When you document your summit of Mount Everest on Snapchat once, it makes you pretty cool.
When you do it two years in a row, it makes you a total Snapchat expert... and, you know, a decent climber, too.
Elite Daily breathlessly followed their journey both years. This year, both Richards and Ballinger made it to the top — Ballinger without supplemental oxygen — at the end of May.
The Eddie Bauer alpinists are both now two of about 200 people ever who have climbed Everest without supplemental oxygen.
I caught up with Ballinger and Richards for an interview with Elite Daily in New York a week after they reached the summit of Mount Everest.
When you're Snapchatting from Everest, it's pretty easy to take a snap that'll make people gawk. I mean, this is your view:
But it wasn't just the incredible views that got EverestNoFilter such a massive following. Ballinger and Richards are incredibly personable and open in their Snapchats, really letting the followers understand what's going on.
Richards insists you don't need a crazy beautiful environment to make a good Snapchat story.
Instead, you just need to care about storytelling. Richards says,
You don't have to be in the most fantastic, the most outlandish place, all you have to be is willing to invest in a good story and take out your camera or phone or whatever when it's taking place.
He claims that the best pieces of any type of footage "are just moments captured":
So whether that's on Everest, or whether it's at a political march, or at a riot, good storytelling is moment-dependent, and you don't have to be in an outrageous environment to make that work. All you have to be is astute and attentive to your immediate environment and aware of what a good story is.
But, Ballinger points out, "amazing backgrounds obviously don't hurt."
Yeah, you can say that again.
When they snapped stories from inside the tent, they'd get around 20 screenshots, Ballinger explains. But when they showed the mountain, they'd get a thousand screenshots.
What it comes down to is "how you define what a good snap is," Richards says. Stories can be pretty — or they can be communicative or drama-driven.
And you don't have to hide away the bad parts of your life on social media, Richards and Ballinger say.
Throughout both EverestNoFilter trips, the men showed physical and emotional moments most of us would shy away from sharing.
This included everything from bodily issues to self-doubt. For instance, Ballinger had to turn around before reaching the summit last year due to physical issues, so he was especially nervous about the climb this time around.
And this being Everest, their sharing has included images of frozen dead human and animal bodies.
They also teared up talking about a climber, Ueli Steck, who died in April while attempting to summit Everest.
Richards opened up this year as he disclosed his struggles with depression and anxiety, which affected his performance on the mountain.
Sharing the not-so-pretty moments of life helps build a connection, Richards says.
Richards admits that the "brand" he built about himself is "based in openness, and vulnerability, and honesty."
And that has always been rewarding. Richards explains,
It's very hard, but the reward from opening up seems to be nearly limitless. I've never taken a risk to open up and been rewarded with malice. Ever. When you present yourself authentically, people can sense that — especially the millennial audience. When you don't, people don't respond as well and they don't create an emotional connection.
It was this openness that fostered the "loyalty" and "two-way conversation" the men appreciate on EverestNoFilter.
Ballinger notes that the Snapchats where they talked about "uncertainty, or doubt, or fear" got much more responses from their followers. He says,
There's something about that that I feel like people are craving. I think a big part of it is that social media, a lot of times, feels so purified and glossed over. People want more of that from their social media, they just don't get it a lot of the time. When you put yourself out there, the return is definitely huge.
It's the rewards from sharing those moments that make it all worth it.
Posting Snapchats while you're climbing Mount Everest "is actually a total pain in the ass," Ballinger says.
It's a process, from typing things properly in touchscreen gloves to making the satellite internet work. So, Ballinger says,
It's people's responses that make it worthwhile, the fact that so many people are following and so many people were taking the time to write comments. ... So many people were taking the time to write their stories, like something about their lives EverestNoFilter is helping them get through. It's totally powerful and makes it worthwhile.
So it seems it's not that hard to make a compelling Snapchat story.
As for actually climbing Mount Everest, we'll leave that to the pros.