So, we’re not a city of celebrities. We get giddy spotting Michael Jordan dining out, or actress Angie Harmon at Target.
But Charlotte does have is its share of social media personalities who’ve drawn sizeable followings, both regionally and internationally, for everything from haircuts to dog videos.
We asked social media analytics company Ground Signal for a list of the city’s top-followed citizens (who aren’t already known celebrities or sports stars) on social media.
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Here are nine you probably don’t know, despite the size of their followings (which we listed at press time and may be bigger now):
@gregbaskwell:183 million Vine loops; 93,000 Instagram followers
WHY HE’S POPULAR: The internet loves adorable dogs, and 26-year-old Baskwell’s well-mannered pooch, Finley, is the reason so many follow Baskwell on Vine and Instagram. Baskwell, a 2012 N.C. State graduate and SwimMAC coach, creates clever storylines for the short Finley videos, and it’s impossible not to smile while watching a dog prepare for Christmas (with human hands), drive a car or make breakfast. Finley videos have been featured on Tosh.0, truTV’s Top Funniest, and Britain’s Rude Tube. Baskwell sells the rights to some of his videos to companies who get them on TV, and says his social media earnings match about half of his full-time coaching salary.
ON SOCIAL MEDIA FAME: “Some people I know would jokingly say I’m famous. I don’t think of that at all, until somebody actually recognizes me in public. … I’m just a guy who makes videos of my dog.”
@theclothier:106,000 Twitter followers; 40,000
WHY HE’S POPULAR: The owner of an eponymous men’s custom suit business, Wilson brings his followers along on his celebrity-studded entrepreneurial journey, and counts his contacts with celebrities (he says he considers George Lopez, for instance, a friend) as a major reason his social media profile has boomed in recent years. He says his large following gets him comped meals, hotel upgrades and the occasional freebie, and he’ll sometimes walk into a room where he knows no one but many people know him.
ON SOCIAL MEDIA FAME: “If anyone would have told me seven years ago what my life would be like, I would think they’re crazy. I sell suits, that’s all I do, when you break it down. The proudest things in my life are my military career and graduating from college, but what I’ve found is the thing that’s allowed me to make the most impact directly is social media.”
@aryavarji: 24,000 Instagram followers
WHY HE’S POPULAR: A Charlotte hairstylist at Tribe Salon Studio in South End, Varji is a prime example of an influencer who dominates a niche following, with his artful photos of haircuts and video clips of him at work with music overlays. His Instagram is all business – you’ll only find images from the salon – but that scissor-sharp focus is what experts say is the key to his success. Varji takes photos of every haircut he does and posts his favorites on Instagram. His images won the attention of high-end scissor company Hattori Hanzo, who hired him in August 2014 to do classes and demonstrations at salons across the country when he’s not behind his chair in Charlotte.
ON SOCIAL MEDIA FAME: “People perceive that it has this greater value than actually exists. But I definitely have a really big network of friends, and if I go to a city where I don’t know anybody, I can usually find someone to hang out with,” he said. “I take pictures of every single haircut. I didn’t do it for any greater benefit than just trying to see my work through a different lens. It actually made my work better, because I have the chance to look at a haircut again. Once it leaves the chair, it’s gone.”
Holly Hollingsworth Phillips
@theenglishroom:34,000 Instagram followers
WHY SHE’S POPULAR: A local interior designer, Phillips fills her Instagram with images of textiles, tile and rooms, with a dash of quotes, family photos and travel images. She has an organized approach to her posting (she also has a blog), highlighting fine art on Mondays, travel photos on Wednesdays and fashion on Saturdays. She has an account through RewardStyle that gives her a cut of what people spend online after visiting her Instagram or blog. Having so many followers gets her several free trips a year, many to Europe, she says, from design-related companies who want her to publicize events. Last year, she says, she was comped a free Viking River cruise up the Danube after she flippantly tweeted about wanting to go on a Viking Cruise while watching “Downton Abbey.”
ON SOCIAL MEDIA FAME: “It’s not my primary income, but it’s a revenue stream I’m grateful for. My primary business I hope will always be interior design. Social media has just become a free form of advertising. You build this rapport with other people and the opportunities will come.”
@brianschindler:97,000 Instagram followers
WHY HE’S POPULAR: Followers of Schindler, a professional wedding photographer, see a mix of wedding and engagement photos as well as images from Elevation Church (where he worships), food and coffee photos and things he’s doing around town. He’ll use wedding hashtags and live-post images while shooting a wedding, which gains him followers each weekend, he says. His follower base exploded from 1,100 to about 18,000 in two weeks in January 2014, he says, when Instagram put him on the “suggested user” list to new users of the app. (He says his use of the app’s photography features is what got him on the list, and that he didn’t pay to be included.) He was put back on the list again last November, and his following grew by 83,000 followers, he says. Adding doughnuts to any photo hikes the likes, he says.
ON SOCIAL MEDIA FAME: “I feel this is a platform I’ve been given. I’m not going to sacrifice who I am and what I believe in. Some people will use social media as a way to mask who they are. I feel I’ve been given this to show who I am and where I came from and what God is doing in my life.”
@edwingilcom: 45,500 Instagram followers
WHY HE’S POPULAR: Gil reaches followers on multiple levels – his work as a professional artist, his outreach through social projects like the “Faces of Diversity” anti-bullying crusade, and his role as a yogi at Charlotte Yoga studio. His posts range from completed projects to art in process to children he meets at schools through “Faces of Diversity,” to yoga poses. He completed a 365-days-of-yoga challenge in August and says his Instagram following dropped by about 5,000 once the challenge was over. But he’s starting another challenge in May, and expects his following to once again swell.
ON SOCIAL MEDIA FAME: “At the same time I was doing the challenge here in Charlotte, people all over the world were following me and doing the challenge. People in Singapore, all over. You see how you can affect people’s lives positively through social media. A lot of my friends don’t like social media and I tell them, ‘I think it’s how you use it.’ If you use it in a quality way, you can do a lot of great things.”
A two-fer: Reagan and Madison Ibach
@reaganibach and @simplyyequestrian:223,000 and 116,000 followers respectively on Instagram
WHY THEY’RE POPULAR: Think teenage-girl-and-her-horse and you’ve got the magic of these accounts. The home-schooled sisters post both pretty, horse-y portraits, and more rugged shots of themselves in the saddle and over fences. Reagan, 16, says she began playing with Instagram about four years ago, posting a variety of photos but getting the most response from those of the family pony, Apple. Madison, 15, now posts about Apple, while Reagan’s bumped up her IG activity with new mount Cowboy. (Sample caption: “Don’t forget to click the link in my bio to find out wether (sic) or not Cowboy is SOUND AGAIN!”) They take photos for each other, occasionally getting help from Mom (who has her own IG account) or a boyfriend. Now they blog, too, on a site with more diverse “teen girl” stuff, from recipes to travel (but that apparel-for-sale section isn’t really active anymore, they say).ON SOCIAL MEDIA FAME:
With followers in Ireland and New Zealand, Canada and Norway, the girls say, they are a bit surprised by the reach and the numbers. When the family went to an equestrian event in Kentucky and scheduled a meetup, they say, 200 followers showed up, in pouring rain. Both agree that, on the whole, followers have been “incredibly positive.”
@likeagirl__fitness:60,000 Instagram followers
WHY SHE’S POPULAR: Frein calls herself “a 21-year-old girl chasing a dream ... i’m quirky, i’m fun, i’m honest, and i’m real” and thinks that “sharing my imperfections” (along with interacting a lot with followers) forms her appeal – well, that and her stated goal: “I want you. To love you.” Family members and her boyfriend sometimes help with photos and videos, which show her training routines, colorful meals and inspirational quotes.
(Sample: “20 Things That Women Should Stop Wearing After The Age of 30 /
“1-20: The weight of other people’s expectations & judgments”).
ON SOCIAL MEDIA FAME: She began about 18 months ago, she says, when a friend suggested she post her own workouts, and “had no idea” it would become a business, and a brand name. She withdrew from UNCC to pursue entrepreneurship and has been surprised, she says, by “the power and the potential” she sees in social media, from the speed of follower growth to unearthing subscribers (she charges monthly for access to her “personal training schedules” – she is self-taught, with no certifications – and recipes), and calls Instagram “the power source of my dream.”
What’s the secret formula to influencer success?
Eric Dahan, CEO of InstaBrand, a Los Angeles-based company that connects advertisers with social media influencers, says the key to growing a following is this: “It’s creating a type of content that people want and that people can’t get anywhere else, and doing it in a unique way and making sure you’re extremely focused in the content you’re creating.
“Take fixed gear bicycle riding on Instagram,” he says. “If you’re one of two people who are talking about it, then you’re going to grow very fast in that category.”
Markets that already have lots of influencers, like high-end fashion, require extremely fresh ideas and laser-sharp focus, he said.
And just as important as growing your following? Keeping your following.
“It’s a constant effort, keeping a fan base, keeping them engaged,” Dahan says. “All it takes is one wrong post, or one wrong comment, to start alienating your fan base.”