This may be of some interest.
When Instagram was first released, it was thought of only as a fun, visual social media network. Nowadays, it’s also used as a major content promotion tool for brands and influencers.
In fact, according to Sprout Social, 80% of Instagram users follow a brand, and one of the three most-viewed Stories of all time was posted by a business account.
Along with business accounts, influencer marketing is also on the rise. For instance, 93% of influencer marketing campaigns took place on Instagram in 2018.
Instagram’s popularity lets most brands forge an emotional connection with a massive audience. Some brands are so good at visually engaging and resonating with Instagram users that they’ve attracted tens of millions of followers.
To help you learn from the platform’s best of the best, we’ve compiled a list of 19 accounts with the highest number of users — as well as a few key takeaways from each.
Because the accounts with the most followers belong to influencers and celebrities, we’ve split this rundown into two sublists that are brand and influencer specific.
Followers: 303 Million
Instagram sets a great example for brands who truly want to engage an audience on their app. By curating and reposting their users’ most captivating content on their own profile, Instagram shows their followers that everyday people can meet their creative and artistic potential on the platform.
This inspires brands and normal Instagram users to spend the time and effort required to craft visually gripping content that will instantly hold an audience’s attention.
Instagram also does a good job of promoting their stories and IGTV show about celebrities, wildlife, and other culturally relevant topics. They post original content that highlights upcoming episodes, but the posts read more like a feature story than an advertisement, which sparks more interest in the show.
Followers: 111 Million
National Geographic hires the most talented photographers in the world, so their Instagram posts of landscapes, cityscapes, and the surrounding life always seem to be awe-inspiring. But their stunning visuals aren’t the only reason why they’ve attracted over 100 million followers.
National Geographic is a historic magazine that’s famous for their credible journalism and compelling storytelling. In each post’s caption, they are able to craft fascinating narratives about the photo or video, usually in a way that spreads awareness for a relevant environmental issue.
National Geographic also uses Instagram Stories, Stories Archive, and IGTV to drive traffic to featured articles and videos on their website. But they also know their followers prefer not to leave the app.
Instead of using gimmicky visuals and clickbait copy to coax people into visiting their website, they actually summarize the feature article or video in their stories and IGTV shows.
For marketers, National Geographic’s Instagram strategy clarifies that it’s crucial to meet your audience where they are, and not force them to go somewhere just because you want them to go there.
If people end up clicking through to your website, that’s great. But you should be more than willing to educate your audience where they want to be educated, even if it results in a lower amount of traffic.
Followers: 88.5 Million
In the advertising industry, Nike is known for their motivational ads that inspire athletes to believe in themselves when aiming to reach their full potential.
On Instagram, the iconic brand’s content follows this theme, with posts in the form of short films, documentaries, and inspirational videos and photos. Nike also uses Instagram to update their followers with quick news about the sports world, proving that they deeply understand their audience’s interests and desires.
4. Real Madrid
Followers: 72.6 Million
Real Madrid is arguably the most popular soccer team in the world, so most of the team’s Instagram posts update their massive fan base on scores, highlights, and transactions.
But the way they attract and engage twice as many Instagram followers as teams with similar fan bases isn’t through standard updates. They’ve built their enormous following by giving their fans an inside look of the team’s everyday activities through player takeovers and practice highlights on IGTV.
Breaking down these barriers between fan and player makes Real Madrid’s fan base feel like they actually know their favorite players on a personal level, which develops a more intimate and loyal relationship between the two.
5. FC Barcelona
Followers: 71.1 Million
Like Real Madrid, FC Barcelona updates Barcelona fans with sports photography, season-related stats, information about Barcelona players, and other fun tidbits related to the team and season.
They use a mix of content styles with videos, action shots, and posed photos, but they always use many tags, hashtags, and eye-popping emojis in their captions.
During games and other events, you can find FC Barcelona launching one or multiple Stories with their own video content as well as curated content sourced from fans.
With curated Stories by fans, they’re able to post more fresh, interesting content. FC Barcelona’s curated Stories also enable fans to contribute to the Instagram channel. While we aren’t able to post stories directly, you can find some on the account’s page.
Followers: 50.2 Million
With plenty of dog, cat, and baby videos, meme references, and jokes that are almost too relatable, 9GAG has one of the funniest accounts on Instagram.
The account’s Instagram stories and Stories Archives engage their audience well too — they post a ton of polls about topics that everyone has an answer for like, “Is soup a food or a beverage?” and “Would you travel to the past or future?”
They also use Instagram stories to drive traffic to their website by asking their followers to swipe up and see if they correctly guessed the name of a TV show or movie with only emojis as clues. On IGTV, they generate even more brand engagement by letting their followers ask questions during live Q&As with celebrities.
As the only online content platform on this list, 9GAG proves to marketers that interacting with your audience is one of the best ways to engage them, develop a relationship, and attract more followers like them.
Followers: 43.7 Million
Scrolling through NASA’s Instagram feed makes you feel a little like an astronaut floating through the depths of space. You’ll experience intimate views of different planets, constellations, and supernovas in the Milky Way galaxy, all of which are taken by NASA’s spacecrafts and Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA’s Instagram Stories and IGTV channel also educate their followers about interesting space insights, like the views of the sun and Earth, the search for life in space, and NASA’s new technology launches
NASA’s popularity on Instagram proves that you can actually create educational content that doesn’t sacrifice any entertainment value.
Followers: 41.3 Million
In the last year, the Champions League surpassed the NBA’s account in Instagram followers. Like the other soccer brand accounts we’ve noted, the Champions League regularly posts action and team shots, as well as updates related to upcoming and past games.
Along with regular updates and action shots, some of the account’s regular posts include stats like “Top Scorers,” behind-the-scenes videos, and team roster images.
Followers: 37.5 Million
Marvel posts regularly about its movies, TV shows, and Marvel.com content. It also mixes things up with the use of photo and video posts. Additionally, the account occasionally uses fun videos to cross-promote with other Marvel-affiliated accounts and influencers.
While many other accounts, like HBO, promote their content by posting trailers as Instagram Stories, Marvel uses Stories to cover red carpet premiere events. These stories include photos and clips of the stars, as well as other interesting things that happen at the events. Most recently, Marvel featured the premieres of Dark Phoenix and Avengers: Endgame.
Followers: 34.9 Million
Throwback Thursday will always be a huge deal on social media — who doesn’t love a heavy dose of nostalgia every week? Recently, though, Chanel decided to take #tbt to the next level. They’ve been evoking nostalgia in fashionistas all over the world by posting old ads that spotlight previous fashion trends for their Chanel Holidays campaign every day.
The legendary fashion brand also posts a lot of content about Coco Chanel’s early fashion influences to promote Inside Chanel, a web series that recounts Coco’s life and how she built her fashion empire.
Harnessing the power of the past is one of the most effective ways to evoke an emotional response from your audience and forge a connection with them. With that in mind, nostalgia should always be in your marketing arsenal.
Followers: 170 Million
So, who has the most followers on Instagram? That would be Cristiano Ronaldo, who’s been called the world’s best soccer player (or fútbol player).
Along with the expected soccer action shots, his Instagram strategy largely involves paid partnerships and cross promotions. Here’s just one example:
The account’s content is a mix of sports-related updates, photos capturing his life outside of the arena, and occasional motivational posts about topics like fitness and clearing your mind.
One thing this account puts great effort into is the imagery. All of its images and videos are crisp, clear, colorful, and high-production quality. We’ve found that editing images before uploading to Instagram can really make a difference in how professional a brand or individual account looks. Ronaldo’s account is one great example of this.
Followers: 156 Million
Ariana Grande has recently gained an incredibly large following on the platform. Her brand is especially relevant to the younger demographic of Instagram.
Throughout the last four years, it seems that Ariana has not needed to use partnerships or promotions to strengthen her following. Here’s an example of one of the few promotional posts she has had on her account, which dates back to 2015:
Currently, it seems her strategy involves a high posting frequency, with around six or more updates per week. She mainly uses the platform to update users on her daily life and her music career. These posts often include photos of her dog, behind-the-scenes videos, and concert highlights.
Ariana has also experimented with IGTV. Recently, she used it to announce the drop of her new song “Sweetener” by including the song in the post itself, as well as a link to it in the caption.
This type of strategy might make her followers and fans feel like they’re being rewarded for their loyalty on the platform. At the same time, the possibility of hearing Ariana’s new music might entice new audiences to follow her.
Many of her posts usually include short captions which may only include one or two emojis. This does not seem to be uncommon for major celebrities on the platform, as they may not have a large need to optimize captions.
While Ariana and other listed influencers may not have, or need, a caption strategy, those starting out on Instagram or aiming to grow their following should follow optimization best practices. These include crafting interesting captions that may use hashtags, and account tagging.
3. Selena Gomez
Followers: 151 Million
Selena Gomez’s content is a fun mix of paid partnerships, selfies, and quotes. As the former most-followed person on Instagram, she has mastered optimized photo captions, Stories, paid partnerships and cross-promotions with other influencers.
While her posts strategically embrace paid promotions and influencer cross promotions, she also uses Instagram to share inspirational quotes or her thoughts on certain political topics, which adds more of a human side to her page.
Followers: 145 Million
On any given day, Dwayne Johnson might use the platform to update fans on his family life, what he’s eating on his “cheat days”, his fitness products, or the movies he’s working on. He’s also started using IGTV to promote his projects and personal brand. He often films himself giving fitness tips, discussing his new products, or updating fans on other interesting events in his life.
Followers: 141 Million
The Keeping Up With The Kardashians star has recently posted a lot more about her family and her KKW Beauty Line. She also is no stranger to cross promotions and partnerships. While most of her posts are artsy or strategic, she is not afraid to post something jaw-dropping or humorous from time to time.
Here’s one funny post where she promotes The Secret Life of Pets.
She uses IGTV to promote her projects, like trailers for Keeping Up with the Kardashians. She will also occasionally team up with other influencers for tutorial-styled posts.
In this video, her hair stylist Mario Dedivanovic walks fans through how they can recreate Kim’s recent Met Gala look:
6. Kylie Jenner
Followers: 137 Million
While Kylie Jenner’s individual account follows her day-to-day life, she has also used it as a tool to promote her companies: Kylie Cosmetics and Kylie Skin. Although Kylie regularly tags and engages in cross promotion with her companies’ accounts, her personal Instagram still has over 100 million more followers than the other two, combined.
Most recently, Kylie has used IGTV to give fans Kylie Cosmetics tutorials. This strategy allows her audiences to see how the products look and learn how to use them before they make a purchase.
This type of content may engage prospective buyers that are both experienced and less experienced in shopping for makeup.
Followers: 128 Million
Like Ariana Grande, Beyoncé focuses more on her artistic side than in cross promotion or paid promotion. She also breaks from the usual mold by rarely posting captions and letting her high-quality imagery or video speak for itself.
On her Instagram, you can usually find slideshows of high-quality photos of her, high-fashion shots where she’s seen in different styles and outfits, and occasional promotions of her own personal projects — such as her Netflix concert documentary, Homecoming.
8. Leo Messi
Followers: 121 Million
The soccer player regularly posts photos of himself on the field, as well as his daily life. His posts are a mix of photos and well-edited videos. When videos are included, they are often part of paid promotions. Messi has also dabbled in the Stories feature, where he shows off photos of himself, images from game events, and some images of his family.
While he doesn’t post large captions on his personal posts, he usually optimizes paid promotional posts with tags and hashtags. He also posts thoughtful captions in both English and Spanish. This might open up his following opportunities internationally.
9. Taylor Swift
Followers: 118 Million
The musician’s Instagram is filled with photos from concerts as well as a few photos from her everyday life. Unlike Beyonce and Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift embraces captions with emojis and hashtags. She also does an excellent job of tagging other accounts. This account is a good example of how strong captions and account tagging strategies can really optimize your Instagram.
Her posts are often colorful and in slideshow format, which allows users to swipe through multiple images.
Taylor has also used her Instagram as a tool to promote shows and albums. Like Ariana Grande, she recently posted stories to promote and give users a taste of her single, “ME!”
As they viewed the short story, users could swipe up to a link which listed sites where you could listen to, download, or save the song. This strategy gives users a taste of content and then a quick payoff when they swipe up.
Key Takeaways From the Most Followed Accounts
By looking at the most-followed brands and influencers, we can see some key strategies that many of them have in common.
Here are a few that you can start using, even without a giant following or a large social-media budget.
- Optimize captions witty or thoughtful captions with hashtags, account tags, and eye-popping emojis.
- Use cross promotion or paid strategies to join forces with other accounts or influencers.
- Experiment with new features including Stories or IGTV to give users new ways to engage and consume your branded content.
Thank you for reading.
This may be of some interest.
Do you want to be instafamous?
Well, who doesn’t?
Over the last few months, I’ve been running numerous Instagram experiments and I’ve finally figured out how to grow my Instagram following.
My Neil Patel account has been growing by 1,260 followers per week.
And I know what you are thinking… Neil, you are already well known, this can’t be replicated by anyone else.
Well, not only did we test this strategy out on my profile, but we also did it on 2 other profiles.
It works no matter what industry you are in. Heck, it works even better if you aren’t in B2B like me.
Just look at Dhavalilama. His likes per image have been growing by just using the heart trick, which I will explain in a bit, and he isn’t using my whole strategy. :/
So, how do you gain more Instagram followers each week without spending money?
Tip #1: Instagram wants long videos
You’ve heard everyone say that you need to upload videos. Social networks like Instagram aren’t just competing with other social networks, they are competing with traditional media and even companies like Netflix for your attention.
If you upload videos, you’ll find that you’ll get more engagement than if you just upload images.
But the key isn’t to just upload any video… it ideally needs to be engaging and long.
By long I am not talking about a 60-second video, I’m talking minutes. You’ll have to leverage IGTV for this, but that’s what they want as not enough people are using that feature.
Hence, if you use IGTV, they’ll push your video more.
That way when someone is watching a 5-minute video you just posted, they’ll be able to watch the first 60 seconds on their feed and then they’ll be pushed over to IGTV.
All you have to do is upload the video to IGTV and select the “post a preview” option.
What this does is, it uploads the video to IGTV and then also promotes the video through your feed.
Just look at this video that I only posted on IGTV.
It had 236 views before writing this blog post.
When I posted that video, I had 9,078 followers, which means I had an engagement rate of 2.59%.
Now if you look at this video that I posted…
It had 2,971 views before writing this blog post.
When I posted that video I had 21,047 followers, which means I had an engagement rate of 14.11%.
What’s crazy is, that one simple change increased my video engagement by 444%.
Tip #2: Ask and you will receive
Instagram’s algorithm is simple… the more views and likes your videos and images receive, the more people will see them, which increases engagement and your follower count over time.
There’s not too much more to the algorithm.
Of course, they are looking at things like what percentage of your followers actually engage… but still, the algorithm from a conceptual standpoint is simple.
So, have you thought about asking for people to “like” your image?
Now with Instagram, people are using it via their cell phone so it’s more of a “double tap” than a like… but you get the point.
On average, when I post an image on Instagram I can generate 945.6 likes.
Here’s an example of one of those images:
And as you can see from the engagement, that one did better than most of my images as it has over 1,000 likes.
Plus, the messaging resonates with a lot of people.
But here is one that is simple…
I just asked people to “double tap” if they need to improve their video skills.
It didn’t take much creativity to come up with that image and it received 1,441 likes. In other words, it produced 51.96% more engagement.
You should give it a try… I tend to use this tactic a few times a month and it works really well.
Just be careful though, if you use it every day or every week, people will get sick of it and it will stop working. Hence, I only use it a few times a month max.
Tip #3: Go live
Did I already mention that Instagram is competing with television networks and Netflix?
Because of that, what kind of content do you think they want more of?
Well, yes they want more video content, but we already talked about that.
They want more live content.
Think… reality TV.
Now the live content you produce doesn’t have to be like Keeping up with the Kardashians… they just want live content that people are looking forward to viewing.
You know how you will tune into shows like American Idol or the latest soccer or football match because it’s live and you want to see what’s happening in real time? That’s the effect Instagram is hoping for with live content.
Now, when you go live, Instagram is promoting it heavily so you’ll get more viewers. It doesn’t matter what you talk about… they just want to see more people go live.
Every time I go live, I am able to get at least 1,000 views. Just look at the live I just did…
In the first 6 hours, it’s already received 718 views and I did this live session on a Sunday during non-peak hours. Within the first 24 hours, it will easily surpass 1000 views.
In other words, go live! It’s a simple and quick way to grow your following count. Ideally, you should be going live on a weekly basis.
Heck, you can’t go live too much… feel free to go live daily.
Tip #4: Respond to comments
This one is simple, but no one really does it.
Social networks are supposed to be social. That means you should participate.
And no, I am not talking about just liking other images and viewing videos. I’m talking about engaging with people and talking to them.
So, when you like something that someone else posts, leave a comment.
And when someone leaves a comment on one of your posts… what do you think you should do?
You should respond to them with a comment.
Now, let’s look at some of my posts for a minute. You’ll see decent engagement, but more so, you’ll see me being very active.
Just look at all of my responses.
By engaging with people, you’re more likely to build a relationship with these individuals, which makes it more likely that they will back and continually engage with your posts.
Tip #5: The heart trick
Alright, are you ready for the heart trick? You know, the one Dhavalilama has been using to boost his like count by 300%.
The concept is simple, but it will take a bit of finesse to implement.
A part of Instagram’s algorithm is how much engagement you get from other Instagram users within the first hour of you posting anything.
Now, I’ve done a lot of tests with this… if you can get Instagram users who have more followers than you to like your image or video when it first goes live you’ll find that your content is much more likely to show up on the discovery page.
From a lot of testing, here’s what seems to be the most effective:
- Get people with larger following accounts to like your image or video within the first hour it comes out.
- Ask them to not like anything else within that hour. We’ve found that if they like too many images or videos it doesn’t work.
- And if they are feeling extra generous, have them leave a comment.
The heart trick isn’t that complex, but it is hard to implement because you have to convince users who are more popular than you to like your content right when you publish.
And ideally, you need 6 people who have large accounts (the bigger the better), for this to work extremely well.
Tip #6: Create multiple stories each day
What do Tai Lopez, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Grant Cardone have in common?
Well, other than the fact that they all have over a million Instagram followers…
They all post a ton of stories per day.
And when I mean a ton, sometimes they are posting over 20 stories a day… literally.
The more stories you post, the more engagement you’ll create, which will lead to more followers.
Just look at the stats from the stories I just posted:
I can generate over 1,000 views within 8 hours of posting a story and generally in the range of 1,600 to 2,000 views within 24 hours.
The same story 23 hours later received 1870 views.
Here are some things to keep in mind if you want to maximize stories:
- Don’t post all of your stories at once, spread them out throughout the day. This will cause people to keep coming back and engaging with your profile.
- Use a combination of both images and videos within your stories. Overall, you’ll find that videos create more engagement.
- The more stories you publish, the better off you are.
- Add polls to your stories, this also helps boost engagement.
Tip #7: Quality matters
Have you noticed that some images get more likes than others? Or certain videos get more engagement?
Instagram is a visual social network. So the visual part is important… you want your images and videos to look great no matter what.
Now, they don’t have to be perfect, but you do want to make sure you are posting images that people enjoy.
Here’s what I mean…
When you look at my profile, you’ll see a ton of images of me that contain quotes.
Some of those images perform really well, while others don’t. For example, every time I post a quote using this image template…
It gets 21.4% less engagement then when I use this template…
Keep track of what your followers like and don’t like. Post more of what they like and stop posting the stuff that has low engagement.
Tip #8: Test, test, test
Speaking of posting more of what your followers like and less of what they don’t, you need to constantly test.
Even though quality matters, when you are testing you shouldn’t aim for perfection. Just aim for speed.
Once you find something that people like, do more of it.
For example, I ask people to double tap as I talked about in tip number 2 because I learned it through testing.
Here are some other things I’ve learned through testing:
- Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication – people prefer clean images that are simple.
- Use bright colors – images that are darker, such as night photography don’t perform as well.
- Switch things up – if you do the same thing every week you’ll find your engagement starting to drop.
- People want to get to know you – they don’t want to get to know the Photoshop version of you. Be realistic and personal. Connect with your followers.
- Filters don’t matter – don’t waste too much time modifying or adjusting your images. Little things like filters don’t make the biggest difference.
- Hashtags aren’t game changing – I know everyone says you have to use hashtags and you should here and there… but they aren’t game-changing. So don’t spam and use 20 hashtags per image you post. And when you do use them, pick relevant and popular ones. You can use Ubersuggest to figure out what keywords are popular.
- Use Instagram analytics – it tells you when your followers are online so you know when to post. If you post when they are online you’ll get much more engagement.
A good example of a test I’ve run is when I post on my feed. As you can see from my stats…
My followers are most likely to be on Instagram at 9am. So I try to post around that time, which has helped me get 8.41% more likes per image.
Every little bit adds up!
You don’t have to spend money on ads to grow your Instagram following. If you follow the tips above, you’ll do well and find that you can grow your weekly following count by over 1,000 net new followers each week.
Now, I know you may not want to use Instagram because it doesn’t have your “ideal” audience, but you can drive conversions from Instagram.
For example, when I went live on Instagram and I told the audience to check out my ad agency Neil Patel Digital, I was able to generate 2 leads.
Neither of the leads were ideal customers, but it is a numbers game. If I continually do it I will be able to generate clients.
In the past, I have closed 3 deals from Instagram… one paid $120,000, the other paid $1,000,000, and the last paid $300,000.
They were all consulting arrangements, so I had substantial costs associated with the revenue, but it shows that Instagram does work.
Heck, if it didn’t, I wouldn’t be back on Instagram again (this is my 3rd profile, I no longer use the other 2).
You can also use the swipe up feature to drive people to your site and this will help you generate leads and sales.
So, what do you think about Instagram? Are you using it on a daily basis?
Thank you for reading.