Ever since Facebook bought Instagram in 2012, the app has evolved from a fun social network for selfies and brunch pics to something much more impactful: marketing’s top platform for visual content.
Instagram’s popularity lets most brands forge an emotional connection with a massive audience, and some brands are so good at visually engaging and resonating with Instagram users that they’ve attracted tens of millions of followers.
Let’s check out this list of the eight brands with the most Instagram followers and examine their content to learn exactly how they’ve built cult-like followings.
This post is about the business accounts with the most Instagram followers. The eight Instagram accounts with the most followers all belong to celebrities, so, since we predominately write about marketing, we thought this would be a more relevant topic.
Top Instagram Accounts
- National Geographic
- Real Madrid
Marketing Takeaways from the Top Accounts on Instagram
Followers: 246 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: 90.1 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 90 million followers.
National Geographic is a historic magazine that's famous for their credible journalism and compelling storytelling, so 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. So 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: 79.5 Million
In the advertising industry, Nike is known for their motivational ads that inspire athletes to believe in themselves and work as hard as possible to meet 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: 62.1 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 compared to other teams with similarly sized 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.
Followers: 46.3 Million
With plenty of dog, cat, and baby videos, SpongeBob references, and jokes that are almost too relatable, 9GAG has one of the funniest accounts on Instagram.
Their 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 with them, and attract more followers like them.
Followers: 34.7 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, stories archive, 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 launches and technology.
In an age where most people think the only thing that social media content can do is rot your brain, NASA’s popularity on Instagram proves that you can actually create educational content that doesn't sacrifice any entertainment value.
Followers: 30.1 Million
Since basketball is only the seventh most popular sport in the world, it might be surprising that the NBA is the sports league with the most amount of Instagram followers. But after analyzing their Instagram strategy, their success on the app makes complete sense.
Most of the NBA’s Instagram posts are countdowns of each team’s and certain player’s best plays. And by posting each team’s and specific superstars’ top plays on Instagram, the NBA’s content appeals to all of their teams’ and stars’ fan bases, letting them reach almost every basketball fan in the world.
But the NBA doesn’t just rely on this clever personalization strategy to maximize their reach on Instagram. They also host account takeovers, Q&As, and behind-the-scenes access videos of team facilities on their Instagram stories and Stories Archive to give fans an inside look at their players’ life on and off the court.
Basketball has about three billion less fans than soccer does. But the reason why the NBA has five million more Instagram followers than the Champion’s League is because the NBA knows how to personalize their content, relate to each segment of their audience, and break down the barriers between their fans and players.
Followers: 29.3 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.