Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and especially Instagram have spawned an entirely new breed of celebrity. Known as influencers, they have significant clout with their devoted followers. Usernames on Instagram are styled with an @-symbol in front to differentiate it from a #-symbol, called "hashtag," which signals a trending topic.
It's not surprising that professional athletes and entertainers have millions of followers. Tom Brady has 4.2 million followers. Dolly Parton has 1.2 million followers.
More surprising are the quirky accounts that seem to come out of nowhere. People who build a following because other people like seeing the images they post. In no time, they have upwards of 10,000, 100,000, or even one million followers.
When it comes to becoming an influencer, size matters.
Those with between 1,000 and 10,000 followers are known as micro-influencers. They don't necessarily reach a lot of people, but their dedicated followers tend to see these accounts as highly credible.
Brands like Tom's of Maine and Clinique have effectively partnered with micro-influencers to show their brand being used in an authentic way.
For example, if a local yoga teacher posts an image where she's brushing her teeth with Tom's toothpaste, it seems authentic or at least more authentic than a traditional paid advertisement by Tom's.
There are also mega influencers—those with over one million Instagram followers. With 139 million Instagram followers, Selena Gomez is a mega influencer. Beyoncé is another mega influencer with 116 million followers. A product in the hands of a mega influencer is likely destined for great visibility and sales.
Surprising influencers: Introducing InstaGrammy
Further down the list of mega influencers, and most surprisingly, is 90-year-old Helen Ruth Elam Van Winkle. Better known by her Instagram name, @baddiewinkle, she has eight grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and 3.7 million Instagram followers.
Her journey to Instagram fame started in 2014. With help from her granddaughter, @baddiewinkle set up an account. She began posting colorful photos of herself with witty captions. Often seen wearing wild color combinations and vibrant prints, @baddiewinkle's posts caught the eye of celebrity mega influencers Rihanna and Miley Cyrus.
Proving just how much power influencers wield with their followers, once Rihanna and Miley Cyrus started following her, @baddiewinkle's follower numbers skyrocketed, lifting her up to mega influencer status.
As with most influencers, not all of @baddiewinkle's posts promote a particular product. Some posts, like the one of her and her dog lounging atop a Casper mattress, are quite obviously promotional.
Other posts are less obvious. She's seen interacting with a Polaroid camera so naturally, it doesn't seem like she was purposely promoting Polaroid, even though she was.
Other posts are quite subtle such as a post showing her at the pool. Only if her followers read the caption would they know that the post was a promotion with got2b hair products.
Baddiewinkle is one of a growing number of influencers who are using their newfound social media clout to challenge stereotypes. Together, these women show the world the many faces of aging while female.
Other notable Insta-Grammies
As a top stylist in the 1980s, Linda Rodin was responsible for getting fashion models camera-ready. Back then, she never could have anticipated that when she was in her 70s the camera would pivot around and make her the star, but that is precisely what happened. Almost 230,000 people follow Rodin and her silver poodle Winks.
Jan Carroll is a grandmother who loves fashion. She wants to "empower ageless women. Carroll says, "Aging is not what it used to be and we can rewrite the rules for generations to come. It's okay to go silver or gray when you're ready and if you want to color your hair 'til your 95...you should do what you want." She has over 27,000 followers.
Former Playboy bunny and the woman behind @seniorstylebible, Dorrie Jacobson says, "I've always been of the belief that as we get older, it's important to have a signature style that is modern, fashionable, and most importantly, still turns heads." This 80-year-old influencer is a sensation with 36,000 followers.
Ari Seth Cohen started taking photos of older women on the streets of Manhattan because he admired their great sense of style. What started as a hobby has grown into a multimedia juggernaut with 237,000 followers. Branching out from Instagram, Cohen authored several photo books and produced a documentary celebrating older trendsetters.
@stylecrone "is dedicated to the older woman, in her most creative, outrageous, authentic, powerful, adventurous, funny, and proud era," says Judith, the woman behind the @stylecrone account. "Let's take back the word 'crone' to its original meaning, signifying a woman of a 'certain age' who embodies all her life's wisdom, knowledge, experience, and love."
Only time will tell if social media will continue to captivate the world. If so, this group of trailblazers will only increase their influence as more of their peers discover Instagram.
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