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—the Kardashian-Jenners in particular—are good at social.
But 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, are home to a particular sense of humor—a unique constellation of memes, clever hashtags, 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.
Taylor Swift pokes fun at herself in this Instagram post where she imitates a popular meme.
This shot (moment of honesty: I really wanted to refer to it as an ‘elfie’) of Taylor Swift is a perfect example. She’s being goofy in a way that the internet loves. But what really sells the shot? The caption. Not only does she reference a viral trend—Drake’s Hotline Bling music video, which spawned countless remakes—but she does it while ALSO making a pun. A+ Insta game.
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 they post throwbacks—like this one from Selena Gomez—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 quiet, 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, in particular, 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 sort that people share with the comment, “Me.”
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 Insta-snap 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.’
In this shot, The Rock goes beyond simply posting a snap from the gym. Instead he gives his follows an insider glimpse into his routine and his motivation. It’s the details around it that make the shot special.
When brands post to Instagram, their captions are often short and unexpressive—frankly, they lack personality. That’s 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 Insta caption can be worth so much more.
4. They get that people connect with faces
Love them or hate them, celebs have selfies down to an art. And while selfies may be derided as 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 non-verbal 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 Kendall Jenner with her hair arranged to form hearts is a perfect example of why faces work—it’s the most-liked photo on Instagram. Ever.
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 get this. Better than most.
She mixes in a liberal dose of her adorable felines, Dr. Meredith Grey and Detective Olivia Benson, into her feed, with excellent results.
Photo credit to BF Calvin Harris, because details matter.
Kendall Jenner is no stranger to this tactic either. Her feed boasts snaps of a pup in costume (hopefully for Halloween), a guide dog she met on the Today Show, and a lion cub—effectively taking her ‘cute animal’ game to the next level.
How can brands make this work for them? Think beyond your product to 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.
Or Justin Timberlake did with this cute baby bump shot.
Or this heart-melting post from The Rock upon the birth of his daughter.
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.
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 (though his single-minded focus is fairly unique). In amongst an astonishing array of bright colors, bold fashion choices, and not-so-subtle drug references, Mylie Cyrus often shares on Instagram about the causes that interest her. Like DiCaprio, she uses her captions as a call to arms for followers to learn more and take action.
While companies don’t necessarily need to transform their feeds into an Insta RSS of issues, it can be beneficial to declare public support for causes about which the brand feels strongly.
Celebs are excellent at curating aesthetically-pleasing feeds. Whether they’re filled with vibrant colors, muted tones, or black and white, celeb’s 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).
As People magazine explains: “Sometimes the tiled photos will culminate in one overall image or sometimes it’s just a three-peat that fills out the row. It would seem that Kourtney is all about the three-peat.”
On the other hand, her sister Kim Kardashian is all about creating consistency through the look and feel of her feed overall. Kim’s photos typically have a matte-finish look with muted tones reminiscent of film photography. Wherever you land in her feed, it’s clear whose photos you’re looking at.
Image via Kim Kardashian’s Instagram Feed
I never thought I’d say this, but brands can learn a lot from the Kardashians.
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.
Like anyone, they’re proud of their friends and their accomplishments. And they aren’t afraid to talk them up.
They’re all about the casual name-drop mention.
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, 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!
Celebrities are only famous because of their fans. But some of them are better than others at recognizing this crucial fact.
Taylor Swift is the undisputed queen of this.
She’s always doing something to recognize her fans. Take her wildly popular Swiftmas, where she social-stalked some fans and sent them their dream gifts for Christmas (and posted a video of herself wrapping them, of course). Or her propensity for commenting on fans’ Instagram photos with funny quips and moving advice. Or just look at how she shows off her appreciation for her fans on her own feed.
Whether you follow celebs on Instagram or not, there’s a lot that brands can learn from them.