- David Goggins, retired Navy SEAL and former U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Control Party member, is the most popular military influencer on Instagram.
- Nearly 1 in 2 people believed military influencers play a key role in helping young people enlist.
- The Space Force was the most-searched military branch in the United States.
- More than 1 in 4 men reported listening to the Jocko Podcast.
While we may not typically think of influencers and military vets going hand in hand, the combination of the two has actually proven to be extremely powerful, moving, and even cataclysmic for certain events. After all, an influencer is just a person with the ability to influence. And the selfless, patriotic, grueling story of a military vet can certainly carry that influence.
To quantify and qualify this growing trend of military influencers, we turned to quite a few sources. We started by ranking the most popular influencers strictly by social media following but then analyzed the perception of those accounts by talking to military families, those who had served, and those interested in potentially enlisting. We also looked into search volume data using SEMrush to look at the interest military influencers are driving to various U.S. military branches. If social media can influence everything from an election to what we eat, it can certainly influence our armed forces. Keep reading to find out how.
Most Followed Vets and Branches
The first portion of our study looked strictly at the most-followed military influencers on Instagram. Their accounts were then color-coded by the specific branch of each influencer. Military influencer was defined as someone who had served or was active and promoted or showcased some part of military culture online.
David Goggins is “an American ultramarathon runner, ultra-distance cyclist, triathlete, motivational speaker, and author. He is a retired United States Navy SEAL, and former U.S. Air Force Tactical Control Party member who served in the Iraq War” in the words of his eponymous website. We’d also like to add that his Instagram has over 3.7 million followers (and counting). His platform gives fans an opportunity to train alongside him, to find motivation, and even follow alongside his mental health journey. David Goggins’ following essentially eclipsed that of any other military vet on Instagram, but there were certainly others with at least a couple million followers.
Take C.T. Fletcher, a man from humble beginnings with an abusive father, for whom the U.S army represented an escape and the chance to “finally break the chains that bound me!” He and his story have garnered over 2.1 million Instagram followers. After he returned home from the Army, he started weightlifting, which is ultimately the focus of both his Instagram and instructional YouTube videos. Overall, more than a third of influencers (36%) were in the Army, and 19% remained on active duty.
The study next branched open into the general public – how do they feel their life is impacted by following these military heroes? Their top responses, as well as the top response by political affiliation, are listed below.
More than a third – 36% – of people with internet in the U.S. were currently following one military vet or active duty member. For most, honoring their service was the top impact of having this influence in a newsfeed.
Almost exactly as important was raising awareness of social issues related to this group, like disability, suicide, and mental health. It is thought that more than 50% of military vets struggle with mental health issues, yet fewer than 50% receive any type of help for the matter.
The survey results found that what’s important to more than 50% of the crowd was providing military feedback and perspective on current events.
SEMrush offers data for everything from search engine optimization to social media marketing, meaning we were able to use it to see which military branch is currently being searched the most online. The map below shows which U.S. states are currently showing the most online interest in each military branch.
The Space Force had more searches than any other military branch. This may be due to The Space Force’s news prevalence recently, rather than a desire to join. This search also generates results related to the Netflix show Space Force. It had nearly a million more searches than any other military term.
The Air Force was also a highly popular search, particularly in the South. Northern states appeared to be more interested in the National Guard, while Coast Guard was highly searched among more coastal states. Perhaps these searches reflect those who are most interested in enlisting, though further specifics of these searches are unknown.
Podcasts offer influencers another way to connect with their readers beyond Instagram and Google Search results. They can speak for hours at length on a topic or connect with guests, while the lack of a visual can actually help make the audience focus more on the message. We gathered the top military podcasts and analyzed them by the following demographics.
As a reminder of what was noticeably absent from the top influencers list – “Women of the Military” was the No. 1 most popular military podcast in our study. This platform helps share the stories of women who have served and currently serve in the U.S. military. It was particularly popular among Republicans, Gen Xers, and other women.
Veteran Cafe offers a fun, lighthearted look into military life from the perspective of currently and formerly serving veterans of all genders. Exactly a quarter of all our respondents listened to this podcast, but it was particularly popular among millennial and Democrat respondents.
Painting Military Influence
Most military vets felt military influencers were telling a truthful story or posted about things that felt relatable to them. Those who hadn’t yet served but had considered enlisting also found military influencers to be motivational. Considering that the influencer realm isn’t always perceived in a positive light, it’s encouraging to see military vets holding themselves to a high standard online.
Military’s Online Influence
The military life can be a difficult one, but the positive side of it shows through social channels. Women in the military can share their stores audibly through their popular podcasts, while inspirational SEALs and veterans can motivate their followers in areas from physical fitness to mental health.
One area where it’s still hard to search for military-related help, however, is legal scenarios. Often vets will need a lawyer on their side to help them fight for the benefits they deserve. If you or a loved one need experienced legal advice and help, head to Hill & Ponton. With countless years of experience in the field, we stand ready to help veterans inside and outside the courtroom.
Methodology and Limitations
For this study, we pulled the follower count of military influencers on Instagram in January 2021. We defined military influencers as internet personalities who had either served or were current active members of the United States military and promoted military culture. This may include, but isn’t limited to, the following genres: patriotism, politics, health and fitness, veterans, and motivation and leadership.
We conducted a state-level analysis of the most searched for U.S. military branches using SEMrush’s search volume tool. Using a bespoke polling platform, we surveyed 768 people who met one of the following criterion:
- Have not served but interested in military culture and policy
- Have immediate family members who’ve served
- Have no military experience or interest
- Current member of the U.S. military
- Considering enlisting
The main limitations of this is study is that follower counts could have changed from the dates they were initially pulled due to a myriad of factors. What’s more, the survey relies solely on self-report which is faced with a wide range of issues which like attribution, exaggeration, telescoping, and recency bias.
Fair Use Statement
Feeling inspired by our nation’s military influence online? You’re welcome to share their stories and this data; just be sure your purposes are noncommercial and that you link back to this page.