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An Interview with LGBT Social Media Influencer Angelo “AJ” Cartas

in Real Talk

How old are you exactly?
I’m 24.

Where do you live?
I am located in Los Angeles.

Where did you grow up?
I was actually born and raised in the Philippines and I moved to Chicago when I was seven. I lived there for 14 years.

How was that change from the Philippines to the United States? That must have been huge.
Yes – definitely a culture shock, because in the Philippines everyone there is Filipino, so when we moved over here it was very strange at first to see people of other races, other children who were white, black, latino. I found that a very interesting change. There was also a cultural shock too. I went to speech class because I knew that I had an accent and grammar was different here. I worked on that when I first came here and eventually we adapted.

I still thank my parents for making sure that whenever we were home they spoke our native tongue, because the majority of my fellow Filipino friends, their parents didn’t speak Filipino to them, because they feared that they would have an accent and would be cast out by society. I’m glad my parents didn’t care about that.

Where feels like home?
I would definitely say that the United States is my home, however I still have that connection with the Filipino culture.

How would you describe yourself and what you do?
The first word that pops into my mind is “non-traditional”, and the reason why I say non-traditional is because I came from an Asian family and was raised conservative Christian. My mom had already predetermined what she wanted me to be. She wanted me to be a nurse and go to college.

But I eventually became intrigued by social media when I was around 18 or 19 with Instagram and that’s when I started creating content. I created comics and memes. I created content that would be conceived as funny, because that’s universal content. I continued to do that and didn’t know that I would actually gain over 1.2 million followers a year-and-a-half later. Seeing the potential and the opportunities with that, I decided that it was better for me to move to Silicon Valley and work at companies and help them build their social media. So I left my third year of college. My major was Criminal Justice for 3 years. I then switched to Communications briefly prior to leaving my third year.

I started building social media for all of these companies in 2016. That’s when I led the team that ran one of the biggest influencer marketing campaigns on YouTube in the summer of 2016, and I was eventually brought on to lead social media for this 10 billion dollar international company. It was great. I was there for 7 months and then after that I launched my own agency – RaiseFluence. Right now what I’m doing is I’m helping international companies do their marketing here in the US. I help educate them with how our culture is here in the US, because most of these companies are usually based in China, where, like in the Philippines, everything there is homogeneous. It’s not diverse. Over here you have to be a little bit more sensitive because we have political issues and racial issues that marketers need to be aware of. We make sure that their campaigns run as smoothly as possible, and we help them find influencers here in the US to help market their products or their apps.

How long has RaiseFluence been going for?
We officially launched in December 2017.

At this very moment how many different personal social media accounts are you running?
Me, personally? I would say five. Those are my own personal projects, but we also help hundreds of influencers with campaigns, and within our community we have over 10,000 influencers with a total of over 110 million followers.

Are all of these influencers connected to RaiseFluence? Are they working for you?
They’re not necessarily working for me. They’re part of our community. What we do is that we have this community of influencers who help engage with each other, because of the algorithms of Instagram. When an influencer posts something, these other influencers in the community comment and engage with the content just so that they can rank higher and reach other people. They all support each other’s work.

We don’t have exclusive managing rights to all of them, however we do help them out with campaigns and negotiations. There are influencers who don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t know how to negotiate contracts, they don’t know how to abide by the FTC disclosures. That’s something that we help them with.

There’s a lot of power in being an influencer. As one yourself, what do you see as being your purpose?
That’s one thing that we at RaiseFluence want to make people aware of. People don’t realize how much influence they have in social media. These influencers, some of them get into scandals because they don’t think about what they’re doing first, but then it reaches millions of people.

Personally I acknowledge my influence and I want to use that influence towards a more progressive society. With me being LGBT, I want to push out more LGBT oriented content, and me coming from a conservative fundamental Baptist Christian background and also being Filipino – that’s not a discussion that’s really out there, so I want to be able to push out more content that’s like that, because I know there are people who come from the same background or a similar background and who would resonate with that. I believe that using my platform for something other than vanity is my purpose.

When did you come out and what made you choose to do it?
I first came out to my close friends when I was 17 or 18. The reason for my delay was because of the cultural and religious standards that we have, plus me going to a Christian high school suppressed that. I would “pray the gay away”, but obviously that didn’t work! When I graduated I accepted myself, I told my best friend, I told my close friends about it, and it wasn’t until I was 22 that I officially came out to the world by social media. I came out to over a million people and it was scary. It was very scary. I remember coming out June 26th 2016. It was probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, but as soon as I clicked post, everything was just easier. My family, my mom and my grandma, approached me and asked me about it when I went to the Philippines. I brought my boyfriend at the time. They said they were fine with it. They weren’t hostile at all. They accepted me for who I am.

I knew when I came out that I wanted to be independent. I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t asking anything of my parents, that I had my own place to live, that I had my career, and I had a good relationship going. Those were my requirements, you know, just in case they disowned me!

I just came out to my dad this past Father’s Day. He knew, but he wanted me to verbally confirm it. I had enough courage to tell him. It’s fantastic living as an openly gay man.

What is the cultural climate in the Philippines with regards to the LGBT community?
That’s a good question, and I’m honestly not too informed about it, but I know for a fact that they are becoming more open. The Catholic church plays a huge role in the politics and the issues over there, however people are becoming more accepting of it and becoming more progressive. There are a couple more LGBT people that are celebrities. They are very open about it, but I don’t think that they can get married yet. I know that there is still discrimination. The southern Philippines is controlled mostly by radical Muslims, so I know there are some issues over there too, but I can’t say too much about it. I’m not very involved with the LGBT community in the Philippines, whereas here in the US I am.

How were you received after you came out online?
Most of the comments were very supportive, however there were some people that were quoting the Bible here and there and making religious statements. I learned theology – I did that in school. People pick and choose what they want to believe and that’s fine. I didn’t care. I wasn’t looking for their validation. It was for myself. They can unfollow me, they can block me. It’s not my problem.

I noticed that every now and then on Instagram you post about your relationships. What thoughts were going through your head when you decided you would share stuff about your relationships online?
It really depends on the person you’re with. Sometimes they’re okay with it being on social media, sometimes they’re not. It makes a lot of sense when two social media influencers are together and they are public about it, but for me I’ve only had two relationships and they both weren’t very active on social media. It’s something that you both have to talk about. Some people want their privacy respected. Some couples just want to keep it between themselves, because essentially your relationship is between you and the other person, not necessarily between you, the other person and social media. There are certain things that I would share and certain things that I would not share.

There is no good or bad answer to this question. There are couples out there who talk about their relationship and their issues. I do believe that everyone needs a good role model.

The world of social media is quite glossy. It’s very curated. How do you hold onto authenticity in that space?
It’s something I’ve noticed a lot of my social media friends struggle with, and it’s something I’ve struggled with too. We post content that shows the best parts of our lives, but sometimes we don’t discuss the vulnerabilities and the trials and tribulations that we go through behind the picture or the video.

For me, thankfully, I have learned to compartmentalize my reality with social media. I learned this a couple of years ago, especially when I started working professionally in social media, how everything isn’t the way it seems on social media. There’s more to the story than just the picture itself. It’s something we always have to keep in mind.

In some ways social media doesn’t help. People are becoming more self-conscious of how they should look, what they should wear, what they should be doing, where they should travel to. I definitely think that sometimes you just need to get off it. That’s why I like being out places with my friends where there’s barely any signal or Wi-Fi, because we can all just focus on ourselves and live in the moment without worrying about the pictures we have to take for social media and the engagements.

I imagine it can become quite exhausting.
Definitely. When I was actually active on social media, from 2013 to 2015, it was very exhausting. I was on social media 8 to 14 hours a day. It’s definitely tiring. I do commend those people who are uploading YouTube videos once a day. It does take a lot of energy. It takes a lot of creativity to do all those things. You constantly have to push out content. That’s one thing a lot of influencers experience – they start off doing what they love, connecting with people, but then they get stuck in this rut where they’re like, “Oh shoot I have to do this because my followers expect me to post this video at this time.” It starts to feel like a job.

For me it is technically a job, but I don’t have to worry about content like that anymore. I can post about whatever I want. I don’t care how many likes I get, I don’t care how many comments I get, as long as I’m posting what I want to post, and that’s how my social media is right now. I don’t focus on any specific theme, I don’t spend too much time on it, and that’s something that people have to learn.

You’ve got your finger on the pulse of social media. At the heart of it all, what is it about? What is it that people want out of spending time on social media? What are they hungry for?
I would say that people go to social media to seek new experiences. This could apply to travel or to fashion, for example. Some people use social media for validation unfortunately, and like I said previously, for vanity too. Some people are either/or, or both, but that’s what I think normal users go to social media for. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s not necessarily a good thing, but people should be careful with the balance of how they use social media. Not everything online is real. People should focus more on themselves than worrying about what to post on social media or worrying about anyone else. I do appreciate social media, because it does help you connect with people who are able to elevate you – and you are able to elevate them to a certain level – and bring out positivity. There are tons of ways to use social media. People just need to find their purpose or what to use it for. After all, my career branched off from social media itself.

You mentioned LGBT visibility as being one of your purposes. What are your thoughts on the importance of visibility and how it affects people?
LGBT advocacy on social media is very important, especially with the political climate we have here in the United States. 2018 is a very special year for elections. For the current Administration, pro-equality isn’t one of their main priorities. It should be everyone’s priority. It’s not about what political party you support, it’s about being a decent human being. Everyone deserves the same rights regardless of sexual orientation, gender or identity. Some companies I follow are using social media to bring about more awareness and connect with LGBT influencers, and pro-lgbt people are getting involved. It does produce results. Remember: your votes matter, so go out and vote!

What has been the funnest campaign that you’ve been involved in and why?
I remember doing this campaign, I believe it was with JCPenney. What they had me do was buy things from the JCPenney store – it was during Christmas time – and they wanted me to record people’s reactions as I gave away random gifts to people. That was a very interesting experience. I remember my very first attempt. This lady denied me and said no because she thought it was going to be a prank! Other than that people were very joyful and thankful.

Where to from here? Where do you see things going for you?
Right now I’m done writing my book and I’m hoping to publish it some time this month. I talk about my background, dropping out of school, coming from an alternative background and choosing alternative education to get to where I am. I discuss my challenges when I was in San Francisco back in 2015. It was a very vulnerable time in my life, but writing it down helps. I don’t regret any of it. I turned those negative situations into learning experiences, and they definitely helped me grow as a person and into who I am. Besides publishing my book, I want to keep working with social media, working in marketing, and traveling the world as I do it.

What’s the name of your book?
Startups and Downs.

Will it be available in stores or online?
It will be available online hopefully this month so keep an eye out! Follow me on Instagram @aj.cartas 🙂

Photo: @jackkhu

 

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