The world of marketing has changed radically in the past decade with the rise and ubiquity of social media. With that transformation also came the ability for little-known internet users to build massive niche audiences through unique and innovative ways, and all without a huge marketing budget. And now, these social media influencers are an integral part of the marketing world and are often utilized by brands trying to increase their awareness.
But if you look more closely, these social media celebrities should not just be viewed as tools for brands to boost their reputation and authenticity, but rather as roadmaps on how to develop a substantial niche audience from the ground up in our ever-connected social media age.
Instagram is perhaps the best social media platform to examine to understand what drives these influencers to the top of their respective niches. For one, Instagram is almost entirely devoted to image and video, which is by far the most effective content at engaging consumers. And secondly, the social media app is known for its huge niche personalities that command passionate and loyal audiences—from fitness gurus to young makeup artists.
Whether you’re an online retailer, a seasoned marketer, or a burgeoning brand, there is a lot to learn from these four social media influencers and how they ascended to the top of their niche.
Yianni Charalambous rose to the prominence on social media as a celebrity car customizer and, more specifically, car wrapper—an alternative to traditional paint jobs—and now has more than one million followers on Instagram. The key to his niche success, Charalambous says, is that he always stayed consistent with his social media activity and brand messaging, meaning he posts up to six or seven times a day and every post is somehow related to cars.
With literally no advertising, Charalambous relied solely on word-of-mouth marketing to sell his service. Initially, this meant the constant posting of hundreds of Instagram pictures of “pimped-out” cars he’d done until eventually, he landed his first celebrity client, a Premier League football star. Now, Charalambous has two TV shows and has customized almost every British celebrity’s car from all the One Direction members to Gordon Ramsey and even other social media stars like the wildly popular Fifa vlogger KSI, earning him the title “King Yianni.”
Steven Vasilev first gained a significant social media presence and following by being on the front lines and constantly posting about the hottest new styles and trends in the sneaker and streetwear niche. With this following, he helped found FreCustoms, a sneaker company targeting the even more niche custom footwear industry. Through existing high-profile relationships he built through being on the forefront of street style, he made and sold his custom-designed shoes exclusively to celebrities, which, in turn, gained his brand even more buzz.
Vasilev also had a mind for creating viral images of his custom sneakers that spread like wildfire across social media. In fact, tons of his Instagram images were reposted in influential streetwear blogs and magazines. On top of this, Vasilev and FreCustoms regularly held social media giveaways for his highly sought after kicks. All in all, he created an innovative, high-quality, and exclusive product, then pushed it virally across social media and skyrocketed his social media following and, hence, his brand awareness. Up to now, Vasilev has designed custom shoes for famous rappers, athletes, and actors and has garnered over 100,000 followers on his personal Instagram page alone.
Nusret Gökçe, a Turkish chef widely known as Salt Bae for his viral Instagram post showing him stylishly showering salt on a gigantic slab of meat, is a clear example of the benefits of a consistent and bold brand image. The viral video mentioned above was viewed by over 10 million people on Instagram alone and spawned hundreds of thousands of internet memes. Some might assume—wrongly—that Salt Bae’s meteoric rise to internet stardom is due to a stroke of fortune, but one look at his hugely popular Instagram page displays a goldmine of catchy cooking videos and super stylish and distinct branding.
Salt Bae’s confident and unique personal brand image has earned him 9.5 million followers on Instagram who tune in to watch the Turkish chef, decked out in his trademarked black and white clothing and trendy sunglasses, lovingly dice up massive slabs of meat with insanely impressive knife skills and, of course, his hilarious and awesome signature salting technique. Knowing his message and running with it has paid dividends for Salt Bae over the years as well. He’s expanded his restaurant business from Turkey to nine other countries.
In 2012, Theron Humphrey quit his job, loaded up his truck with his belongings, and took off on the road with his dog and a goal of Instagramming and shooting a documentary of his travels through the 50 states. What made his niche traveling and photography idea and his resulting Instagram page such a hit was the ultra-consistent tone of his shots, all featuring the natural world, similar color palettes, staples like his dog and car, and a distinctly American feel. Indeed, not a single picture on Humphrey’s Instagram feed looks out of place.
Humphrey demonstrated that having a unique idea or twist on an overly saturated market like travel photography can open up new niches and bring in tons of followers looking for something different. Humphrey also has, like the successful social media influencers above, a one-of-a-kind brand image that people appreciate. After filming on his documentary finished, not only did Nat Geo pick it up, but they also named him their Traveler of the Year. Currently, Humphrey has a staggering 1.2 million followers on Instagram.
So the key lesson marketers and brands should take away from niche social media celebrity influencers like the ones above is that pushing consistent, innovative, unique, and bold content online is the key to building a dedicated audience. And thanks to social media, any brand can rise to the top of their niche nowadays if they achieve these things, and all without the need for huge amounts of marketing dollars. These Instagram influencers prove it.