I vividly remember the day Facebook purchased Instagram for $1 billion. It was the jaw-droppingly big social platform purchase, and prompted looks of hesitation and curiosity from just about anyone with a smartphone. "A photo sharing app for a billion dollars?"

I took that as a clear sign that I should probably start experimenting with it.

In the years that followed, I have invested a significant amount of time into studying the platform--not just as an observer and "social media strategist." I didn't want to memorize common best practices mentioned in marketing articles. I wanted to actually get in the trenches and find my own best practices and build myself into an influencer. I already knew the value of having an audience. My question then was, "How do I actually build that for myself?"

Originally starting in health and fitness, I built a following of about 15,000 people who were interested in not just physical improvement, but self-development. While other people preached the importance of short, witty captions, I experimented with treating Instagram like a micro-blog (something I still do today, except much more focused around self-development as it relates to entrepreneurship). My captions were long and detailed. I would share personal stories, life lessons, and commentary on my journey--and that's what people ended up becoming attracted to. People didn't necessarily follow me for my photos (at the time), they followed me for my writing.

That, in itself, was an uncommon practice on Instagram, and a perfect example of how the best thing you can do for yourself, in any industry, is to get in the trenches and find your own answers. What works for someone else may not work for you, and vice versa.

Since posting my first photo on Instagram, I have become fascinated by the platform. It is so simple and yet has done more than just attract millions of users--it has shifted our entire culture. It's actually a thing now to see people taking pictures out in the world and immediately know, "Oh, they're creating content for Instagram." 

As a digital marketer, but also as someone interested in always keeping my eye out for what I can learn from someone else and apply to my own personal brand, here are 10 accounts I have in my feed that interest me for one reason or another. Either they are doing something unique with their content, or their photography is extremely on point, or their captions are motivational, or they're just simply entertaining. Regardless, if you want to know how you can build your own influence, I would step outside your comfort zone for a second, expand your awareness of what influencers are sharing in all sorts of different industries, and then see what you can apply back to your own brand.

1. @chiaraferragni

This was one of the first fashion influencers I ever followed, and since then I have yet to find someone as consistent and high-quality with their content. Granted, at this point Ferragni is big time, but she has turned a fashion blog into an empire. Put her in your feed and watch how often her content comes up. It never lacks in quality.

2. @bradleymartyn

One of the biggest names in fitness, I watched Martyn come up on Instagram. It wasn't until he started merging humor and shock-value fitness videos with the hardcore bodybuilding lifestyle that he blew up. Chances are, you've seen one of his viral videos, like him squatting with girls sitting on both ends of of the barbell. Now, he collaborates with some of the biggest names on Insta. Take note.

3. @betches

I'll admit it, this is my guilty pleasure account. I don't know why I find their posts so hilarious--well, actually, I do. It's because they are extremely relatable, and that's the point I want to make here. I remember when @betches was a tiny Instagram account. Now, they are a full-fledged brand. They have a popular blog, merchandise, products. It has become a movement. As I always say, "Relatability is sharability." No wonder they have over 2M followers.

4. @bigmike

Regardless of how you feel about the cannabis industry, if you're in the business of business, you should be paying attention to what's happening in that forlorn space. And the guy behind a lot of it? He goes by the name @bigmike. Often referred to as the "Dan Bilzerian" of the cannabis world, the difference is Big Mike has also built a company that rakes in over $90M a year. It's interesting to see such an accomplished entrepreneur invest so much time into building his personal brand. If that's not proof of the value, I don't know what is.

5. @influencive

People often face two sorts of challenges when trying to build an audience for themselves. First, they struggle to create consistent content. They start and then stop, and then start back up again. This is a huge error--consistency is everything. Second, they lack the human component. A brand is only as human as the people it showcases and the stories it tells. There is a reason @influencive has grown so rapidly as a publication for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to build themselves into influential thought leaders. Not only are they exceedingly consistent with their content, but their daily Stories show Founder and Inc 500 entrepreneur Brian D. Evans interacting with some of the industry's biggest names. I would pay attention here to the Stories.

6. @amandacerny

Playboy model turned model turned viral comedian? What Cerny has done for herself in terms of leveraging her wins to bigger and bigger opportunities has been astonishing to watch. She is one of the few influencers who, truly, seems to have her hand in everything. If there's one thing most model accounts tend to lack, it's personality. Sure, they post attractive photos, but they don't really showcase who they are as people. By the looks of it, Cerny saw that as an opportunity--and has executed on it masterfully.

7. @andrew7sealy

When it comes to yogi accounts, this is a must-follow for several reasons. First of all, Sealy is an extremely talented yogi that clearly invests as much time into his craft as he does ensuring the quality of his social media posts. Second, his captions--he too has taken to the long-form style, and his writing is very focused on helping people further develop themselves. And third, he makes great use of the Instagram Stories feature. If his pictures weren't eye-catching enough, his Stories will absolutely make you feel like maybe your life's purpose is to leave for a foreign island and practice yoga. Say what you will, but that's great content.

8. @reggiecouz

Another very cool "combination" account, as I like to call them. Couz is as much of a musician as he is a comedian, and he has used his talents in both to accumulate 1.5M followers on Instagram. His come up has been equally fascinating, watching him use comedy to promote his musical talents, and music to separate his comedy sketches from everyone else. This, again, shows how much opportunity there is for you to combine your own unique skill sets and forge a space of your own.

9. @andyfrisella

When it comes to entrepreneurship and the grit it takes to be successful, there are few voices as passionate as Frisella's. Founder and CEO of a portfolio of companies worth over $100M, including health and fitness brand 1st Phorm International, Frisella is now investing heavily in his personal brand and podcast, The MFCEO Project. It is interesting watching how brands in similar spaces separate themselves, but watching how then the CEOs of those brands are starting to separate themselves on a personal level is equally as thought provoking. Go take a look at @garyvee and then look at @andyfrisella and you'll get a clear sense of how the two differentiate themselves. It's very cool.

10. @bmw

I honestly see very few brands execute social media with the same finesse as an individual, but @bmw knows their stuff. It's clear they invest heavily in their content, and the results speak for themselves. With over 10.9M followers, add this account to your feed and you'll find yourself drooling over the cars you see. Big brands, take note: If you want a sizable audience, and if you want people to engage with your content, then you need to make sure what you're sharing is so above and beyond everyone else, people can't help but take notice. As the saying goes, "Be so great they can't ignore you."

Published on: Mar 8, 2017