I'm Jen, but you can call me @jenerous. If you can't tell already, I take social media far too seriously.
I'm not ashamed of my obsession, even though I probably should be. When I take selfies in public — an act that can go on for hours — my friends suddenly disappear, pretending not to know me. More people than I'm proud to admit have watched me frantically delete posts that haven't hit 11 likes in the first hour. And at this point, I've annoyed almost everyone I care about by asking for their opinion on a caption.
But no matter how off-putting I get, there's one person I can always count on to indulge me: Liz Kim (or rather, @LizUnaKim), my co-worker, homie, and non-celeb social media icon. Everyone has one of these: a friend who slays the internet game, whose every post is *fire emoji*. They're the people we look at and say, "If THEY aren't Instafamous yet, then I don't stand a friggin' chance."
One day, Liz and I had a serious heart-to-heart about our generally embarrassing social media habits. We talked about how even though we both put a lot of effort into our posts, we rarely see results. We occasionally get over 100 likes, but even to get recognition of that level, we have to run marathons or get engaged.
But this mediocrity had gone on long enough. Too many perfect photos had gone uncelebrated. Too many witty captions had flown under the radar. A verified account was probably asking too much, but at the very least, Liz and I deserved to see our like odometers click to four digits.
On our own, we didn't stand a chance, but together, we could chase the impossible.
Armed with nothing but a dream, we decided to try to break 1,000 likes.
For weeks, we brainstormed about how to accomplish our goal, a process that mainly consisted of naming estranged high school "friends" who had somehow acquired millions of followers. Could we convince them to repost us? Ideating felt more disheartening than creative — leveraging an existing influencer (or being one) seemed like the only way to succeed.
But just when we started feeling stuck, an angel descended. That angel was our friend James, and he descended through a chat window.
I didn't know what to think, but I knew that, at the very least, I couldn't stop thinking about it. The next day, I ran the idea past Liz.
As crazy as it sounded, it almost made sense. A private island was flashy in all the right ways, not to mention incredibly photogenic.
We did some searching and found the the perfect spot. After confirming the island had Wi-Fi, we checked their availability. Apparently private islands are poppin' because they only had the following weekend open...aka three days later. Luckily, last-minute flights to the Bahamas were surprisingly affordable. And if spontaneity doesn't make for great like-bait, then what does?
Once our travel details were set, we picked up some props — floaties, emoji beach balls, oversize fake money, and premium filters for good measure. Then we set up some guidelines to avoid fights at the finish line (assuming we would make it there).
1. No paying for likes.
Because we spent all our money on a private island.
2. No explicitly telling followers what the goal is.
They would probably slap us if they knew, anyway.
3. The 1,000 likes have to be on one post...
Posting a thousand photos that each get one like doesn't count.
4. ...but we can combine likes from across various social platforms.
Yes, even if the same person likes it twice.
5. Phone photos only.
It's pretty much the same thing as using film, right?
6. No selfie sticks.
That's where we draw the line.
After we landed in the Bahamas, we fixed our hair in our selfie mirrors, then went outside to meet our guide. His name was Christopher Parrot, but he went by "Gage" because everyone needs an island name.
After welcoming us, he tossed our luggage into a speedboat. It was the kind of boat you'd take across a lake, but instead, we took it across the ocean.
"It's casual," said Liz.
Shout-out to Gage because he didn't seem to judge either of us when we took approximately 12,000 pictures on the five-minute ride.
But also shout-out to Gage for where he took us — as the boat turned a corner around a landmass, our jaws collectively dropped.
"Is that...ours?" we asked.
"Yep. That's yours," Gage said, smiling. He was obviously accustomed to seeing people freak out at the stunning landscape, but he didn't seem at all tired of it.
We stared at the horizon, hypnotized by its tranquility. I glanced at Liz and noticed something eerie: We'd both lowered our phones. This was the 2016 equivalent of bowing out of respect.
The air around us was quiet, and the ocean was a bright turquoise everyone agreed was almost too beautiful to exist in nature. Fish moved quickly across the ocean floor — the water was deep but also crystal clear, so we could make their shapes out perfectly. As we stepped onto the beach, making the first footprints the sand had seen in who knows how long, it briefly occurred to me this experience might be too magical to share on the internet.
Shh, I reprimanded myself. Remember why you're here: because nothing is too magical to share on the internet.
As soon as we docked, Liz and I both had the same instinct: to begin telling our story on Snapchat. Though we knew it wouldn't get us likes, it still let us test and learn to see what resonated with our audiences. The best part was our friends could chat us directly with "feedback" (also known as "jealousy" and "confusion").
Snapchat was ephemeral, so the stakes were lower. Liz and I both knew our first permanent post had a complex problem to solve. It needed to communicate the private islandness of our private island to people who weren't on a private island, while also showing off the island itself.
We went with the strategy of saying "private island" a lot.
After a few hours, I checked our stats.
"LIZ!" I shouted. "You got 100 already!"
"Oh, sweet," she said coolly, as if she'd forgotten she posted anything at all. Coming in at just over 50, I was jealous, but I didn't dare admit that. It was funny how we still tried to pretend we didn't care, even though the whole point of this trip was that we cared a little too much.
Culturally speaking, when it comes to photo posts, selfies are the lowest hanging fruit.
If anything, that encouraged us.
The island's seclusion was both a blessing and a curse. Since there was no one else around, we always had a perfectly serene backdrop, but at the same time, the only people we could blame for our bad photos were ourselves.
Gradually our duckfaces began to blur together, so we were forced to innovate within the selfie realm.
And innovate we did. Or rather, we tried. We took selfies of each other's selfies. We busted out the props.
But our biggest breakthrough came when we found a map of the island. We immediately plotted out our strategies, including which apps we should use, top-performing filters, and where on the island would make for good backgrounds.
"It's casual," Liz said.
The second we were done strategizing, we did the inevitable.
It was only day one, and we were already clichés.
Our first few posts performed above our personal averages, but nothing had gone viral yet. Obviously, we were shocked. We'd worked so hard! (OK, maybe we had just booked flights to a private island and hung out on the beach for three hours.) But still — how could this be?!
Rather than diving into rhetorical questions, we examined our content to see what worked and what didn't. Ultimately, we came to a few conclusions:
- Video doesn't perform well (even when it's slo-mo).
- No matter how pretty the picture is, people still love a good filter.
- Photos with familiar faces in them do better than ones without.
Eventually, an unforeseen problem arose. Between the two of us, we only had a confined amount of square feet to document, so it was inevitable that our posts would have some crossover. It didn't matter...until it did.
Perhaps I was overreacting. Perhaps not. In any case, it only took a few hours on the beach for my attitude to do a 180. The sun depleted my energy as the tide lapped at the shore, washing my competitive side away.
Gradually, instead of fighting over who would post what, Liz and I began working as a team. She helped me use multiple filtering apps to get the right look, and I showed her a trick I'm not proud to know: how to keep your hashtags hidden.
As we joined forces, our posts started performing better. And we couldn't argue with results.
Soon afterward, we amended the rules to say we could both post the same photo (or slightly different iterations of it) and count those combined likes toward our overall goal.
In this world of endless content and uncertainty about which filter to use, we could be sure of one thing: We were stronger together than we were apart.
Shortly after I sent those dramatic texts, Liz had an existential crisis of her own. The situation was that she'd posted a photo of our selfie map, but it wasn't performing, so she texted me from the next room.
I told her to stay strong and persevere — decent advice, since she ultimately netted out with over 70 likes. That fiasco was a nice reminder to slow down — even though we're living in the era of lightning speed, patience is still a virtue.
My own mini meltdown came that night, and it didn't turn out so well. We were huddled around a bonfire on the beach when I realized my photo of a dog got only one like after 20 minutes of being posted.
To reiterate: ONE. LIKE.
Liz was as surprised as I was. Backlit by the fire, she lowered her voice: "This is the tale of the internet. Forget everything you thought you knew."
But there wasn't time for ghost stories or to cry over spilt content. I ran inside — I had to delete the photo from everywhere I'd shared it, and fast.
I deleted it in record time, but alas, one of my best friends, Joey, had my post alerts turned on and managed to catch it. He immediately confronted me, and to defend myself, I wound up explaining our 1,000 likes goal. Joey attempted to be constructive.
He was right — we needed to step up our game. We needed something more original. Something only people in our situation could do.
When Gage came to check on Liz and me, he saw the distress on our faces. That didn't mesh well with his island joy, so he asked us what was wrong. We told him everything.
"Ah ha," he said calmly, a knowing look in his eyes. "You need to go to Pig Beach."
Pig Beach was on a different island a short boat ride away. With Gage's help, we hopped on, and to save battery, we didn't take any selfies on the trip. Talk about determination.
The pigs, we learned, were "famous." They were also "semiferal." We didn't care (nor, at this point, did we have a choice).
Since the pigs didn't share our goal of going viral, getting the shot proved harder than expected. Seagulls swarmed the area, turning the insanity up to 11.
Amidst all the craziness, I kept my eyes on the prize.
"Ooh, ooh — get a picture of us both swimming!" I shouted. "Then I can caption it with the twin emoji!"
Eventually, the pigs started to cooperate. They stood in formation, facing the camera, while Liz and I considered which poses to strike.
Then, in a moment of genius clarity, Liz reminded me about the jumbo money we'd brought.
"You're an artist," I told her and grabbed the stack of fake hundreds from the boat.
After our crew members helped us get the shot (or at least a few hundred shots we could choose from), we realized our biggest hurdle still remained: the caption. How do you write something with 1,000 likes on the line?
So many things crossed our minds: "Piggy bank." "Oink$." "When pigs swim."
As the pigs chased us around, I realized just how tired I was. Keeping up an image was exhausting. We'd already gone to so many extremes... Maybe this was the time to be — *gasp!* — ourselves.
After much thought, I settled on a caption. Eight words that truly summed up the experience:
Liz posted a similar version of the same picture (meaning that technically, according to our new rules, we could still combine likes). She, too, chose to be herself:
After we uploaded, I did what I always do when I post something I'm unsure of: I set my phone on airplane mode and forgot about it. It's like my mother always says: "A watched post never boils."
For the rest of the day, we let Gage take us on a tour of the Bahamas. He took us to a hidden cave where we had to snorkel underwater to get inside — yes, it sounded exhilarating, but it also meant we couldn't bring our phones. Instead of staring at our phones to watch the likes (hopefully) roll in, we would be forced to engage with the world around us.
Following Gage's lead, we swam through a rock tunnel into a cave. Inside was so quiet it was almost loud. Schools of fish moved around beneath us, and we mocked the one grumpy fish who stayed in a corner of the grotto by himself. On the distant ocean floor we saw a stingray, and we decided to name him Phil. Someone suggested we all hold our breath and go underwater to have a tea party. We ducked under, sitting cross-legged and miming teacup sips with pinkies out.
"That was adorable!" I said once we came up for air. Then, without thinking, I lapsed back into internet mode: "How could I forget to bring waterproof phone cases?"
"My phone has one — I could go back and grab it?" Gage offered.
I considered this. Did we need another photo? Would the pig post be enough to meet our goal? Or, the real question: Did any of that matter? Was it OK just to enjoy the day?
"Don't worry about it," I told Gage, and we all dove back underneath.
After overstaying our welcome with our new creature friends, we headed home. Gage dropped us off just in time to watch the sunset, which was definitely one to write home about.
At dusk, we walked back to the house and finally turned on our internet again.
The numbers were in, and they were actually...good.
We were shocked. Pigs + money had been the magic formula! A few people had even shared the post on their own pages, which truly blew us away. People liked us! Sure, most of them were sick of us, but some really liked us!
We celebrated with drinks and Snapchats. At midnight, we did the final tally.
147 (Jen's Insta likes)
+ 130 (Liz's Insta likes)
+ 316 (Jen's FB likes)
+ 237 (Liz's FB likes)
That was it. After all was said and done, we hadn't hit 1,000. It turned out the maximum number of likes we could pull — split between people and platforms and doing the craziest stuff we could think of — was a mere 820. But on the other hand, that meant there were 820 likers who didn't hate us! Or if they did, it was out of jealousy, and that much we could handle.
Weirdly, the private island didn't annoy our friends as much as we thought it might. Sure, some of them were close to blocking us...
...but others believed in our potential:
We ultimately decided self-awareness was our friend, and on the flight home, I decided to acknowledge the beautiful spam we'd thrown at our followers.
(I also still wanted to post my overhead shot.)
Back in the U.S. with only the usual things to post about, we had lots of time to reflect. The trip was a reminder that there are certain things you can't share with your followers. Like the taste of saltwater. Or an oceanside bonfire at night. Or the way the breeze blows so much better when you're in a hammock. Or the view inside a cave you couldn't bring your phone into.
For the few days after our trip, we ended up mostly using our photos amongst ourselves, to relive the experience we had. For us, they were more than photos — they were memories. And since we knew their meaning better than anyone else did, we could make better use of them than anyone else could.
It's easy to do things for the 'gram or the Vine or the Snap, but TBH, no amount of loops or likes can compare to something as simple as digging your toes in the sand.
It might sound #basic, but if 1,000 likes was the destination, this experiment was more about the journey. It was about sitting together to watch Snap Stories from the day and relive the memories they contained. It was about cooking group meals for actual sustenance — not just so we could post about it. It was about staring into the deep blue water and not thinking about your followers.
Aside from 820 likes and two photos that could be hung in a very weird museum, we left the island with hundreds of other pictures on our camera rolls. Despite most being duplicates, bad compositions, or just generally unfit to share with the world, I don't plan on deleting any of them for a very long time.
All images © BuzzFeed // Header Illustration by Danielle Ceneta