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For the last 2+ years, our lives have been directly connected to Instagram, as it is our largest platform for Searching For Sero. Things were great, the page was growing (slowly and organically) and photos were getting likes in comments.We were happy with the result.

A bit of a change happened in the #vanlife community though. Several accounts pledge more to show “the real #vanlife”, not the “glorious, parked on a beach every night” one. Which don’t get me wrong, there are lots of those nights, but there are also lots of Walmart nights. This concept of the “fake” #vanlife on Instagram got me digging into things a little more.

Bike and chill. #FoundSero | @bigagnes_ | @goalzero | @gowestycampers

A post shared by Searching For Sero (@searchingforsero) on

I started to notice more and more folks pop up with Westfalia’s and “real” #vanlife Instagram accounts. At this point, the van had been across Canada, and across the US and was working on its 2nd leg across the US. Our van is decked out with our project and social accounts. We had picked up about 6000 followers, we were stoked.

But I noticed some other guys, with 2 weeks on the road and no logo, no promo on their vans, had already hit 20k, 50k, 100k, some having posted less than 100 photos.

I started to ask myself, “what are we doing wrong?” I got into research mode, both on how to grow an Instagram account, and what these other folks were doing to get such great growth. Because wether you like it or not, these number matter. Not to me, not to Tracy, but to the people we deal with on a daily basis. Those who have the means to make this project and fundraising a successful one look at those numbers.

This is when I realized how fake Instagram really is. And I am not talking about the life stories we portray on the platform either.

Many of these pop up accounts had purchased their following. Essentially paying for someone to create fake accounts and follow them. It went on further to fake likes and fake comments, “Great job! Keep it up!”

More research brought me to Instagram bots. These are little scripts, that you again pay for and get set up to comment and like for you, hoping that your bot commenting on someones photo will get them to follow you.

I sat back and started thinking, so the life stories portrayed on the platform are often not the full truth and the followers, likes and comments are mostly fake. What are we so attracted to on this platform and why do people feel the need to buy likes and followers?

Is it to make a quick buck from sponsorship dollars? Is it to win the popularity contest? Or just the social need to feel liked, even if it is fake?

There is no doubt that getting that like is addicting. But at what cost? Is it worth it?

#FoundSero

4 comments

  1. Jason Reply February 5, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    I was thinking about this yesterday. I have had an IG account for sometime but never really did anything with it until I got completely fed up with FB. I have next to no followers and I feel like it is pretty easy to spot the bots but they seem to be getting more sophisticated almost like a Turing test. Thank you for posting this, and fwiw, I am a real follower and appreciate your work, keep it up. I drove my 85 Westy all over the US long before there was a #VANLIFE and to be honest I liked it better back then, we sent post cards and made the occasional long distance phone call on a pay phone (gasp) I know you can’t keep a good thing a secret forever but we had a good run. Back then we were just dirt baggin it to get from one kayaking/climbing/cycling spot to the next. I still travel in a van or truck and will always love it, just wish it would calm down a little so I can afford another one when I get home from being abroad. Sorry for the long post.

    • John Reply February 5, 2018 at 2:33 pm

      Agreed. I spent 2 years living out of a Jeep Cherokee and going river to river and kayaking every day. There was no Instagram, there was no hashtags. I just let the rivers lead me.

  2. Matt Reply February 6, 2018 at 6:51 am

    This is unfortunately true on even more mediums so it totally doesn’t surprise me that the social media aspect was impacted. Watch the reviews of businesses across the internet, same thing is happening there. Bought positive reviews. It’s a little disappointing now that you can buy anything instead of actually earning customers (followers) loyalty the old fashion way. The good side of it, usually as fast as they grow they fade away just as quickly. keep things up and let us know when you are back in the Simcoe County, Ontario area again for some riding

    • John Reply February 6, 2018 at 8:53 am

      so true. Ride on!

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