Top Instagram Influencers

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10 People Who Built (or Strengthened) Their Personal Brand Using the Small Screen

Social media influencers hold a great deal of power. These people aren’t just racking up the followers; they’re building a brand and expanding their global reach. Brands everywhere are eager to form relationships with influencers in the hopes that they will endorse their product, or promote their agenda. On Instagram in particular, these influencers hold the key to the millennial generation.

Why Instagram?

Forrester found that engagement rates on Instagram are almost 58 times higher than engagement on Facebook and 120 times higher than Twitter’s. Unlike Twitter or Facebook, Instagram’s omission of a re-share function forces users to keep their likes and comments on the original post instead of sharing it virally. All signs of approval (e.g., “likes” and “comments”) stay on the influencer’s page, ultimately building the virtual equity of the Instagram account.

There are two main ways to become an Instagram influencer. The first, which is definitely the easier of the two ways, is by leveraging your preexisting celebrity status to build a strong Instagram presence (e.g., Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift). These Instagram influencers could post photos of cardboard boxes and receive 200k likes. The second way to become an influencer is to gain a strong Instagram following organically to establish your own insta-celebrity status. For the purposes of today’s blog, we’re focusing mainly on the people who rose to fame using Instagram, but we’ll nod to those already famous who have used Instagram to further their success, do social good, or blaze a new trail.

Our Picks for Top Instagram Influencers:

1. Adam Braun

Handle: @itsadambraun

Profile: Believer in human potential. NY Times bestselling author. Founder of @pencilsofpromise.

Followers: 110k

Pencils of Promise: A for-purpose organization that believes every child should have access to quality education.

Why People Follow Him:

This creator of The Non-Profit Playbook’s Instagram account boasts a healthy combination of charitable work, inspirational quotes, and enviable lifestyle. The sharp dressing non-profit advocate often gives insight into the success and fulfillment associated with an entrepreneurial lifestyle. On the first day of 2016 he posted: “Week 1 of building a new company and I forgot how exciting, intense, malleable and alive you feel. Here’s to a great 2016. – AB.” Needless to say the photo received tons of comments showing plenty of support and enthusiasm. People follow Adam Braun because he is doing what many of us wish we could do: dually working for social progress and living the dream life.

2. Sheryl Sandberg

Handle: @sherylsandberg

Profile: Sheryl Sandberg is an American technology executive, activist, and author. She is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, which happens to own Instagram. (No profile on Instagram, information from Wikipedia)

Followers: 90.4k

Why People Follow Her: Sheryl Sandberg, an inspiration to women (and men) outside of the Instagram world, has found a way to spread gender-equality messages to younger audiences using the photo sharing app. Author of best-selling book Lean In, Sandberg is known for posting photos of strong, powerful women on her account. It doesn’t hurt that Sandberg seems to have a group of famously strong women as besties – Lena Dunham, Robin Roberts, and Serena Williams all make their appearances in photos.

3. Susan Petersen

Handle: @freshlypicked

Profile:  #foreverystep As seen on ABC’s Shark Tank | Genuine Leather Baby Moccs | Memory keepers since ’09

Followers: 578k

Why People Follow Her: Starting with $200 and a scrap of leather she bought at a garage sale, Susan Petersen has grown Freshly Picked into a $5.5 million company. Petersen, who creates handmade moccasins for babies, garnered Instagram celebrity status by her ability to hustle and her knack for social media marketing. Petersen’s Instagram, which attracts much more than just mommy bloggers, shows off new products, adorable pregnancy announcements, and advocates for other small businesses. People follow Susan Petersen because she’s real about the trials and tribulations of motherhood. Last week she posted “Motherhood. Because that one shower a week feels better than sanity ever did.” She’s looking to expand into children’s clothing this year.

4. Richard Branson

Handle: @richardbranson

Profile: Tie loathing adventurer and thrill seeker, who believes in turning ideas into reality. Otherwise known as Dr Yes at @virgingroup

Followers: 727k

Why People Follow Him: Richard Branson is famous for being the founder of first Virgin Records, then Virgin Airlines, then Virgin Mobile, and a whole lotta other things – like Virgin Galactic, Virgin Comics, and Virgin Money – and having his face plastered next to motivational quotes. The white-haired English businessman has a strong following wherever he goes, but particularly on Instagram. Fed by his enormous success, Branson’s Instagram account is so popular because, while ignoring the Branson-heavy photos and sometimes cheesy inspirational quotes, he offers true insight into success and how he got here. A grainy photo of Branson and Bill Gates from the early 90s shows two entrepreneurial geniuses sharing a joke.

5. Ida Skivenes

Handle: @idafrosk

Profile: I’m Ida Skivenes from Norway. All the food art is made and eaten by me. Buy my book on Amazon or in bookstores!

Followers: 287k

Why People Follow Her: Every once in a while I stumble upon an Instagram account that is so perfect I can’t stand it. Ida Skivenes from Norway tops that list. With her colorful, adorable photos of food-made-into-art, Skivenes has gained popularity and turned her hobby into a career. Companies such as Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Lufthansa, the BBC, Nespresso, and a plethora of magazines have commissioned Skivenes to create branded food art and share it with her following. Her tiny treats have garnered quite the fan base.

6. Pete Cashmore

Handle: @petecashmore

Profile: CEO & Founder at <3 ideas, creativity & making things. Chronic daydreamer. Lifelong fan of well-crafted words, music & fluffy animals.

Followers: 30.3k

Why People Follow Him: Pete Cashmore doesn’t hide behind pretenses. His Instagram account shows a real insight into what the day-to-day life of a successful CEO is like. Surprising Fact: He has a private account! 30.3 thousand people have made the cut after requesting to follow him – try your luck! Following this influencer is worth it.

7. Alexis Ohanian

Handle: @alexisohanian

Profile: I cofounded Reddit and some other things to try and make the world suck less.

Followers: 14k

Why People Follow Him: Alexis Ohanian, Reddit Co-Founder and “internet activist” is intelligent, provocative, and unafraid to say what he means and mean what he says. He is outspokenly against the U.S. Government’s surveillance program, and said in a recent Instagram post: “just ripped this clip from my time on @thenightlyshow talking about how social media has the power to let people be their true, full selves, and find their people. That’s what we’re working toward at @reddit.” Well said, Ohanian, and way to follow your own advice.

8. Maria Sharapova

Handle: @mariasharapova

Profile: Maria Yuryevna Sharapova is a Russian professional tennis player, who is ranked world No. 7 by the Women’s Tennis Association. A United States resident since 1994, Sharapova has competed on the WTA tour since 2001. (From Wikipedia)

Followers: 1.4m

Why People Follow Her: While adding Sharapova to this list right now may be controversial, there’s one thing that’s not: Sharapova is a social media pro. This Russian beauty has perfected the art of seamlessly endorsing her sponsors in her daily Instagram posts. Sharapova’s account gives a candid and unfiltered view into the life of one athlete/model/advocate/globetrotter/entrepreneur, including reminding most of us how the other half (or 1%) lives. She’s used her social media success to transcend the label of just an athlete, grow her personal brand flawlessly, and even start her own company – Sugarpova.

9. Scooter Braun

Handle: @scooterbraun

Profile: You don’t know how to live if you don’t know how to give

Followers: 2.2m

Why People Follow Him: This star-studded Instagram account may appear at first glance to be a Justin Bieber fan site. However, the account owner, Scooter Braun, is actually of one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. At 34, Braun is the owner of two record labels, manager of Justin Bieber, and is heavily involved in his brother’s charity – Pencils of Promise (@adambraun mentioned above). Together with his brother and Bieber, they have built over 200 schools in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. I think it’s safe to say that Braun is a #belieber.

1o. Bethenny Frankel

Handle: @bethennyfrankel

Profile: Entrepreneur, author, reality television star, and mother. Shop #GetOffMyJock tees & more 

Followers: 863k

Why People Follow Her: Bethenny Frankel started her career as a production assistant on the set of Saved by the Bell, but that’s not one of the many things that she’s famous for. Frankel appeared on The Real Housewives of New York City in 2008 where she gained fame for her tough attitude and lavish lifestyle. Frankel has leveraged Instagram to build brand awareness around her multiple companies, including Skinny Girl products. While somewhat of a spectacle, Frankel (and her Instagram account) are a great demonstration of how building a personal brand with social media can translate into real success.

Is Instagram B2C or B2B?

It’s not just individuals and B2C companies; many B2B companies are also seeing great success from using Instagram. In fact, @intel has nearly 500k followers and has the top B2B Instagram engagement rate of 4.04%. They’re leveraging Instagram to strengthen their brand identity, engage with their own employees, and promote events. Check out @zendesk and @wework to see other B2B organizations who are leveraging Instagram in new and creative ways!