The 25 most-followed accounts on Instagram are, more or less, what you’d expect. There are quite a few familiar faces: Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, Beyonce Knowles, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry—the list goes on.
And, of course, the ubiquitous Kardashian-Jenners make a good showing. The alliterative sisters Kim, Kylie, Kendall, Khloe, and Kourtney all rank within the top 20.
It’s hard to deny that celebs are good at social. And why is that?
There are a few things that they get about Instagram that brands just don’t.
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1. They get internet humor
The internet is a vast place, full of disparate people voicing a cacophony of opinions. There’s very little that can typically be attributed to the culture of the internet as a whole.
Except maybe humor.
The internet at large, and social media in particular, is home to a particular sense of humor—a unique constellation of memes, clever hashtags, and puns, mixed with a healthy dose of nostalgia. Add in a dollop of self-deprecating jokes and you have internet culture.
And celebs get it. They get it in a way that brands just don’t.
Kylie Jenner pokes fun at herself in this Instagram post where she wears a t-shirt featuring an unflattering photo of herself that’s been circling the internet for years.
This shot of Kylie Jenner is a great example. She’s showing that she can laugh at herself—it’s goofy and self-deprecating in a way that the internet loves.
2. They’re so relatable
Not only do celebs get internet humor, they also get what works online: nostalgia (the #tbt is alive and well). Specifically, they get that their primarily millennial audience responds to 90s references.
So when celebrities post throwbacks—like this one from Mariah Carey—to 90s moments from their own lives, it’s very relatable for their audience.
But the relatability of celebs—that authenticity that people love to describe as ‘so real’—goes beyond embracing nostalgia. It’s about sharing moments from their lives that are a tad less glamorous than the usual red carpet shot.
In a way, the content that celebs now share on their own Insta timelines is reflective of the kind of material that paparazzos once doggedly pursued. But they’ve realized something fundamental about it: if they post it themselves, they control the message.
And, on a less cynical note, these down-to-earth, ‘authentic’ moments give them the opportunity to connect with fans. It’s precisely this relatability that explains why followers love celebs’ bathroom selfies.
And the oh-so-relatable moments they share with the mini-humans in their lives.
Or their relationships with their parents.
Or those moments of uncontained, bona fide joy.
John Boyega’s reaction to The Force Awakens trailer is so utterly relatable, because his excitement reflects that of the franchise’s fans. It’s the sort of over-the-top, genuine, unabashed enthusiasm that spawns reaction GIFs—the kind people share with the comment, “Same.”
3. They get that the caption can make or break a photo
I think we can all agree that celebs have great photos. They’re often glossy, professional images that beat the average snap. But it isn’t just their photos that make their Instagram feeds stand out from the crowd. Celebs get that Instagram captions can be just as important as the image they’re attached to.
This Instagram from Katy Perry is the perfect example. The photo itself is nothing special, just another group photo at a restaurant. What makes it special is the caption, which cleverly plays on ‘OG’ as short for ‘Olive Garden.’
I'm up at 4am everyday to work extremely hard BEFORE I go into work, not because I'm bat shit crazy (well maybe a little;), but because I know my competitors are not paying that price and sacrificing to that degree – and that will alway give me the edge and anchor for an opportunity for success. You don't have to get up at 4am, but I encourage you to find the thing that gives you the edge over everyone else around you. Once you find it, let it be your anchor. Then you've just created an opportunity for yourself to succeed. And that's all we ever want to work hard and create for ourselves.. opportunity. #GainTheEdge #FindYourAnchor #ButForTheLoveOfGod #YouDoNotWantToWakeUpAt4amEveryday ????????????
In this shot, The Rock goes beyond simply posting a photo from the gym. Instead he gives his followers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into his routine and his motivation. It’s the details around it that make the shot special.
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When brands post to Instagram, their captions are often short and unexpressive—they lack personality. But personality is something that celebs have in spades. And when it comes to Insta, it not only shows—it pays off.
What many brands fail to recognize is that they need to go beyond the image. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a great Instagram caption can be worth so much more.
4. They get that people connect with faces
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, celebs have selfies down to an art. And while selfies may be considered narcissistic, they’re based on a fundamental truth—people respond to faces.
A study by Georgia Institute of Technology and Yahoo Labs found that Instagram photos that feature human faces are 38 percent more likely to receive likes than photos without faces. They’re also 32 percent more likely to get comments.
The study’s lead, Saeideh Bakhshi, theorized about why this might be: “Faces are powerful channels of nonverbal communication. We constantly monitor them for a variety of contexts, including attractiveness, emotions, and identity.”
The researchers also found that the number of faces in a photo, their age, or gender didn’t make a difference.
This shot of Beyonce announcing her second pregnancy proves that faces work—it was the most-liked photo on Instagram in 2017.
5. They understand that cute animals win on social
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the internet loves a good cat photo. Or a snap of a cute puppy. Or basically any warm fuzzy thing. (Chewbacca aside, though the internet certainly loves him as well.)
Taylor Swift gets this.
She incorporates her adorable felines, Dr. Meredith Grey and Detective Olivia Benson, into her feed, with excellent results.
Miley Cyrus is no stranger to this tactic either. Her feed boasts snaps of her own pets, puppy Boomerangs, and a personal tattoo commemorating her dog Mary Jane—effectively taking her ‘cute animal’ game to the next level.
Thankful for @beaglefreedom and their mission to free captive pups from inhumane animal testing labs! Without BFPs work I wouldn't be falling asleep next to Little Dog, being lulled by the sound of her heartbeat …. #whosavedwho #myrescuerescuedme #fucktestingonanimals ❤️???????????????? @happyhippiefdn
How can brands make this work for them? Think beyond your product and get right into your customers’ lifestyle. Might that lifestyle involve pets? Insta ‘em. Hootsuite does it with our #HootDogs hashtag.
6. They go Insta-first for big news
Something that celebs do often that brands rarely emulate: they announce big news on Instagram.
Taylor Swift did it with a music video. Beyonce did it with an album.
Others have gone Insta-first for more personal news, like engagement and pregnancy announcements.
Like Kylie Jenner did with the first shot released after the much-anticipated birth of her first child.
Or Danneel Ackles did with the announcement of hers and Jensen Ackles’ twins.
Or this heart-melting post from Michael Phelps on his engagement to Nicole Johnson.
When Disney employed this strategy it was massively successful. They released the much-anticipated Star Wars teaser trailer on Instagram first and fans went wild.
7. They don’t shy away from taking a stance
Leonardo DiCaprio’s Instagram feed is a mix of beautiful landscapes and endangered animals, accompanied by fact-filled captions urging action on climate change, environmental, and humanitarian issues. Nearly all of them are Regrams.
DiCaprio uses his Insta to amplify the images, causes, and work of activist organizations. The few original posts he shares are still clearly focused on his overall message of environmentalism.
Last night’s win at the #Oscars was an incredible honor – but it was also an important opportunity to bring even more attention to #climatechange. Last year was the hottest in recorded history. Climate change is real, it is the most dire crisis our species has ever known, and it is happening right now. We must empower leaders who don’t speak for corporate interests but who speak for us, our children’s children and those whose voices cannot be heard. Take action now: LCV.org/act
This dedication to his core message gives his feed a consistent focus that fans can connect with. It also tells the world what he’s about, giving him a chance to do good.
DiCaprio isn’t the only one doing this. His single-minded focus is similar to Emma Watson’s commitment to gender equality, as she often shares posts on her talks and appearances. Like DiCaprio, Watson uses captions as a call to arms for followers to learn more and take action.
Marai- what can I say. You were the best date on the most meaningful red carpet I have ever walked. Thank you for being so darn articulate and fun. Thank you for the trust, care, compassion and solidarity. I am so proud to say I work with #Imkaan and the End Violence Against Women Coalition and to be learning from you. Emma ???? @jusmarai
While companies don’t necessarily need to transform their feeds into a list of social justice issues, it can be beneficial to declare public support for causes about which the brand feels strongly. For example, Hootsuite is a B Corporation. B Corps use business as a force for good to solve social and environmental issues.
8. They shoot for a consistent look and feel
Celebrities are excellent at creating aesthetically-pleasing feeds. Whether they’re filled with vibrant colors, muted tones, or black and white, celeb feeds are typically identifiable by a distinctive look and feel.
Kourtney Kardashian has mastered the art of the #triplegram—a series of three related photos posted to Instagram consecutively (something that any pre-Instagram photographer would identify as a triptych).
On the other hand, Joe Keery is all about creating consistency through the look and feel of his overall feed. Joe’s photos typically have a matte-finish look with muted tones reminiscent of film photography. Wherever you land in his feed, it’s clear whose photos you’re looking at.
9. They talk up their friends
Who do you see most often in celebrity photos (other than the celeb you’re following)? Their friends and family of course, just like anyone else.
Except for them, those people just happen to be other celebs.
Here’s Samira Wiley giving props to her Orange Is The New Black costar, Lea DeLario.
They’re all about the casual name-drop mention.
And the birthday wishes.
You might be thinking: my brand doesn’t hang out with celebrities, how is this useful to me?
The key, you see, is in the mentions. Brands should mention their friends, influencers, people they admire, and customers in posts. Tag people to show a little love and increase the potential reach of your content. After all, if you mention them, maybe they’ll mention (or even Regram) you!
10. They get that it’s all about the fans
Celebrities are only famous because of their fans. But some of them are better than others at recognizing this crucial fact.
Selena Gomez is the queen of this.
Just look at how she shows off her appreciation for her fans on her own feed.
I have a lot to be thankful for this year.. My year has been the hardest yet most rewarding one yet. I've finally fought the fight of not 'being enough'. I have only wanted to reflect the love you guys have given me for years and show how important it is to take care of YOU. By grace through faith. Kindness always wins. I love you guys. God bless
One of the best ways for brands to show appreciation for their fans on Instagram is, of course, engagement. Like and comment on photos that have to do with your brand or your business. Emulate Selena Gomez and make your interactions personable.
Whether you follow celebrities on Instagram or not, there’s a lot that brands can learn from them.
Follow your favorite celebrities on Instagram. Schedule posts, manage, and publish directly to Instagram with Hootsuite. Try it today.
With files updated from Kaylynn Chong