Why Instagram is a female athlete's best friend

Sedge Beswick

Sedge Beswick is the managing director and founder of Seen Connects, an innovative, global influencer and social marketing agency.

Instagram is of course nothing new, it’s an established social network that boasts more than one billion active users, most of whom are under the age of 35, and majority women. The number of Instagram users continues to grow, and the number of young users online are also increasing. This now means more and more people are connecting with the world around them every single day.

Athletes as influencers are nothing new either. They have been role models and spokespeople for generations because their talent, commitment to excellence and passion is an inspiration to millions. In the past, professional athletes had the most influence. But in the digital age, even those who don’t sign a lucrative sports contract can have tremendous influence in the sports world.

However, even in 2019, most of the athletes not signing lucrative sports contracts are women. Sport has always been male-dominated, but using social media to build their presence online has helped women in sport break down barriers and raise their profile. Women are also paid far less than men across the sporting industries, so being good on social as well as on the field means inevitable brand partnerships will not only fill their own pockets, but help to invest more money and interest back into their sports.

Our latest Verified Views podcast guest was Olympic skier Rowan Cheshire, who talked to us about the importance of profile in women’s sport and how to grow a dedicated online community of followers. Rowan was supported by globally based brands like Superdry with 12-month contracts to support her both on and offline, and to invest back into her sports to raise the profile of female skiers internationally.

The Instagram generation are visually driven, very often following their favorite sports teams and athletes. And, according to Sport Techie, they really enjoy sports: “A third of Instagram users identify as sports fans and follow an average of 10 sports accounts each, with an average of eight of those accounts belonging to an athlete. Of those people, 94 percent said they come to Instagram to connect with the personal side of athletes, according to Instagram’s data." Indeed, below Instagram’s own account, Cristiano Ronaldo (you know, that guy who kicks a football around every now and then?) is the most followed person on the platform - a whole 10 million followers ahead of Ariana Grande. Since Instagram is visually driven and user saturated, feeds are often flooded with formulaic content – from pictures of food to mirror selfies – so contrasting images of sporting events, uniforms, and feats of athleticism, especially from women, really do stand out. Athletes hold the unique opportunity to drive traffic to their accounts and profiles, because their content is truly different and not easily copied or faked.

Female athlete influencers are also going to be a brand’s best friend going forward, as they display the strong sense of honor and skill typically associated with sportspeople, as well as being role models for their female customer bases.

Gender equality is finally starting to be taken seriously on the world stage, and female athletes are carrying the torch online to ignite significant social change. that isn’t so easily noticeable when it comes to other influencers. That’s not to say other influencers aren’t skillful, they definitely are, and I’ll always be their biggest advocate, but sportspeople are quite possibly the “perfect” influencer. If they’re professional athletes, they’re most likely to be media trained, so brands take less of a risk when partnering with them. Athletes are inspirational in their resilience and perseverance, making them good role models for all ages and strong brand ambassadors – there’s a reason athletes have been sponsored by sportswear brands for years.

They are also more interesting to the average Instagram user, because as Chemmy Alcott shows her 18,000 followers, eating 15 pizzas a day for bulking purposes like Michael Phelps or climbing El Capitan without a single rope like Alex Honnald, being a four-time Olympic skier, a BBC Ski Sunday presenter and mother of two, aren't things most of us ever get to experience in one go. Female athletes can use Instagram to give their followers a personal insight into what the professional sportswoman’s lifestyle might be like. They are patriotic team players, with a penchant for showing off – and Instagram is the perfect platform to express those qualities. Especially when it comes to Instagram Stories, the ephemeral Instagram feature really aiming to change the face of athlete media.

In America, tennis icon Serena Williams is casually chatting about how she’s afraid of sharks, football star Alex Morgan is busy explaining which Glossier products are her favorites, and in the UK Olympic sprinter Jazmin Sawyer is singing hand-written ukulele songs; Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Stephen Curry is polling fans about which shoes to buy and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is orchestrating a scavenger hunt to find free tickets. These are just samplings of a typical day of Instagram stories in the female athlete influencer arena, and with each down to earth documentation, the world becomes more invested in them, their sports and the future generations of female athletes who will one day take their place.

Just like other influencers, underneath the lycra and perfect eight-pack of abs, female athletes are human beings. For this reason, posts showcasing the athlete’s lifestyle on and off the field of play are crucial. Fans want to stay connected to their favourite players and Instagram provides us all with that opportunity. Social media has changed the game for female athletes. Not only can they control whatever message they want to share, connect with their fans on a one to one level and reveal their personalities to the world, but virtual networks give them another potential revenue stream to prove how monetarily valuable they are. In fact, according to Stadium Talk and Forbes, “Cristiano Ronaldo, who is the most followed athlete in the world and reaches over 340 million people on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook,” has such a strong influence, “that he can produce nearly 1 billion dollars in annual value for his sponsors.

While female footballers might have a while to go until they reach the stratosphere of fame Ronaldo is at, the Women’s Football World Cup is round the corner. Now is the time for brands to be doubling down on their female influencer-athlete game, and investing in sportswomen to reap the rewards Instagram can bring both brands and athletes when they spotlight women in sports.

From Emma Watson to David Beckham, everyone is getting behind the Women’s World Cup this summer, and according to The Telegraph: “Sixteen million women play football globally – the same number that do yoga or play tennis – and in the United Kingdom, 44% of Facebook conversations about football were driven by women and 40% of those on Instagram.”

Last year, Instagram was awash with three lions and footie shirts, and if you thought football was close to coming home then, this year it’s even more likely with the England Lionesses ranked third in the world. To give you a head start on the football fever, below are three of our favorite female athletes footballers killing the competition when it comes to being social influencers as well as sportswomen. So - slide into their DMs now before they hit the pitches of Paris this summer, because women in sports are about to take over the world. both on and off the pitch, slope or court.

Alex Morgan

With nearly six million followers on Instagram, Alex Morgan is the LGBTQ+ positive face of women's soccer in the United States. Being the face of a sport means that Instagram is an extension of your brand, but Morgan is really good at making people believe that her life is exactly like the rest of ours – in a genuinely authentic way… and that’s what makes her so inspiring. She is busy inspiring a generation of young female footballers one post at a time, and spoiler alert, she’ll probably win the US the World Cup while she’s at it.

Stephanie Houghton

Steph is our Lioness captain, as well as Man City’s women’s captain, and she just won the FA cup with her home team. She’s a mum, a wife and her England captaincy was announced on Instagram by Prince William himself! Steph has a significant Instagram following and is sponsored by Nike and Lucozade – watch her following soar as she takes on the world this summer. Oh, she also has an MBE.

Toni Duggan

Another one of our Lionesses, Toni is probably the most glam footballer out there. A star player on the pitch, she crosses country borders and plays club for Barcelona when she’s not donning the three lions. Her off-duty looks could rival the Hadid sisters, so there’s never a dull moment when you’re scrolling through Toni’s feed!