America’s car culture predates the rise of social media by a mile, but never before have automobile enthusiasts been so well-equipped to snap and share pictures of the rides they admire. Instagram boasts the most robust community of users posting car-related content, and their pictures run the gamut: selfies behind the wheel, shout-outs to their own beloved steeds, and chance encounters with exotic rides spotted on the street. Complete strangers can find and appreciate each other’s posts through the use of popular hashtags, and the likes keep coming from car fans nationwide.
Since millions are making use of Instagram to express their automotive passions, we wondered: Which brands make the biggest splash on social? Are some automakers more popular in certain regions of the country than in others? What’s the relationship between sales for a given brand and the number of posts it garners on Instagram? In this project, we tackled those questions and more to determine America’s Most Instagrammed Car Brands.
We studied more than 4.6 million Instagram posts created by users between January 2011 and July 2015. These posts were geotagged within the United States (they included specific GPS coordinates corresponding to American soil) and contained the names of the car brands in hashtagged form (for example, “I love my new #honda”). We used this data to determine the volume of posts for each brand in each state as well as the total volume of posts for each brand nationally.
When we compared posts to sales for each brand, we used the most recent 2015 year-to-date numbers from The Wall Street Journal’s Market Data Center.
Finally, when we determined which state posts most about each brand, we wanted to gauge that metric relative to population so the most populous states didn’t win by default. We used the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 Population Estimates to calculate the number of posts per capita for each brand.
Counting Car Posts
With a commanding lead over its competitors, BMW is America’s Most Instagrammed car brand by far. Beamers have always captivated the imaginations of those who appreciate German driving machines, but who knew their Instagram fans were so loyal and legion? Jeeps take second place – their lifted, boxy profiles occupy a unique and lauded place in the American driving landscape.
In a list that ranges from the ultra-exclusive Ferrari and Lamborghini to more common cars such as Ford and Toyota, perhaps BMWs and Jeeps strike the right balance between prevalence on the road (Instagram opportunity) and out-of-the-ordinary allure (Instagram incentive). The chart below compares each brand’s posts to sales.
Sales vs. Social
Yes, you read that right: Every Lamborghini sold corresponds to roughly 606 posts on Instagram. Ferrari clocks in next, with more than 360 posts for every car that comes off the lot. But even though their ratios are sky-high, there are simply too few to dominate Instagram the way BMWs or Jeeps do. Interestingly, Mercedes had one of the most anemic Instagram presences of all the brands we surveyed, with just .2 posts for every car sold. Is the Benz too regal and patrician to excite Instagram activity? Hard to say, but the luxury brand fell behind Nissan, Honda, Toyota, and Ford in posts-to-sales ratio.
These ratios were calculated using the most recent 2015 sales figures to date, but it’s also interesting to consider how these brands have fared over the last several years. Below, we’ve included an interactive chart of annual sales from 2002 to 2014. Note the near-universal drop in sales during the most severe years of the recession.
Each State’s Favorite Ride:
We didn’t stop at counting posts nationwide – we broke down Instagram activity further to see which brand comes out on top in each state. When we segmented the posts geographically in this way, here’s what we found:
Once again, BMWs and Jeeps demonstrate the strongest presence, capturing the top spot in 21 and 19 states respectively. Ferraris came in a distant third, doing best in states with well-known reps for flashy taste, namely Nevada and New York. Hawaii’s love of Honda is an interesting anomaly, but may be explained by the islands’ strong cultural ties to Asia. What would we see if we removed BMW and Jeep from consideration to observe more variety?
The most striking feature of this adjusted map is the emergence of American brands, particularly Dodge’s hold on the Midwest and the Ford stronghold of the South. Toyota’s presence is equally notable out West, and Audi takes a significant piece of the Eastern seaboard. Despite the dominance of BMW and Jeep, this map shows just how varied the taste of American Instagrammers can be.
We know: The info above is a lot to take in. If you’re looking for it all summed up in a single graphic, we’ve put the main points together in the image below. Plus, we’ve tossed in an additional chart, which shows the states that post the most per capita about each brand. If we know some brands dominate multiple states, which state is really each brand’s biggest fans? Check out the results below.
Carmakers have always tried to keep their models in the minds of the American consumer: TV ads for cars constitute a genre in their own right. But social media platforms like Instagram are shifting the way each brand gains its buzz, making the hottest cars on the road a function of what users choose to show off and share. Is U.S. car culture becoming more democratic as regular people bring their taste to bear on what’s considered cool? One thing’s for sure: As long as we share our lives on social, nice rides will be making their appearance in our feeds.
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