Metrics, magic and markets: How surf brands used Instagram in 2015

lincoln eavesIn this guest post Lincoln Eather crunches the numbers on how some of the biggest surf brands are faring on Instagram. 

You might have seen, late last year, a grid of nine shots floating round on Instagram under the #2015bestnine. It was a good way to showcase your shots or even peek at someone else’s. 

Basically, someone has created an algorithm to pull in what your top nine shots from Instagram were for 2015, along with telling you how many double taps your vanity received as well as how many times you tortured the world with your photography.

You can go check yours out herebut we’d figure we look at the surf brands on Instagram rather than our own account.

surf brands top nine

I’d seen it around and being the nerd I am, I was wondering about stats, etc and if anything could be pulled from it. Well it can, and I have to thank Dan Freebairn for posting up with the Most Liked Sneakers Brands number crunch, it pushed me over the edge to do something similar with surf. And now we’re here with a look at how some surf brands are performing on Instagram…

total likes in 2015 surf brands

Is it a complete, factual look at what the surf industry is doing on Instagram? Nah, ain’t no-one got that amount of time (or patience I imagine). It is a quick snap shot of what’s been happening, who’s doing well, who is kinda sucking, etc. I took a sample of 15 brands from the big boys all the way down to the smaller ’boutique’ brands to try and create a well rounded spread.

But anyway, onwards to the graphs, numbers and nerd’ing out 🙂


It’s either followers or likes that everyone is craving, the more the better – apparently. And so, we’ll start with likes and with the brands we’ve got, the results are a no brainer. Big brands gunna win here hands down; they’ve generally got the most followers and therefore will get the most likes.

top nine brands the winners

Top nine brands: the winners

Billabong took the crown with just over 12 million likes for the year, closely followed by Quiksilver at 11.6 million likes, with Rip Curl rounding out the podium with a touch over 9 million likes. Those three generally topped out with idyllic images based around the beach lifestyle, travel and surfing. Quiksilver were the only one to have a snow-based shot in there and Rip Curl’s number one shot was that of Bethany Hamilton and her newborn baby.

top nine surf brands graph

Surf brands on Instagram: leaderboard

Other things I picked up on in the Top Nine shots were:
*Rusty having no surf shots in their top nine, only girls. 
*Vissla with three wipeout shots
*Nixon having all watch detail shots
*Both Reef and TMH have a shot of the MF/Shark incident.
*Rhythm have a dog wearing a hat in their top 9.

surf brand followers

Liked: the top brands’ top nine mosaic


This graph might irk a few people as I’m not counting all accounts, some brands have accounts for every region whereas others only have one globally. Where brands had regional accounts, I went with who had the larger following from either their US or Australian accounts (I also took into account the frequency of posting, too) so you could say the numbers aren’t entirely correct. But if I started to double up, etc, where do I stop?

Some brands have accounts all the way down to regional flagship store accounts and category accounts (hello, brand dilution?) If I did, I’d have to get into double/triple-ups of fans across multiple accounts, and that’s all too much work when we’re trying to keep it simple here…

With that clarification out of the way, we can tell you only two of the big boy brands have hit a million fans – Quiksilver & Hurley. Would be interesting to enquire about two things here…
1 – Did the social managers get bonuses built in for hitting the numbers? I’d like to hope so…
2 – Did Hurley acquire all of the Nike Surf fans when it shut the doors?

Screen Shot 2016-surf brands infographic followers leaderboard

Followers leaderboard: Billabong are almost at 1m with 971K

Billabong are almost hitting one million at 971K – from there it’s a big drop down to Rip Curl (the US account) at 720K, Volcom at 605K and Nixon at 494K. Then it really drops down to what seems to be a more average number for most of the industry of between 100-250K.

I won’t lie, it’s a little bit sad seeing one of my favourite brands, Rusty (an Australian account), hovering at under 50K. I still watch ‘No Thrills for the Cautious’ and dream of doing Vinnie DLP type wrap-arounds on a Mexican point break…

On the flipside is The Mad Hueys, sitting at around 225K and giving more proof to the idea that the key to success on social/internet is a majority of humour, tits and ass – don’t shake your head at them either; these boys nail their social imo, given who they’re targeting. The fishing/surfing lifestyle is one huge market – more on that later though…

volcom and nixon surf brands graphic

Volcom and Nixon: top nine 2015



This is an interesting stat, mainly cause it shows a basic level of engagement that the brands are getting, or aren’t. Engagement is a hard one, the more followers you get, the lower your engagement levels drop. I imagine it’s quite frustrating for the brands with larger followings to not get the cut through they were previously (their content strategy probably ain’t helping, let’s be honest). Granted we’re only looking at likes here and aren‘t taking into consideration comments or even sales (I know one brand that is grabbing double digits in their monthly revenue via Instagram).

surf brands average likes per follower

Average Likes per follower

Back to the results tho, The Mad Hueys own this by a long way with 25 likes per follower. They’re running three posts a day on average, which will have some impact on the stats, but either way, it’s a huge number of likes/followers. Does their content make a difference? While the big boys play serious, TMH have a wild old time posting stuff that perhaps others might not – they’re like the @fuckjerry of the surf world. You can’t look at their feed and not giggle a few times.

surf brands hurley visslasurf

Hurley and Visslasurf: best nine mosaic 2015

On the other end of the scale is Hurle, which can only muster up 5.4 likes per follower. Which is kinda shit tbh as they have over 1m followers and their average like-per-follower is far less then the other brands with the same following count (Quiksilver, Billabong) and even below those brands with a fraction of their following (Rhythm). The brands with big followings tend to slide down the chart a bit here with  Quiksilver, Billabong and Rip Curl all falling into the middle of the pack.The other big surprise was seeing Vissla pop up near the top. For a relatively new brand it’s doing pretty good, with 19.6 likes-per-follower..


1500 posts in a year is pretty wild, that’s close to 3 a day, every day for a year. But The Mad Hueys keep it up and #StayOverIt with their Instagram behaviour. From 1500 down to 739 from Volcom (still a solid effort) we tend to see a more gradual decrease in posting with most brands seemingly happy to sit at around two a day through the week with some looking like weekend posts aren’t really happening (going off the numbers anyway).

surf brands total posts 2015

The Mad Hueys lead the pack with total posts for 2015

Hurley took the wooden spoon here, if you can call it that, with 210 posts. Is that bad? Or good? Depends who you ask, I guess, and your view on the quality vs quantity topic that is always part of marketing/social/communications. Which leads me into the next graph – Average Likes per Post.


Hurley go from the wooden spoon to taking the top spot, weird. But hey, everyone loves a cinderella story right? Having this happen kinda wigged me out though and made me go back and double check numbers, formulas, etc.

From what I can gather, this happened because Hurley, I hope, are doing the quality vs quantity run with only dropping 210 posts for the year. The less posts, the higher your average when you have a large audience (1mil). Which also explains why The Mad Hueys kinda dropped of the map here, 1500 posts can hurt an average..

surf brands average likes per post

Hurley takes out the top spot for Average Likes Per Post


Again, the numbers tend to reflect how large an audience you have. You can see Billabong, Quik, Rip Curl are running similar numbers across average likes per post and number of posts. What’s it all mean? Depends how you look at it, if you look at similar based audience numbers then you can read it into a little more. But it’s more about, imo, the engagement rate…


The engagement rate is the one everyone scrambles over once they’ve finished getting drunk on the vanity metrics. While Instagram don’t have an actual analytics program up and running, you can still pull a basic rate out based on a few variables. In creating the formula for this rate, I’ve ignored a few variables in order to keep it simple.

Like I mentioned earlier, the more fans you get the lower your engagement rate becomes, seems like some sort of law (of which I have no name). Nothing gives this a better example then the graph below – Hurley with more than a million fans are running on a 0.05 per cent rate, where as TCSS who have about 43K fans are running strong with a 3.46 per cent rate.

surf brands engagement rate

Engagement rate: Overall, you want audience engagement regardless of platform

Overall, you want engagement with your audience regardless of the platform. For Instagram, the average engagement rate is around three per cent, give or take a bit, depending on who you speak to or what you’ve read. Let’s run with one per cent for argument’s sake (and so a few brands get passing marks).

If we go from the above, we see that TCSS, Rhythm, Vissla, Rusty, O’Neill, The Mad Hueys (and we could probably squeeze Outerknown in there) all hit one per cent and up. The Mad Hueys are the only ones with a substantial audience number (225K) though, whereas everyone else struggles to hit 100K, and you’d be right in thinking that most of their engagement comes from the copious amount of posting the boys do. Combine the above with the total posts chart, see below, and we get an interesting story on whether posting as much as possible is best practice.

surf brands engagement rate total posts

Is posting as much as possible best practice?

Posting a lot – two or three times each day, doesn’t guarantee an increase in engagement, that’s for sure. It’s the age-old argument of quantity vs quality, and while quality should win at all times, generally quantity and an under-educated intern wins out (in social, anyway). It’s hard though, Instagram is already saturated with content so if you’re not posting regularly you’re risking a chance of not being seen. But, as some brands/celebrities prove, it’s less about how often you get seen and more about making sure you get seen in the right light. Look at A$AP Rocky, he lost a tonne of followers when he began to treat his feed like an art feed, but damn it looks good (small sample below). Read up more about it here… 

surf brands ASAPXROCKY

Changing tone or content can win or lose millions of followers

I have no idea if or what Hurley’s social strategy is and whether it’s been part of what they’re doing to post less, but it’s doing okay for them in comparison to their engagement rating – just not next to similar sized brands. It’d be a lot more worrisome if they were doing Mad Hueys numbers and still get the same engagement percentile.

To get a better understanding of the engagement you should be looking at brands with similar audiences – Quik/Hurley/Bong, Rhythm/TCSS/Rusty or even Reef/Brixton/O’Neill and then check out their content, posting times, etc, and go from there – if you’re trying to see/find out what works, that is..

surf brands Hurley

Content = brand values + vanity metrics

It’s hard to create/run a content strategy that is both fundamentally propping up the brand values and giving into the vanity metrics that putting up certain content provides. It’s easy to see what works with images that get increased Likes – wipe-outs, etc – but then something that’s completely on-point brand-wise might get crickets. It’s here you need to assess and figure out where (in the words of Gary V) you Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook…

Lincoln Eather is founder of data content platform Empire Ave

  • Info used for this was pulled from 2015 Best Nine and each brand’s individual Instagram accounts.

See the original post on empireave.com



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