In the modern digital world, social media reach is power | Illustrations by Briana Murphy for The Market Herald

The Top 10 Most Influential Influencers of 2021

Influencers are now part and parcel of the digital experience. From household names like Ronaldo and Katy Perry to local ‘micro-influencers’, the money and recognition influencer marketing offers has seen the industry explode in recent years, evidenced in the increasing number of sponsored content we find in our feeds. But whether you like the concept of influencers or not, having a considerable following on social media translates into having, well, influence and the profitability of the influencer marketing industry means influencers are here to stay.

Amid the pandemic, 2021 saw a number of celebrities – both in the traditional and the influencer sense – demonstrate the power of having colossal followings on social media. While the number of influencers continues to rise, there are a handful of people who captivate numbers going into the hundreds of millions. Here is a look at the top 10 most influential influencers of 2021.

10. Rihanna

Earlier last year, Forbes announced singer and businesswoman, Robyn Rihanna Fenty was officially a billionaire. To that, the Barbadian founder of beauty empire Fenty Beauty and lingerie brand Savage X Fenty naturally celebrated her fortune with caviar in bed, as seen in a post she shared to her 114 million Instagram followers earlier this year. In an article in GQ, Rihanna announced her new relationship with American rapper, A$AP Rocky. As for her long-awaited album, there’s still no news of new music from the singer.

9. Katy Perry

With 145 million followers on Instagram and more than 108 million followers on Twitter, pop star Katy Perry has remained in the public eye since the early 2000s thanks to early hits like “Hot n Cold and “I Kissed a Girl”. After releasing her sixth album Smile in 2020, Katy Perry performed “Firework” at Joe Biden’s inauguration this year, as well as starring in ad campaigns, hosting The Ellen DeGeneres Show and celebrating the first birthday of her and Orlando Bloom’s daughter, Daisy.

8. Kim Kardashian

There are few people on this planet as well-known as Kim Kardashian. With 271 million Instagram followers, a billion-dollar shapewear empire and plenty of other business ventures under her belt, the reality TV star turned mega-influencer, businesswoman and soon-to-be-lawyer has proven she’s more than just famous for being famous. Following the announcement of her Kanye’s divorce in January last year, the mother of four’s relationship status dominated headlines and continued with rumours of her relationship with comedian Pete Davidson being confirmed by friends and family. Kim also built her business empire with SKIMS x Fendi collaboration, which sold out after its first relase.

7. Dwayne Johnson

Having been named as one of the world’s most influential people by Time Magazine more than once, it comes as little surprise that Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is one of the most-followed people in the world. Boasting 282 million influencers on Instagram and 45.8 followers on TikTok, The Rock rose to fame through his wrestling career and has since starred in a number of blockbuster films, including The Fast & Furious franchise. This year, we saw The Rock grace our screens in his starring role in the Disney film, Jungle Cruise, alongside Emily Blunt. The former wrestler and actor also launched his own small-batch tequila brand called Teremana Añejo on December 15.

6. Taylor Swift

Recognised as one of the best-selling musicians of all time, Taylor Swift reminded the world just how powerful she is in 2020, with ‘Swifties’ sent into a frenzy over her Easter egg-like hints to her surprise albums Folklore and Evermore. However, in 2021, Swift set her sights on reclaiming her music with the release of her re-recordings of her back catalogue of albums. Starting with Fearless (Taylor’s Version) the American singer-songwriter dominated the music charts and particularly captured the attention of her 192 million Instagram followers with the release of “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” accompanied by the song’s short film starring Dylan O’Brien and Sadie Sink. Swift was also awarded the Global Icon Award at the Brit Awards this year, a title that is undoubtedly fitting given her incredible influence.

5. Kylie Jenner

With more Instagram followers than her mega-famous Kardashian and Jenner sisters, Kylie is one of the most influential members of the Kardashian clan. Owner of the beauty empire, Kylie Cosmetics, and now Kylie Skin, Kylie found herself at the top of Forbes’ highest-paid celebrities list last year and considering the launch of her swimwear line Kylie Swim in August in 2021, it’s safe to say that Kylie Jenner is still a billionaire. Kylie Jenner also announced she was expecting her second child with rapper Travis Scott to her 291 million followers on Instagram in September this year.

4. Selena Gomez

Following the release of her third studio album, Rare and the launch of her beauty brand of the same name in 2020, Selena Gomez returned to the screen in 2021. After releasing her Spanish-language EP, Revelacion, Selena Gomez announced she was to star and executive produce the comedy series, Only Murders in the Building. The comedy series earned Gomez strong positive reviews. Most recently, the Texas-born singer, producer and business owner launched her own mental health platform called Wondermind, which aims to connect people with educational resources on mental illness.

3. Ariana Grande

With a cool 283 million Instagram followers, pop queen, actor and now beauty company founder, Ariana Grande, is one of the world’s most influential celebrities. Last year, Ariana released her sixth album, Positions and was featured in headlines after ‘debuting’ her new boyfriend, Dalton Gomez in the music video of her and Justin Bieber’s “Stuck with U”. In May this year, the couple got married at Ariana Grande’s home in Montecito. Since, Ariana has been promoting her beauty brand, r.e.m. beauty, which launched in November, and if her perfume line is anything to go by -her fragrances generated more than A$210 million in two years- then r.e.m is set to be successful. The songstress has also been busy on the US version of the singing competition, The Voice last year.

2. Justin Bieber

With 114 million Twitter followers, 210 million Instagram followers and close to 67 million subscribers on YouTube, Justin Bieber is a household name and has been since his rapid rise to fame following the release of his debut EP My World. In 2021, the Canadian pop star released his sixth studio album, Justice along with a gospel-inspired EP titled Freedom. Bieber also recently announced his return to the stage with the announcement of his first world tour since he walked away from his Purpose World Tour in 2017. Justin also has a clothing brand called Drew House and is married to supermodel, Hailey Bieber.

1. Cristiano Ronaldo

Coming in at the number one spot for the world’s most-followed social media influencers is football superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo. Sporting an aggregated following of around 517 million, the Portuguese athlete’s power was no better demonstrated than at Euro 2020 press conference in June this year.

As Ronaldo sat down to speak at the conference, he moved two strategically placed Coca-Cola bottles by his microphone, telling people to drink water instead. The result? Coca-Cola’s share price tumbled and the top-paying UEFA sponsor watched some four billion dollars fall from its market value. So while big paying sponsors were once immune from criticism from the likes of athletes, sports stars like Ronaldo -who rakes in more than a million dollars per paid post on Instagram- are drastically shifting the power dynamic.

What is an influencer?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, an influencer is a person who is paid by a company to show and describe its products and services on social media, encouraging other people to buy them.

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