These are the top influencers on Instagram in 2018

March 28, 2018

Written by NewsWhip
Instagram top video

With peer-to-peer sharing emphasized more and more on social, how can brands best reach their target audiences? We take a look at influencer trends on Instagram.

Partnering with influencers, branded content studios, and even other brands can turbocharge a brand’s reach, especially on Instagram.

With over 800 million monthly users, Instagram is accessible, digestible, and presents an easier way to reach new followers.

In fact, 75 percent of Instagram users take an action after looking at a sponsored post, and 60 percent of users discover new products on the platform. Indeed, eMarketer estimates that global mobile ad revenue on Instagram will reach $6.84 billion this year.

When we looked at the top sponsored posts back in July, the posts were driving an average of 19 million engagements weekly.

Looking at November 2017 through February 2018, we can see that this hasn’t changed substantially. One week even reached 26.4 million likes and comments to posts labeled with sponsored hashtags:

Instagram analytics
Given that we weren’t including the posts that are tagged on the backend as sponsored, this number is likely even higher.

Using NewsWhip Analytics, we decided to dive into:

  • Who the top influencers are at the beginning of 2018
  • Which influencers have the highest engagement rates on sponsored posts
  • Which brands and industries had the most engaging posts
  • How much impact an influencer can have
  • How to research influencers for our own campaigns

With NewsWhip Analytics, we examined the variety of hashtags that influencers tend to use. We analyzed across hashtags like #paid, #ad, #sponsored, #spon, #promoted, #ambassador, and other variations.

Let’s jump in. (For further reading, check out our 2018 guide to influencers across Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and the web) 

Who are the top influencers on Instagram going into Spring 2018?

Unsurprisingly, the very top influencers of 2018 thus far are celebrities like the Kardashians and Jenners.

influencers Instagram 2018
Other celebrities featured in our top 15 like Chris Pratt, Conor McGregor, Zayn, and Millie Bobby Brown.
Interesting, a number of the top influencers came from British reality tv shows like Geordie Shore and Love Island.

There was also a good deal of influencers who are quite popular with younger Millennials and Gen Z, like Dove Cameron and Lucy Hale.

In the top 50, the breakdown was 52 percent celebrities, 30 percent influencers (not traditional celebrities — musicians, actors, etcetera), 10 percent athletes, and 4 percent publishers.

Across the top 50 influencers, the average number of sponsored posts in the 2.5 month period was 9 posts per influencer. Candace Hampton, “thebeautybeau“, had 73 posts tagged as sponsored. Even some of her posts that weren’t necessarily tagged as sponsored, linked to commerce opportunities:

These influencers promote an aesthetic that’s then presented as accessible to their followers.
There was also one brand that featured in our top 50, Marvel. Its sponsored posts with brands like Lexus, Walmart, Synchrony Bank, and more, tied into its movie franchises.

Marvel Lexus

Further down our list, even more publishers appeared like the Shade Room and Vogue India, and aggregated content accounts like f*ckjerry and cohmedy.

Which influencers have the top engagement rates on sponsored content? 

When we looked at the list of Instagram influencers with the top engagement rates on sponsored content, our list changed drastically.

Influencer engagement rates
To understand the influencers with the most engaging sponsored posts, we divided their total likes & comments on sponsored content by the number of sponsored posts, and then by their number of followers.

Five of the top fifteen only had one post, which is a factor here. Millie Bobby Brown’s engagement rate is based on just one post.

Still, traditional celebrities now only make of seven of the top 15 here, and 21 of the top 50. There’s more room for other influencers like Rademita (Rachel Anne Demita), MannyMUA733 (Manny Gutierrez), and Matt Cutshall, who have built up loyal audiences on the platform.

In comparison, Kim Kardashian’s engagement rate on sponsored content was 2.73 percent, and Kendall Jenner’s was 2.74 percent. 

What are the top sponsored posts on Instagram? 

The top sponsored posts on Instagram primarily came from the Kardashians and other celebrities. They tended to feature the same stream of brands.

Instagram sponsored posts top chart

Though we know that captions can often be dictated by brands and PR agencies, it’s worth looking at the tactics that work.

The top sponsored posts tend to make it seem like the brand naturally fits into the influencers’ life, or that the brand has been transformative in some way.

Of course, we saw more creative takes as well, based on the influencer him or herself, and that influencer’s respective audience.

totinos sponsored Instagram

The influencer-turned-pseudo publisher, Elliot Tebele, uses humor to promote brands on his F*ckJerry Instagram account. This works for brands like Totinos, which have a similar approach with their target demographic. 

Which brands are most represented in the top sponsored Instagram posts?

The brands that featured most often in the top 100 sponsored posts were Calvin Klein, Amazon, Smashbox Cosmetics, and Visit Arizona (thanks to the ever-popular National Geographic).

When we looked at the top industries, they ran the gauntlet. Everything from tech to eyewear to healthcare featured, along with the more natural fits like beauty & fashion, food, alcohol, travel, and fitness brands.

sponsored brands Instagram
Some brands tied into current events, like Amazon featuring for its celeb-packed Alexa campaign during the Super Bowl, and others around Valentine’s Day. 

What formats work for sponsored Instagram posts?

As we’ve seen in previous Instagram analyses, photo continues to be the top format. Only 15 of the top 100 posts were video posts, and nine were carousel posts.

This has shifted, which we can see if we compare this 2.5 month period with the Q1 period of last year.

Instagram formats photo video carousel
In Q1 2017’s top 100 sponsored posts, there were 87 image posts, 13 video posts, and 0 carousel posts.
According to Instagram, the amount of time that users spend watching video has increased by more than 80 percent year-over-year.

Instagram Stories is also a rising star, providing another way for influencers to directly link sponsored content to brands’ websites.
Rosanna Pansino
This example from Rosanna Pansino links to her latest video, but it’s a good way to show off the feature.

What impact do these influencers have?

As we’ve seen before, influencers can make a tremendous difference for brands. Here’s a look at how non-celebrity influencers can see substantially more social engagements than a brand’s own account.

influencer impact on brands
You don’t need a huge celebrity ensure your content’s success. Engagement rates can be as much as 60 percent higher if you go with a micro-influencer with a smaller but more loyal and actively engaging following.

Influencers can have a significant impact on a brand’s reach. Not only are influencer audiences often bigger, but influencers already have the trust of their followers. Nielsen found that 92 percent of customers trust the recommendations of a stranger (aka influencers) over brands.  

What to remember

Partnering up with Instagram influencers continues to be a successful tactic for brands. Here are a few tips to remember:

  • Influencers can work across multiple verticals — you don’t need to be a fashion or beauty brand
  • Try partnering up with other brands or even publishers
  • Micro-influencers can have smaller but highly active and loyal audiences
  • Be mindful of the influencer’s audience and Instagram content — is it aligned with your brand and brand aesthetic?
  • Are there any ongoing topics or events that your audience and the influencer’s audience care about? I.e. Mother’s Day, spring break, the next season of Game of Thrones?
  • Vary your strategy across Instagram post formats and Instagram Stories for more discoverability

To learn more, check out our 2018 strategy guide to influencers across Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and the web. 

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