With over 1 billion monthly users, Instagram has become a powerful platform for the music industry. This is amplified by the fact that users on the popular media-sharing platform demonstrate more interest in music than the general public, spending 30 percent more time listening to music each week and 100 percent more likely to subscribe to streaming services.
Indie performers and up-and-coming acts have a better opportunity to grow their audience on Instagram, but they aren’t alone. Mega-stars like Beyoncé, Khalid, and Ariana Grande put Instagram to work to excite their millions of followers and reinforce their images. Used by artists to drop tracks, announce tours, and share major milestones (Beyoncé’s pregnancy reveal in 2017, earned over 11 million Instagram likes), some of the biggest names on the Billboard Top 100 have curated expert social media strategies to help bolster their online reputations.
By analyzing the Billboard Top 100 artists in 2018 – ranging from Taylor Swift and Drake to Justin Timberlake and Shawn Mendes – we’ve broken down which artists have the biggest social media followings, who shares the most content, and which media get the most engagement from fans and followers. Read on as we look at the role that Instagram plays for the biggest acts in the music industry today.
With nearly half of Instagram’s 1 billion users following 10 or more verified musicians, it’s no wonder that certain artists have managed to amass follower counts of 100 million or more. And whether they use that visibility to endorse political candidates, promote their own brands, or push paid endorsements, there is no denying that Instagram followers are hungry for celebrity influence.
Seven of the 10 most popular musicians on Instagram in 2018 were women. Among them, Selena Gomez, who, despite being inactive on Instagram from September 2018 to January 2019, had more followers than any other artist on the Billboard Top 100 in 2018 with over 145 million. While Gomez has earned more than 9 million likes on a single post in the past, the singer has also alluded to the stress and responsibility that goes hand in hand with Insta-fame. Selena Gomez shared the Instagram spotlight with several other female artists, including Ariana Grande (144 million followers), Beyoncé (123 million), Taylor Swift (114 million), and Nicki Minaj (98 million).
Men in the industry have also demonstrated their ability to wield influence with Justin Timberlake, Drake (53 million followers each), and Chris Brown (50 million followers) commanding major Instagram followings. Among his most-liked posts in 2018, Drake earned more than 2 million likes on a picture promoting his new album, “Scorpion,” while Chris Brown drew criticism from fans for commenting publicly on a picture shared by Rihanna.
Thanks to Instagram’s image-sorting algorithm, content posted by popular artists like Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato isn’t always seen by their entire audience. While feeds are still primarily chronological, the algorithm attempts to sort posts by a variety of other factors, including engagement (how many likes and comments a post has gotten) and how often the user shares content.
For artists with lesser follower counts than Selena or Beyoncé, excessive posting on Instagram earns them a critical mass of views and likes. Maren Morris, 5 Seconds of Summer, and Demi Lovato had the most Instagram posts. With over 84,000 followers, Grammy-winning Maren Morris uses Instagram to share tour dates, behind-the-scenes moments, and even personal experiences (including her wedding). In contrast, Demi Lovato (71 million followers) was quiet for most of 2018 following a drug overdose in July.
When a photo won’t cut it, why not consider uploading a video instead? Whether it’s a tease of an upcoming music video or a political rant that can’t be captured effectively in images (remember, Cardi B really wants to know where her tax money is going), not every artist likes to keep their feed as minimal as Beyoncé’s.
Musical acts Dan + Shay, 5 Seconds of Summer, and a cappella group Pentatonix posted more videos to Instagram than any other Billboard Top 100 artist. Putting more videos out into the world doesn’t always mean you’re going to get the most engagement, though. On average, videos from Cardi B, Selena Gomez, and rapper 6ix9ine averaged between 1.2 and 1.6 million likes each.
In 2017, Beyoncé had the most-liked Instagram post of all time. Set against an archway of flowers and covered in an ethereal green veil, the beautifully-composed image served as the star’s pregnancy announcement.
Later outdone by Kylie Jenner in 2018 (and then a nondescript picture of an egg later the same year), Beyoncé took second place to the previously-mentioned Selena Gomez, who has managed to earn more than 500 million more likes during her Instagram career. With 2.2 billion total likes, Selena Gomez amassed more engagement on her Instagram pictures and videos than any other Billboard Top 100 artist in 2018. Followed by Beyoncé (1.6 billion), Demi Lovato (1.6 billion) and Shawn Mendes (1.4 billion), these Insta-champions may have some rising competition. Among musicians, XXXTentacion and Cardi B averaged more likes per post than any other artist (between 1.7 million and 13.5 million), although only one image remains posted to XXXTentacion’s Instagram profile. EXO and 5 Seconds of Summer were among the artists with the highest engagement, earning substantially more likes per follower than other artists.
So, is Instagram just a marketing tool for musicians – or is it something more? While most celebrities take their own approach toward social media, the most-liked posts of all time from the Billboard Top 100 artists seemed to have a similar personal message.
Posts involving death were at the top of the list. With over 14 million likes, rapper XXXTentacion posted his only image to Instagram in May of 2018: a simple, upside-down silhouette with the caption “LOVE IS WAR.” In June of 2018, XXXTentacion was murdered in a drive-by shooting. In September of 2018, Ariana Grande posted a captionless black-and-white picture of former boyfriend and rapper Mac Miller. The day before her photo, Mac Miller died of a drug overdose.
Death isn’t the only emotional theme that grabs Instagram headlines. Important milestones seem to garner fan attention as well. Beyoncé earned over 21 million combined likes for sharing two images of herself pregnant and later with her newborn twins, and Selena Gomez earned nearly 11 million likes after sharing an image of herself before getting a kidney transplant as a result of her battle with lupus.
Likes and views aren’t the only way to gauge the success or popularity of an Instagram post. Comments are one of the fundamental ways that Instagram rates engagement, and considering that it takes more effort to leave a response on a post than to simply double-tap it, comments may also show a higher level of commitment from fans.
Selena Gomez got more comments on her Instagram posts than any other artist on the Billboard Top 100 in 2018. With nearly 32 million comments across more than 1,470 posts, Gomez averaged more than 21,000 comments per post. Shawn Mendes (more than 21.7 million comments), Beyoncé (18 million), and Demi Lovato (17 million) averaged similar levels of interaction from their fans and followers.
You don’t need a legion (or a hive) of fans to spark conversation online, though. XXXTentacion, 6ix9ine, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, and Cardi B all managed to earn the highest number of comments, on average, based on their number of posts, and 5 Seconds of Summer had more posts than any other artist relative to their follower count.
Similar to the most-liked Instagram post from the Billboard Top 100 artists in 2018, XXXTentaction’s infamously singular post also ranked as the photo with the most comments. With over 5.5 million comments since posting it in May of 2018, fans have continued to leave emojis and messages of love following his death a month later.
While a performance photo from Selena Gomez on her Revival Tour in August of 2016 earned the second-highest number of comments, a photo by Travis Scott, giving away $100,000 to one fan who left a comment on the photo, wasn’t far behind. Slightly less giving but maybe more meaningful to the musicians themselves, Beyoncé’s second pregnancy announcement and a picture of Cardi B’s newborn daughter ranked as the fourth and fifth most-commented Instagram posts.
Cardi B didn’t use Instagram to help take over the music world on accident. Whether sharing personal moments, or randomly giving out cash, Billboard Top 100 artists have amassed millions of likes and comments on their social media content. And even though a few key performers (including Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande) have yet to be dethroned, musicians like Shawn Mendes, 5 Seconds of Summer, and Pentatonix still reach record levels of engagement based on their number of fans and followers.
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We compiled a list of the top 100 musicians in 2018 by using the 2018 Billboard Top 100 chart. Billboard calculates the top artists by combining radio airplay, sales data, and streaming data. Ninety-five of those artists had verified Instagram accounts. We looked at every Instagram post by these artists to find the relevant data we needed. When calculating the average number of comments or likes, we did not take into consideration the total volume of posts for each user. For some artists, that average may reflect only one post.
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