Women Have Long Ruled Instagram — But The Boys Are Catching Up

When a friend of mine recently posted a photo to Instagram, he was disappointed to find that after a few hours, he had only received 12 Likes. He was quick to assign blame.
“Girls always get more Likes than guys,” he said defensively. “You’re always Liking and commenting on each other’s photos. Guys don’t do that.”
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Of course, my friend wasn’t totally right — all kinds of people Like and comment on photos. But, after laughing at his accusation and looking back at who had Liked and commented on my own recent photos, I realized he had a point. All of my comments, except for two, were from women — and 75% of my Likes were, too.
Come to think of it, all of the influencers I follow and most of the ones filling my "Discover" feed are female. After talking to multiple social media experts, I found that my feed is not an exception. “There are more women who are lifestyle influencers,” says Evan Asano, CEO of influencer marketing agency Mediakix.
Female influencers aren’t just dominating the lifestyle space in terms of overall presence on Instagram; they are also bringing home the biggest paychecks.
“If I were looking at two people with a similar-sized following, I think the female influencer would probably easily get a 50% larger fee than the male influencer,” says Karen Robinovitz, the chief creative officer at Digital Brand Architects, a talent management firm that represents top influencers including Aimee Song of Song of Style and Arielle Noa Charnas of Something Navy.
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Asano agrees. When looking at what men in the lifestyle space charge compared to women, he found that men’s rates tend to fall between $3 and $6 CPM (cost per impression), sometimes lower, whereas women's are between $5 and $10 CPM, often skewing toward the higher end of that range.
How have women conquered Instagram, and are there any signs of this growth slowing as more men appear on the scene?
To understand why women dominate the space, you have to look back at Instagram’s origins. When the app was founded in 2010, YouTube had already been around for five years. Two of the most popular — and, in turn, most money-making — categories on YouTube were beauty and fashion, with standouts like Michelle Phan and Bethany Mota quickly becoming household names.

How have women conquered Instagram, and are there any signs of this growth slowing as more men appear on the scene?

As Instagram started, the same categories proved popular, Asano says. Women who were doing makeup tutorials and styling challenges on YouTube brought their brands to Instagram, where they found similar success.
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Although some influencers' Insta followings grew quickly because their YouTube audiences followed them from platform to platform, they also had a helping hand. When Instagram was just starting off, it had a "Popular" page that was based on numbers of Likes and followers. Now, that page is the "Search and Explore" tab, where you see posts based on who else you follow — and the types of posts you tend to Like. “There were girls that became fashion influencers really early on and had a ton of followers really quickly, not because they were doing the right things, but because they started their account in 2012 or 2013, they posted pretty photos, and Instagram wanted to pre-populate feeds of their users,” Asano says.
There’s another element at play beyond Instagram and even an influencer’s control: the people who are coming to Instagram in the first place. Over the years, women have surpassed men in demographic studies of Instagram users, and that holds true to this day. A 2016 social media study from Pew Research Center found that 32% of online adults are on Instagram and of those, 38% are female compared to 26% who are male. Whether the remainder of users are genderqueer or unidentified is unclear — but it's worth noting that the influence of trans folks on the platform is also growing.
Instagram has a wide variety of users, and yet Robinovitz says that the vast majority of those who look to the platform for fashion cues are women. “So it gives women a much bigger opportunity to build a career and their point of view through their influence on Instagram specifically, because it’s one of the platforms where you're thinking, oh, I need new jeans or what's that red lip? People start to use it as a search engine, in a way.”

More women are Liking and commenting on photos. And more engagement means more money.

There’s a domino effect: If more women are looking to Instagram for fashion and lifestyle inspiration, then more women are Liking and commenting on photos. And more engagement means more money. According to Asano, influencers in the beauty and fashion (which often overlaps with lifestyle) space get paid the most and get the most brand interest overall: “I think that there's a lot of brands that see these lifestyle influencers as conversation-starters who are very impactful.”
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But the demographics are starting to shift. In the past 18 months alone, a number of male lifestyle influencers have appeared on the grid and found massive success, highlighting the imbalances that exist within the industry.

summer can't come fast enough

A post shared by Alex Lange (@alexlange) on

Alex Lange just turned 16, but he already has 1.6 million followers on Instagram. Lange stars in most of the photos in his feed, and the Instas look like they could be Abercrombie & Fitch ads. In some photos he’s holding cute puppies, in others he’s kissing his girlfriend. Sometimes, he’s just laughing on a beach or looking pensive on a balcony. These posts don’t look all that different from the ones taken by female influencers, but unlike many women in the space, Lange achieved almost overnight success; he saw his follower numbers grow exponentially after he posted just two photos of himself.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” Lange tells me of his accidental ascension to social media royalty. He has grown his follower and engagement numbers to rival those of top female influencers as well as many celebrities — and his posts regularly earn over 100,000 Likes. Lange’s audience is primarily female (83% compared to just 17% of men), and most fall between the ages of 12 and 19.
Daniel Fuchs, known online as Magic Fox, experienced a similarly speedy rise. After a month on Instagram, he had around 10,000 followers. Once he bought a professional DSLR camera and began creating higher-quality photos, his account started to gain 5,000 to 6,000 new followers every day. Fox now has 1.1 million followers and tens of thousands of Likes per post — a following that has led him to big brand partnerships, including an upcoming campaign with Kenneth Cole Watches. Like Lange's, the majority of Fuchs' photos are of himself, and he’s often working out, sitting on a beach, or posing thoughtfully.
For women trying to start out on Instagram today, achieving a comparably large audience is harder than ever because competition is so fierce. “If you want to start a lifestyle or beauty channel, you have a one in a million shot of being successful now,” Asano says of women who are just getting started. “If you’re a decent-looking guy who has some sense of style, you can probably become a reasonably-sized men's fashion influencer or a lifestyle influencer at this point.”
A more limited pool of male influencers means that it’s easier to start from scratch and get noticed. Plus, they may be able to push for larger salaries when working with brands who are in search of a male influencer for a campaign. “We’ve found over time that when negotiating pricing, men seem to have a bit more leverage because there are so few options,” says Stephanie Abrams Cartin, co-founder and CEO of social media agency Socialfly.

If you want to start a lifestyle or beauty channel, you have a one in a million shot of being successful now.

Evan Asano, CEO of Mediakix
However, there are cons, too. While some male influencers may have rates that are comparable to those of top female influencers, Asano says that overall, there’s more demand for female influencers given the largely female Instagram audience.
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Lange also says that male influencers face certain (albeit bizarre) social stigmas: “With women, I think it’s viewed as a positive thing to put yourself out there on social media. As a man, it’s seen as something abnormal that doesn't fit with you. You're not supposed to spend your time on Instagram meeting people. I think that when people see a man [being active on social media] they might think he’s doing it for the wrong reasons.” Of course, women on social media face plenty of challenges, too.
Plus, when you try to take a closer look at who makes more money (male lifestyle influencers or female), it isn’t necessarily an easy comparison to make.
“One of the reasons why I think it isn’t apples to apples is because there is typically more of a marketing budget for a women’s ready-to-wear or beauty brand than there would be for a men’s,” Robinovitz says. So even as more male influencers appear on the scene, don’t expect women who are already at the top to lose their prominent footing on Instagram.
“At the end of the day, I think that women look to their peers and what they're wearing and how they're wearing it a lot more than men do,” Robinovitz says. “I don't think that will change, but it's not to say that there isn’t a male influencer who's able to create a brand for himself and monetize in a big way.”

💕 link in bio to shop all of my outfits shown on insta!

A post shared by Arielle Noa Charnas (@somethingnavy) on

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And there is certainly money to be made; the budgets that brands are putting towards Instagram influencers are massive. Mediakix estimates that advertisers will spend over $1 billion per year on influencer-run campaigns and sponsored posts. But the good news for women who are trying to break into the industry now is that not all of this money is going to those with millions of followers and high engagement rates. Recently, a whole new kind of influencer — the "micro influencer" — has emerged.
While these individuals, most of whom have less than 1,000 followers, won’t make as much per post (they might get $50 compared to the $15,000 rate of someone with a million followers), they can still be successful and find work. When looking at 500 recent sponsored posts, Mediakix found that 42% belonged to micro influencers.
So it's clear that women who are trying to get their accounts off the ground and wet their feet with a few sponsored posts no longer need a million followers to get a deal and make (some) money. They just need basic photography skills. Let this be your cue to bust out your camera, your puppy, and your best red outfit — and get your butt to the beach to see if you can strike Instagram gold.
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