According to TechCrunch, the photo-sharing app Instagram has grown to exceed Twitter in monthly users, making it the fourth most used social media app in the world as of 2014; it follows Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. With half of all Instagram users using the site on a daily basis and with more than half of all 18- to 29-year-old Internet-using adults utilizing it, Instagram has grown to become the key indicator of popularity among the under-30 demographic.
Sports have grown to be a significant image-driven industry. Beyond the increasingly growing salaries, the top 100 highest paid athletes worldwide brought in over $3.2 billion in endorsements in 2015, according to Forbes. With big dollars on the line, it’s important to know who is being watched most and who is being watched by those most likely to influence who will stay hot for the long term. More to the point, social media – particularly Instagram – is giving fans a way to interact with and get to know their heroes in a way not possible just a few short years ago and is giving athletes a way to appeal to and connect with their most devout fans.
Athletes Who Rack Up Followers on Social Media
While Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are all American companies, overwhelmingly their users are international. As of 2014, 70 percent of Instagram’s users were outside of the United States. Twitter reported 77 percent of its accounts in this category, and Facebook indicated that 83.1 percent of its daily users were outside of the U.S. and Canada as well.
While baseball, basketball and American-style “gridiron” football are the most popular sports in the United States and Canada, internationally, the most popular sport is “association” football or soccer, with its 3.5 billion fans. This is followed by cricket with 2.5 billion fans, field hockey with 2 billion fans, and tennis with 1 billion fans.
Soccer rules the largely international social media scene too. Among the most popular soccer players on social media are Real Madrid’s forward Cristiano Ronaldo, who won back-to-back FIFA Ballon d’Or awards in 2013 and 2014 and is commonly thought to be the best soccer player of all time; Barcelona forward Lionel Messi, the only four-time Ballon d’Or and three-time European Golden Shoes winner in history; and Barcelona forward Neymar, who soccer legend Pelé has argued is the best current world player.
Surprisingly, on the most popular list is World Wrestling Entertainment’s former champion Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, who is technically not an association athlete – as the WWE recognizes that wrestling is “sports entertainment.” However, Johnson is a successful crossover artist, with a number of profitable and highly watched cable and film projects to his credit. Johnson’s appearance indicates that the popularity of an athlete is not exclusively limited to his or her performance “on the field.”
Competing on Instagram – Athletes with the most posts on Instagram
Rally driving is a hard sport. With a high entry cost, extremes in expense for traveling to events, repairs and maintaining the needed road crew, and difficulties in finding and keeping sponsors, it’s a challenging profession to make a living in. While rally racing is growing in popularity, it still pales in comparison to Formula One or NASCAR. Jeff Gordon — the four-time Sprint Cup champion and three-time Daytona 500 winner who announced his retirement at the end of the 2015 season — for example, currently has over 145,000 Instagram followers.
One driver, Ken Block, has decided to build his fan base by taking on social media. Known for his viral stunt driving videos on YouTube, Block has proven himself to be one of the most fervent self-promoters on the Internet. In the often-crowded American media market, the best way to compete for attention against teams with large marketing budgets and perpetual social media “kings” or “queens” is to be a heavy or frequent poster. For many involved in “youth-oriented” or otherwise low-profile sports, such as skateboarding and artistic gymnastics, this may be the only way for these athletes to reach out to their fans and – more importantly – for their fans to reach out to them.
This strategy, however, does not always result in the highest page views. Of the top 10 posts from athletes, only Neymar has a top 10 account by fan base.
In playing the “fans game,” however, every little bit of extra publicity helps.
Sports Enthusiasts Engaging With Athletes on Instagram
It’s notoriously difficult for a brand to convince its users or viewers to engage socially. The average percentage of social media users that follow, like, retweet, or comment on a post tends to be low – about 0.03 percent on Twitter and 0.07 percent on Facebook. According to the research firm Forrester, however, Instagram has an average brand fan engagement of 4.21 percent – almost 60 times that of Facebook and 120 times that of Twitter.
Perhaps photos are more relatable and personal than words. United States’ Women’s National Team forward Alex Morgan has utilized this notion to create a devout following on Instagram, where she ranks No. 38 in the athlete category. Despite only having 2.3 million followers, the 26-year-old Morgan commands the highest fan engagement on Instagram due, in part, to her candidness; among her Instagram posts: selfies with fans, photos of her recent wedding, and exclusive photos of her at home. For many of her fans, her Instagram account offers an opportunity to see Morgan “in real life,” which would seem impossible for fans of the Olympic gold medalist and core member of the 2015 Women’s World Cup winning team.
Instagram – better than any other social media app – rewards users for what they post; the more personal the posts shared, the more personally connected users feel to the poster. Ultimately, when it comes to having the most followers and having the most engaged followers, the question remains: Do the profile viewers feel that there is a connection between him/her and the athlete? For fans wishing to be closer to their heroes, Instagram offers an excellent way to accomplish this.
Now let’s look which players in the MLB, NBA or NHL are most popular on Instagram
We looked at the ranking of Instagram accounts in the athlete category using the Iconosquare index to see which athletes have the largest fan bases and are generating the most fan engagement.