough canvas for those who pose in front of it, and who later post the results to Instagram. Those people, Bilton says, are looking for “likes, which translates to more followers, which is the current currency of the most important thing on earth today—what everyone seems to be obsessed with. They want to be famous.”

Bilton’s interesting if uneven documentary sets out to examine the pursuit of this particular kind of fame, by engaging in what he dubs a “social experiment.” (Bilton is a special correspondent for Vanity Fair, where he covers the intersection of tech and politics.) He puts out a casting call that asks its potential respondents one question—“Do you want to be famous?”—and out of the thousands of hopefuls who, apparently, do, he selects three individuals, with the goal of making them Instagram influencers. He is assisted by a team of experts, including casting directors, stylists, and social-media consultants. (“What’s your passion?” one of them asks in grave tones, to learn that the candidate is now “focussing on roller-skating.”) The chosen three are initially enthusiastic participants in Bilton’s plan. Becoming Instagram-famous might lead to collaborations with brands, which will provide the influencers with free products and services, and perhaps even money.

There is Dominique, an affable aspiring actress from Miami Beach, who works at Lululemon while she waits for her big break; Wylie, a fretful assistant to a Beverly Hills real-estate agent, who is struggling to fit into L.A.’s body-conscious, competitive gay scene; and Chris, a Black fashion designer from Arizona, who appears to be the most self-confident of the bunch (“I don’t even feel like I want to [be famous], I deserve to”). For all of them, becoming an influencer isn’t the final goal but a stepping stone to getting what they want: for Dominique and Chris, it means careers in the acting and fashion industries, and for Wylie, a greater sense of social ease and acceptance. Fame seems “like a good thing, and everyone wants it, so if everybody wants it . . . ” Wylie says, as he drives around town, running niggling errands for his demanding boss.

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Working a menial job is hard, but “Fake Famous” demonstrates that being an influencer, too, can be a tedious kind of labor. In one amusing sequence, Bilton takes us behind the scenes of a photo shoot in which Dominique and Wylie are shown partaking in one-per-cent-like activities such as sipping champagne and eating chocolates poolside at the Four Seasons, relaxing blissfully on an international flight, and receiving a luxurious spa treatment. All of this, however, is smoke and mirrors: in the pictures, which are shot in quick succession at a single location, a toilet seat held aloft mimics a plane’s window, the champagne is apple juice, the chocolates are pats of butter dipped in cocoa powder, and the rose-petal-infused spa basin is a plastic kiddie pool.

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There is a kind of D.I.Y. creativity about all of this, a spirit of making do, which allows the plucky influencer some agency. “Remember, you’re the Lulu girl!” Dominique’s mom reminds her daughter, early on in the film, when Dominique expresses doubts about her ability to make nice at her retail job—and, in her attempts to become an influencer, Dominique’s fealty to Lululemon is exchanged for a commitment to the new version of herself that she has decided to sell online. Dominique wants to brand her own self rather than work for someone else’s, and on the face of it, one might wonder what could be wrong with this strategy, in which, instead of allowing a corporation to harvest the surplus value of an employee’s personality, the employee is able to harvest it for herself. (Slay, kween!) Depressingly, though, as Dominique’s popularity grows—she even starts getting more auditions and acting gigs, thanks to her burgeoning Instagram profile—her success seems to depend not on any surplus of personality but, rather, on a lack thereof. She develops an audience by posting videos of herself unboxing products that she has been sent for free by other brands: a blender, energy bars, slippers, a CBD vibrator. Dominique “is like a piece of Play-Doh,” Chris says to Bilton. Like the pink wall on Melrose, she is eye-catching, but still blank enough.

Most influencers, Bilton tells us—even, reportedly, mega-successful ones, like Kim Kardashian—have expedited their climb to the top of the social-media pyramid by purchasing followers, in order to inflate their engagement metrics. It’s in the best interest of social-media companies and their Wall Street investors to turn a blind eye to this practice, Bilton explains, as whirring stacks of hundred-dollar bills flash on the screen, because these puffed-up numbers equal increased proceeds. None of this is especially surprising, but as if not wanting to weigh viewers down, “Fake Famous” insists on leading them by the hand, occasionally descending to the tone of a cutesy explainer, à la the champagne-flute-brandishing, bathtub-soaking Margot Robbie in “The Big Short.” (At one point, Bilton notes that larger companies have access to “fancy software” that they use to determine the authenticity of influencers’ followers.)

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In the manner of the market, Bilton, too, purchases thousands of followers, likes, and engagements for his budding influencers. He does this from the get-go, skipping over an attempt to grow the trio’s follower base organically, which appears to implicitly dovetail with his larger thesis: influencers are nearly exclusively fake, so why even bother trying to create a following that depends, at its origin, on real engagement? Because this strategy has indeed seemed to work for many others, it’s hardly a shock when the growing popularity of Dominique, Wylie, and Chris, though false, begets real-life boons—real followers, real products, real gym sessions, real vacations, even interest from potential real employers—though the documentary does some work to present this as an unexpected outcome. “Something started to happen that we didn’t anticipate,” Bilton says, of Dominique, adding that brands “started to find her.” A bit later, he reports, “Then, out of nowhere, Dom got a private message on Instagram, inviting her to . . . an all-expenses-paid, V.I.P. influencer road trip.”

Although all three of them expand their followings significantly, Chris and Wylie decide that they aren’t fit for an Instagram-famous existence. Wylie says that he is uncomfortable living a false life propped up by bots, and Chris refuses to fit the mold of influencer that Bilton and his team have created for him. “I can’t believe some clowns actually book this thing,” Chris says, when taken to a fake private plane that is rented out by those who wish to present a jet-setting image on social media. “It feels not right for me,” he says. “I’d much rather just show me.”

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Influencing is not for everybody, but Chris’s complaint highlights the limits of Bilton’s strategy. In his social experiment, Bilton seems to try to create a one-size-fits-all version of an influencer, the too-big-to-fail kind that showcases a fantasy of a luxurious, if anodyne, life style—one that Dominique slides into almost too well, and which Chris and Wylie struggle to embrace. As Hana Hussein, a social-media manager, explains in the film, there are many different breeds of influencer. “There are the fashion influencers, the life-style influencers, the home-and-interior-design influencers, the wellness influencers, the health-and-fitness influencers,” she says. (There are, of course, more niche categories, too: literary influencers, celeb-gossip influencers, plus-size-fashion influencers, Ikebana influencers, stick-and-poke-tattoo influencers.) A plan that would have taken Chris and Wylie’s idiosyncrasies into further consideration—in order to create, from scratch, influencers in a more authentic and specific mold—would surely have been more difficult to implement, but also more compelling.

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There is more than a hint of reality TV in Bilton’s social-experiment gambit. The repackaging of individuals into a more commercial and skilled version of themselves reminded me of any number of shows, not least “America’s Next Top Model,” with its makeovers and photo shoots. And so it seemed like an odd swerve when “Fake Famous,” as it proceeded, increasingly reverted to overt hand-wringing about the lust for social-media fame and what it’s doing to our culture. Influencers “don’t make you feel better about yourself,” Bilton says, toward the end of the documentary. “The entire concept of influencing is to make you feel worse.” This statement is followed by an ominous montage of designer-label-clad children posing on Instagram, harbingers of a future that has already arrived. All this seems a bit rich coming from a project dedicated to the remaking of regular people as influencers. (Imagine Tyra Banks railing against the modelling industry as she readies contestants to master it!)

And yet, I kind of got it. This is a confusing business, a confusion I am not exempt from. As a writer who often shares her life and work online, I’m aware of my own tendency to post culturally covetable content to my Instagram and Twitter feeds, and of my greedy desire for the niche social capital that I imagine it might bring me. (While I was watching the film, it was hard for me not to keep opening Instagram on my phone, to check how many likes I’d received on my latest post, although I knew full well that no number would ever feel like enough.) Dominique, too, is confused. “It’s so artificial and surface-level,” she says, late in the documentary, of influencers who post about their seemingly gorgeous lives, even after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. “But I think I’m in that boat, too, because people think I’m an influencer.” She tells Bilton that, in recent months, the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests have made her think that she’d like to use her influence to make some sort of difference. A video that she had recently posted had gone viral; in the clip, she tries out a free bidet that she received in the mail and becomes comically perturbed when experiencing the device’s effects. “I’ve had so many people say, like, ‘This made my week, I was laughing so hard,’ ” she says. “If I could do that for more people, I think it would be incredible.”

While writing this piece, I opened Dominique’s Instagram profile. She currently has more than three hundred and forty thousand followers, and has been promoting the mattress brand Awara and the fitness-class-booking app ClassPass. Most recently, too, she has been promoting “Fake Famous,” on HBO.

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LinkedIn Makes its 20 Most Popular LinkedIn Learning Courses Freely Available Throughout August

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Looking to up your skills for a job change or career advancement in the second half of the year?

This will help – today, LinkedIn has published its listing of the 20 most popular LinkedIn Learning courses over the first half of 2022. In addition to this, LinkedIn’s also making each of these courses free to access till the end of the month – so now may well be the best time to jump in and brush up on the latest, rising skills in your industry.

As per LinkedIn:

As the Great Reshuffle slows and the job market cools, professionals are getting more serious about skill building. The pandemic accelerated change across industries, and as a result, skills to do a job today have changed even compared to a few years ago. Professionals are responding by learning new skills to future-proof their careers and meet the moment.” 

LinkedIn says that over seven million people have undertaken these 20 courses this year, covering everything from improved communication, project management, coding, strategic thinking and more.

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Here are the top 20 LinkedIn Learning courses right now, which you can access via the relevant links:

  1. Goal Setting: Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) with Jessie Withers
  2. Excel Essential Training (Office 365/Microsoft 365) with Dennis Taylor
  3. Interpersonal Communication with Dorie Clark
  4. Cultivating a Growth Mindset with Gemma Leigh Roberts
  5. Project Management Foundations with Bonnie Biafore
  6. Using Questions to Foster Critical Thinking and Curiosity with Joshua Miller
  7. Essentials of Team Collaboration with Dana Brownlee
  8. Unconscious Bias with Stacey Gordon
  9. Learning Python with Joe Marini
  10. Communicating with Confidence with Jeff Ansell
  11.  Speaking Confidently and Effectively with Pete Mockaitis
  12. Learning the OWASP Top 10 with Caroline Wong
  13. Power BI Essential Training with Gini von Courter
  14. Strategic Thinking with Dorie Clark
  15. SQL Essential Training with Bill Weinman
  16. Developing Your Emotional Intelligence with Gemma Leigh Roberts
  17. Communication Foundations with Brenda Bailey-Hughes and Tatiana Kolovou
  18. Agile Foundations with Doug Rose
  19. Digital Marketing Foundations with Brad Batesole
  20. Critical Thinking with Mike Figliuolo
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If you’ve been thinking about upskilling, now may be the time – or maybe it’s just worth taking some of the programming courses, for example, so that you have a better understanding of how to communicate between departments on projects.

Or you could take an Agile course. If, you know, you don’t trust your own management ability.

The courses are available for free till August 31st via the above links.

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Instagram Is Rolling Out Reels Replies, And Will Be Testing A New Feature Which Informs …

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Instagram has added a few more social features to the platform, with Reels Replies being rolled out. Along with the Replies, anew feature is being tested that shows when two users are active together in the same chat.

Reels has been performing much better than perhaps even Instagram ever anticipated. The TikTok-inspired new video format (which officially claims to have absolutely no relation to the former) had some trouble really finding its footing initially. However, Reels has grown massively and while it may not be a source of the most direct competition to TikTok, it is indeed a worthy alternative.

Reels has grown to the point that it has a massive creator program attached to it, and the video format has even been migrated to Facebook with the goal of generating further user interest there. Naturally, with such a successful virtual goldmine on its hands, Instagram has been hard at work developing new features and interface updates for Reels, integrating it more and more seamlessly into the rest of the social media platform. Features such as Reels Replies are a major part of such attempts at integration.

Reels Visual Replies are essentially just what they sound like: A Reel that is being used to reply to someone. It’s a feature that’s been seen frequently across TikTok as well. Reel Replies essentially take a user’s comments, and reply to them in video format. The comment will then show up within the Reel itself as a text-box, taking up some amount of space, and showing both the user who issued said comment along with the text. The text-box is apparently adjustable, with users having the ability to move it around and change its size depending on where it obstructs one’s Reel the least.

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Overall, it’s a fun addition to the Reels format, even if the credit should be going to TikTok first. At any rate, it’s an example of Instagram really utilizing Reels’ social media capabilities, outside of just serving it up as a form of entertainment.

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Speaking of social media capabilities, a new feature might help alleviate one of the most common frustrations encountered across all such platforms. Isn’t it annoying when you see that a friend’s online, but isn’t replying to your chat? Sure, they’ve probably just put their phone down to run a quick errand, but there’s no way for you to know, right? Well, there sort of is now! Instagram is beta testing a new feature via which if both users are active within a chat, the platform will display that accordingly. It’s a work-around, sure, and one that’s currently being tested for usefulness, but it’s still a very nice, and even fresh, addition to the social media game.

Now, the active status will only appear when you are both active at the same time.#Instagram #instgramnewfeature@MattNavarra @instagram @alex193a pic.twitter.com/2chGZP9hr4

— Yash Joshi  (@MeYashjoshi) December 10, 2021

Read next: Instagram Plans On Allowing Users To Return To Its Old Chronologically Sorted News Feed

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5 apps for scheduling Instagram posts on iPhone and Android

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Alright, we get it. You’re an Instagram Nostradamus.

You know exactly what you want to post and when you’re gonna want to post it. Maybe there’s a meme or comment you want to make that you know will be totally relevant for a future moment or event. Or it could be that you’re an influencer and you want to make sure you keep a steady stream of content coming, so you want to schedule posts for times when you know you won’t be active (or won’t have internet access).

You’ll be happy to know there are apps that are specialized for just such situations. So listen up, InstaNostradamuses…Instagrostra…Instadam…Insta…uh…you guys (we’ll workshop it. No we won’t. We’ll probably just abandon that effort completely. You’re welcome) — these are the Instagram-post-scheduling apps for you.

While all of the iPhone apps below are free to download, they all have some in-app purchases.

1. Planoly

PLANOLY

We’ll start with “official partner” of Instagram, itself, Planoly — an Instaplanner that uses a grid to let you plan, schedule, and publish posts (as well as Reels) on Instagram. The app also lets you see post metrics and analytics so you can make sure your post didn’t flop.

Planoly is available for iOS on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for Android.

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2. Buffer

BufferCredit: buffer / app store

Buffer is another Instagram post scheduler that helps you plan your posts and analyze feedback once they’re published. Use a calendar view to drag and drop posts into days/time slots for easy scheduling.

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Buffer is available for iOS on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for Android.

3. Preview

PreviewCredit: preview / app store

Preview offers typical post-scheduling tools and analytics along with a few helpful extras. Get caption ideas, recommendations for hashtags, and more.

Preview is available for iOS on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for Android.

4. Content Office

Content OfficeCredit: content office / app store

An Instagram post scheduler with a visual boost, Content Office allows users to plan and schedule Instagram posts while learning “marketing and visual guides to grow your brand on Instagram.” Like aesthetics and using visuals to create cohesive themes? Maybe this is the Instaplanner for you.

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Content Office is available for iOS on the Apple App Store.

5. Plann

PlannCredit: plann / apple store

You’ll never guess what “Plann” lets you do…

Aside from scheduling posts, get content ideas and recommendations, as well as strategy tips to ensure you’re maximizing your Instagram engagement. Ever wonder when the best time to post something is? Plann can offer you some help with that.

Plann is available for iOS on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for Android.

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