Whether we like it or not, social media — especially Instagram — matters. Followers are now a form of capital. Individuals and groups employ entire teams to manage their accounts, which are essential to their brands. Having a “good” presence on Instagram requires a combination of reach, content, personality (yes, your Instagram account can have its own vibe), and influence.
As of today, Selena Gomez is the most-followed person on Instagram with 119 million followers. Beyoncé has the most-liked photo on the social media platform. Blac Chyna and Rob Kardashian were fighting for the Most Annoying title with their public spats during the winter months. But I still wouldn’t crown any of these people Queen of Instagram. I believe that designation goes to the incomparable Rihanna.
Earlier this week, Nicki Minaj proudly posted a list of sites that had named her best dressed at Monday’s Met Gala. The list was essentially fake news, populated by one of her more overzealous fan accounts. It was up for several hours before it was deleted. In the meantime, Rihanna posted a collage of screenshots that acted as a list of her very real Met Gala accolades. Fans immediately pitted the women against one another as if Rihanna were shading Nicki. And that may have been her intention, the world will never know. However, it doesn’t matter if RiRi’s post was directed at Nicki or not. What matters is that Rihanna’s method of flexing for the ‘gram was better.
Sure, Nicki set a low bar with her IG fumble. But there was something relatable about Rihanna’s post that made it more impactful. I imagined her searching her own name on Twitter (which isn’t that weird when you’re Rihanna and you’ve spent a bajillion hours getting ready for the biggest night in fashion), scrolling through the headlines, and taking screenshots. She probably felt proud of those tweets in the same way that I feel proud when a crush likes a bunch of my IG photos in rapid succession. This feeling of personability is the trademark of Ri’s IG presence.
Rihanna serves looks all the time on IG. She can keep up with all of the Kardashians when it comes to #instaglam. But we also get a glimpse into what she thinks is funny (the face of Queen Elizabeth II photoshopped onto her own body), what she loves (her baby niece/cousin Majesty), and what she’s feeling particularly petty about at any given moment (likely one of her exes).
So it’s no wonder that Zendaya completely freaked out when Rihanna posted a tribute to her Met Gala look. The young actress was so honored that she credited the photo upload — which included the simple caption "brown goddess" — with clearing her skin. While that may have been a stretch, it obviously made Zendaya feel good to know that Ri meant it.
Given she has less than half of the followers that Gomez has, a numbers person might already be ready to toss Rihanna to the side. But 52 million followers is still no small feat. We must remember that in the grand scheme of things, there are only only 23 individuals with more followers than her. And in the same way that we can’t use album sales to declare a winner in a rap beef (no shade), follower counts alone do not an epic Instagram make. Take notes.