When the influence is real: social media accounts we actually find inspiring

Social media is more than just brand promotion. If managed right, it can be entertaining and insightful. Here, The National's writers reveal the accounts they believe strike the right balance

Brandon Stanton (L), creator of the Humans of New York blog, shows an image he took of a man named Carl February 22, 2013 across the street from Union Square in New York. Some like New York's skyscrapers, bridges, his energy, taxis or lights. But Brandon Stanton has set himself another challenge: photograph of 10,000 inhabitants for a blog now famous "Humans of New York."  In two years, he has photographed 5,000 New Yorkers, children leaving school, tramps, fashionistas, New York with a bouquet of tulips, old lady with a cane, municipal employees, etc. And nearly 560,000 fans now follow his Facebook page.AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA / AFP PHOTO / STAN HONDA
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Social media accounts can be about more than mere brand promotion. If done right, they can be entertaining as well as insightful. Here are ten social media accounts that strike that right balance from The National (and head here to read about why we think Dubai's own Huda Kattan is far more than an influencer).


Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson @therock

Here is the thing: I don’t like watching movies that star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but I am a big fan of his Instagram account. Where his movies are normally loud and brainless affairs, his Instagram is more stimulating and inspiring. That’s because The Rock is not happy just basking in the glory of being one of the biggest film stars in the world. With more than 100 million followers, the 46-year-old actor uses his Instagram account to provide daily motivational and health tips. He shows that being a superstar is also about daily 4am workouts at the gym, as well as jumping on private jets. The overriding message of his account is that no matter your background or lifestyle, hard work ultimately pays off.

* Saeed Saeed


Rashed Belhasa rsbelhasa

An influencer I look at on a regular basis is Rashed Belhasa. While this may draw groans and eye-rolls, hear me out for a minute. The Instagram account is continuously updated, and although some may write Belhasa off as a “Dubai rich kid,” you have to admire the way he has developed his social media accounts into a business. Belhasa keeps his 1.4 million followers busy, looking at pictures of the latest celebrities he is hanging out with, which is nothing to sniff at. Yes he does show off his products and his possessions, but that’s OK, it’s good to dream.

* Felicity Campbell


Mark Hamill @hamillhimself

Not only is Mark Hamill the legendary Jedi master Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars Universe, but his Twitter account is also a reliable mine of humour, clips of domestic animals doing cute things, accidentally becoming a fan of second-tier English football teams, political observations and invective, like the time he brilliantly shut down Republican senator Ted Cruz over net neutrality, and even the occasional bit of behind the scenes gossip from the sets of the recent Star Wars movies. Mark Hamill is the gift that keeps on giving.


Hannah Shaw @kittenxlady

She’s a professional kitten rescuer and gives amazing tips on her Instagram about taking care of young kittens and even helping them overcome sickness. She’s also really good about spreading awareness for TNR (Trap, Neuter and Return). I sometimes use her tips when rescuing stray cats and kittens in the UAE. There are also lots of adorable kitten photos.

* Evelyn Lau


Conner Sullivan @itsconnersully

American football player and adventurer Conner Sullivan lives in Germany, where he played a season for the Stuttgart Scorpions. Sullivan is intrepid in his pursuit of connecting with people through worldwide travel, learning languages and immersing himself in cultures. Energetic, honest and relatable, he offers a refreshing outlook and wisdom beyond his years that inspires viewers to live their best life. A YouTube video of Sullivan and fellow American football player and vlogger Silas Nacita, in which they try to pronounce difficult German words, went viral in 2017 and has had more than 2.6 million views.

* Ellen Fortini


Brandon, Robbie, Emily & Klaus @plantbasednews

This is a popular account with vegans, as it promotes wholefood, plant-based diets, exposes the cruelty of factory farming and provides useful information about the environment, health and nutrition. Unlike other accounts, though, it does so in a mostly non-preachy way that helps keep me focused without feeling brow-beaten by the vegan police.

* Kevin Hackett


Sylvia Plath @itssylviaplath

It might seem slightly odd to be influenced on social media by a writer who died more than half a century ago, but Sylvia Plath’s Twitter account, which posts snippets of Plath’s writing, is a quiet corner of reflection amid the din. Her words often have a calming effect. They remind me to slow down; to think and to listen. “­Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing.” I like to imagine Plath would be both amused and ­bemused by the thousands of re-tweets.

* Rupert Hawksley


Christine Mielke @Temptalia

Christine is a beauty blogger I have been following for 10 years now. I’m a part-time make-up enthusiast and Mielke is the only influencer whose reviews I can trust. I almost always base my choices on her opinions. She has been doing this for over 12 years, and her website is a treasure trove of cosmetics information, and has been set up in a way that even a make-up amateur can navigate without feeling overwhelmed. I find her “Foundation Matrix” (which helps you pick your shade in a particular brand using something you may already own as a reference) and “Dupe List” (cheaper alternatives for luxury or discontinued products) especially useful. Her thorough breakdown of products bring a certain maturity to the beauty blogosphere, which seems to be mostly populated with screechy baby-voiced PR-driven or sponsored pretty young things. Adorable pictures of her labrador, Mellan, don’t hurt either!

* Aarti Jhurani


Vasjen Katro @vasjenkatro

As a multimedia producer, I enjoy following and learning from the work of Vasjen Katro, an Albanian graphic, user experience and user interface designer. He not only has a clear aesthetic to his work, but also explains the designs he has created and shares his tricks. He posts something every day, and has recently started using IGTV as a way to share longer explanations of his work and tutorials. He also occasionally live streams, which allows the audience to engage with the designer in real time, asking any questions they might have and comment, live.

* Harshini Karunaratna


Alexis Adjei @alexis_adjei

Alexis Adjei is a foodie entrepreneur and founder of Gym Bites (healthy eats packed into jars). I started following her recently as I wanted to start eating well to lose weight without having to compromise on flavour or deprive myself of anything at all, really. Her Instagram page offers mouthwatering pictures of food that link to recipes on her website. Adjei specialises in cuisine from Africa and the Caribbean, as well as inventive, flavoursome twists on western plates, such as her tropical plantain pancakes, which are infused with mango and passion fruit. I also want to make her rainbow salad, made from sweet potatoes with purple, red and white flesh.

* Melanie Smith


Brandon Stanton Facebook Page: Humans of New York

As someone who believes in the power of storytelling, Humans of New York (also known as HONY) by Brandon Stanton is one social media account that reinforces my belief in real stories, via everyday people from different walks of life in New York City. They’re stories I look out for and draw inspiration from. Stanton has been able to take this simple idea beyond the city of New York, making trips to countries such as Iraq, Pakistan, India, Nepal, the Palestinian territories, and many others, telling the tales of people there. It is a strong reminder that at the end of the day, we all share the same feelings and concerns about life – we’re all human. Stanton’s idea, which started with a blog, has resulted in a strong social media following, two published books and even a documentary. And I have not had enough just yet, bring on more stories.

* Samia Badih


Read more:

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