There’s no doubting today’s cohort of social media superstars, like Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner, well and truly embody the current fashion zeitgeist. In fact, their dizzying success at the upper echelons of the industry has had tectonic impacts on both modeling and fashion marketing more broadly. Their blazing success has given rise to a new generation of the supermodel, manufactured via the popularity contest of social media, in which followers equal marketability and success. Unlike their 1990s predecessors, such as Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, models who steadily climbed to the top with years of editorial shoots and runway shows, a model’s success in fashion today can be instant.

The term “influencer” might induce a visible (and audible) cringe from any hardened fashion critic, but there’s no denying this bastardized buzzword has valuable currency in today’s fashion landscape. Models with sizable followings and engaged audiences on their social media accounts are bankable bets for brands, casting directors, and marketers looking to leverage a model’s following for engagement and exposure.

In fact, it’s commonplace for casting directors to request models with over 10,000 followers when assembling faces for a runway show. This new era of social media models is a double-edged sword, though. On one hand, the balance of power has shifted and models have become legitimate brands in their own right. Social media has given models an independent voice which previous generations of seen-and-not-heard models never had.

However, can fashion ever really claim to be a creative industry if its “model citizens” are simply cast on decisions ruled by financial prudence and the cold, hard numbers of social media followings? Is there any place for progressive ideals, a designer’s artistic vision or radical thinking when it comes to “influencer marketing”? Or can the rise of social media models actually ensure more diversity on fashion’s gilded (and predominantly white) runways?

We hit up Dash Hudson, a New York-based visual intelligence platform, to find out who is really the most influential among today’s “influencers”. From social media supermodels like Kendall, Bella, and Gigi, to ‘90s OG’s such as Naomi Campbell and Gisele Bundchen, to authentic it-girls like Hari Nef and Slick Woods, and even bonafide superstars like Rihanna – keep reading to find out who has the most followers, who enjoys the most engagement, and whose following is growing at the quickest rate.

First Off, Who Has the Most Popular Account?

#thecadenceissue @flauntmagazine

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1. Kylie Jenner – 93.4M
2. Kendall Jenner- 80.3M
3. Rihanna – 53.1M
4. Gigi Hadid – 34.0M

Surprised? We’re not. As expected, the most popular posts include all the usual suspects: Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, and Kylie Jenner. Rihanna is the third most popular account, because, Rihanna. Not only is the chanteuse a seasoned fashion icon, but her creative director gig at PUMA (a post she has held since 2014) has seen profits at the German sportswear giant jump by a staggering 92.2 percent during her tenure. Call it the Rihanna effect. On top of that, she’s fronted campaigns for Dior, Gucci, and Balmain, and collaborated with the likes of Kenzo, Manolo Blahnik, Chopard, Armani Jeans and River Island.

Who Has the Most Liked Posts of 2017?

💕

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Forbes 30 under 30 .. Thank you 🙌🏼

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Again, no surprise here. The top three liked posts of 2017 (so far) are once again populated by Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, and Kylie Jenner. It’s hardly shocking considering that these women all have absolutely massive followings.

Who Has Gained the Most Followers in 2017?

DropOne now @kendallandkylie

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1. Kylie Jenner – 11,085,268
2. Kendall Jenner – 8,900,004
3. Gigi Hadid – 6,476,313

It might seem repetitive, but the numbers do not lie. Gigi, Kylie, and Kendall are unstoppable when it comes to the ‘gram. Despite unquestionable legacies in fashion, the 1990s legion of supermodels such as Gisele Bündchen, Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks, and Kate Moss all pale in comparison when it comes to their follower count and its rise. As iconic as the ’90s supermodels are and always will be, the generational gap between them and today’s twenty-somethings simply means the Hadids and Jenners are naturally more fluent and thereby successful when it comes to social media.

Not even Kendall Jenner’s recent onslaught of bad press has stopped her from gaining nearly half a million followers, every single week this year so far.

After appearing in a controversial Pepsi ad that was eventually withdrawn, promoting the absolute train wreck that was Fyre Festival, Kendall faced yet more backlash for appearing on the anniversary cover of Vogue India. Many critics slammed the magazine’s editors for a missed opportunity to celebrate women of color. Despite the controversy, Kendall still has the 11th most popular Instagram in the world and has gained more than 8 million followers this year, so far.

What Does It All Mean?

Well, for one, it’s clear a sign of how entrenched high fashion has become into the vernacular of everyday popular culture. While the industry has long used aspirational Hollywood icons as its muses and to front campaigns, the shift to include social media superstars as brand ambassadors is relatively new. For example, Cameron Dallas, a teenage YouTube sensation became the face of a Calvin Klein last year, and the man behind popular meme account @fuckjerry walked Milan Fashion Week. Madness.

The Hadids and the Jenners may have parlayed their famous family names and reality TV stardom into insanely successful careers at the top tier of luxury fashion, but it’s the fashion industry which has facilitated and essentially welcomed this shift. However, not everyone agrees. Stephanie Seymour, one of the original models with the coveted “super” title, humorously quipped that Kendall and Gigi should be referred to as “bitches of the moment” rather than supermodels. Savage.

Yet, there’s no denying the success the likes of Gigi and Kendall have enjoyed in fashion. Why? Because the fashion industry knows that the Hadids and Jenners of the world are the only “influencers” who can inspire consumers to spend money in ways the waify-alien model from a Siberian village with forty Vogue editorials under her belt cannot.

So, we basically have to accept the old order of fashion no longer applies, and almost anyone throwing a #hashtag around online these days could be the industry’s next obsession.

Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, and Kylie Jenner are more than “fashion’s faces”, they are mainstream icons, and every single media outlet with a focus on popular culture (Highsnobiety included) is busy reporting on everything these superstars are up to.

If we are to determine “who is the most influential?”, though, then it’s Gigi Hadid. She appears in both the most-liked and highest-performing categories of all the models’ Instagram accounts, and her “fashion credentials” obliterate Kendall’s and Kylie’s.

omw .. 🖤 Met Ball by my @lilmami_lani

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At the moment, Gigi is the face of Tommy Hilfiger, Versace, Reebok, Maybelline, Stuart Weitzman and Max Mara. The fact that her ongoing collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger is billed as exactly that, an “equal” collaboration proves how much influence her brand power yields over consumers, and how far brands are willing to go to cash in.

Alongside the Jenners, she is easily one of the most visible examples of how Instagram and social media has become central to celebrity and the fashion industry. Gigi has become not just a ubiquitous supermodel, but a global powerhouse in her own right.

However, despite the massive monopolies that Gigi, Kendall, and Kylie have on the attention economy, and in turn, the fashion industry, none of these girls are among the models with the fastest growing Instagram presence or most “engaging” (Instagram posts with the most interactions) posts. In fact, if we look at who is growing at the fastest rate, you might be a little “shooketh”.

Here’s Where It Gets Interesting

Among the crop of models with followers surpassing the millions, it was Ashley Graham’s post on body-positivity (pictured above), in which Graham emphasized the importance of “beauty beyond size” that resonated with her following the most and yielded a 13.43 percent engagement rate. Most “influencers” only average around a 3-6 percent engagement rate, if you need some perspective.

However, if we look at the models with the fastest growing followings, there’s not a Hadid or Jenner in sight, and most surprisingly, it is fashion’s more alternative models with their own individual, and niche aesthetics who are quickly climbing the ranks in popularity.

Whose Account Is Growing the Fastest?

1. Slick Woods – 5.61%
2. Adwoa Aboah- 4.43%
3. Ashley Graham – 1.93%

Some of you probably haven’t even heard of the likes of Slick Woods, Adwoa Aboah, and Hari Nef, but their distinctive looks and boundary-breaking attitudes have the fashion industry enamored. All of these models are creative polymaths, too, with Slick carving out a career in rap alongside modeling, Adwoa running Gurls Talk – a feminist initiative on a mission to get girls across the world to open up about mental health, body image, and sexuality, and Hari Nef – a transgender model who has a successful career in acting and activism. They are the models-of-the-moment, and their followers seem to agree, given that their engagement rates completely outperforms Gigi, Kendall, and Kylie.

Who Has the Highest Engagement Rate?

1. Slick Woods – 10.09%
2. Adwoa Aboah – 7.29%
3. Hari Nef – 6.25%

up to my usuals in @elle_mexico january 2017

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So, if the likes of Gigi, Kylie, and Kendall have massive followings, then why don’t they have the Instagram posts with the highest engagement rates in general? The most-liked posts are clearly correlated to account size, but those giant accounts tend to have lower engagement. Surprisingly, Slick Woods, the rebel-minded model who is regularly dubbed an “unconventional beauty”, with a following of 169.7k (which pales in comparison to Gigi’s 34.1 million) actually had the top four performing posts of the year so far, among the world’s biggest models.

Slick Woods’ top post of 2017 had a 17.34 percent engagement rate, closely followed by Adwoa Aboah whose top post peaked at 15.56 percent engagement rate and Hari Nef’s top post this year claims a 14.27 percent rate of engagement. And yes, all of these stats beat out the likes of Gigi, Kylie, and Kendall.

Hélène Heath, a senior editor at Dash Hudson, explains the huge engagement discrepancy between the more niche models like Hari Nef and Slick Woods and the superstars. “The girls that have the highest average engagement ratios had the top performing posts of the year, which is due to the fact that they have extremely engaged audiences, to begin with. It makes sense that their posts consistently outperform those of accounts that don’t have as high engagement rates,” says Hélène.

So, Why Don’t Why We “Like” the Superstars?

Put simply, when an account grows, the engagement decreases. “Once a model reaches ubiquity, her account tends to get followed just because she is popular, versus by people who have a profound interest in them. Those followers don’t necessarily dispense many double taps on their content and are purely following as spectators,” adds Hélène.

It explains why brands’ “influencer seeding” strategy (that’s marketing jargon for courting relevant influencers) goes beyond just follower size. In many ways, the likes of Slick Woods, Adwoa Aboah, and Hari Nef are much better positioned to represent relevant brands to target consumers, as their engagement is more authentic. “It’s their niche factor attracts audiences that specifically subscribe to their aesthetic, whereas the other models [on the list] have a broader mainstream appeal,” explains Hélène.

What Makes Us Smash the Double Tap?

Stealing swag from my Jamaican Electrician.

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Unsurprisingly, the content that makes us smash the double-tap when it comes to celebrity models is when they share a “personal” moment or a snapshot into their life that we wouldn’t otherwise see or a deeply personal opinion on a relevant issue. Whether it’s a social justice post or a pregnancy announcement, seeing our favorite celebrities in relatable moments is appealing.

The likes of Slick Woods, Adwoa Aboah and Hari Nef might have meager followings in comparison to the Hadids and Jenners, but they outperform their peers when it comes to engagement because they have more freedom to create raw, compelling content that’s unique, real, and representative of their personalities and their careers as models. Whereas the bigger models, or more mainstream icons, are probably being paid a ton to keep their content “press-centric” and due to myriad contractual obligations and endorsement deals, their content will always be more calculated.

Here’s our pick of the best fashion meme-makers you should be following.

  • Cover Image: Miguel Reveriego / Vogue
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