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The Rise of the Military Influencer

Thanks to new data by VA Disability law firm Hill & Ponton, we can now see a clearer picture of the growing trend of military influencers.

Key Takeaways

  • 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.

We live in a nation that has, almost always, cast our servicemembers in a positive light. In fact, the military is one of the last nonpartisan organizations in America. As a result, most Americans recognize the selfless, patriotic, and sometimes grueling stories that are shared in veterans’ halls and online forums across the country.

Our deep national shame at the way we treated our returning Vietnam veterans fifty years ago has caused the pendulum of public opinion to swing wildly in the opposite direction. Because of this, today’s veterans, in general, have been placed upon a pedestal.

The vast majority of veterans are proud of their service and many civilians are thankful for their sacrifice. Yet even among veterans, there are marketing exemplars; individuals who have, through sheer force of will, converted their military experience into notoriety and influence.

From the days of soldier-turned-actor Audie Murphy, one of the most decorated World War II combat soldiers of all time, to Jennifer Marshall, Post 9/11 Navy veteran-turned film and TV star, influencing public opinion and military service go hand in hand.

Now, thanks to new data by VA Disability law firm Hill & Ponton, we can see a clearer picture of this growing trend of military influencers.

They 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. They 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.

Most Followed Vets and Branches

Courtesy Hill & Ponton, Disability Attorneys.

Keyword Searches

According to Hill & Ponton, SEMrush offers data for everything from search engine optimization to social media marketing, meaning they 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.

Courtesy Hill & Ponton, Disability Attorneys.

The Space Force had more searches than any other military branch. This is likely due to their newness in the news cycle, rather than a desire to join.

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.

Military Podcasts

Hill & Ponton also looked at the top 10 military podcasts among listeners.

Courtesy Hill & Ponton, Disability Attorneys.

“Women of the Military” was the No. 1 most popular military podcast in their 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 their respondents listened to this podcast, but it was particularly popular among millennial and Democrat respondents.

Courtesy Hill & Ponton, Disability Attorneys.

The study by Hill & Ponton concludes that 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.

For more information into Hill & Ponton’s methodology, be sure to visit their site.

These days, the word “influencer” has become fodder for the TikTok and Instagram crowd looking to disparage an individual’s popularity. And often, they’re justified since the influencer space is crowded with self-help “coaches” and “gurus.”

However, today’s military influencers are using their popularity for different reasons entirely. Instead of seeking fame for the sake of popularity, today’s military influencers are honoring the service of their fellow veterans and seeking a heightened awareness of social issues that impact veterans the most.

That’s the only type of influencer this veteran cares to follow.

Wes O'Donnell

Wes O’Donnell is an Army and Air Force veteran and writer covering military and tech topics. As a sought-after professional speaker, Wes has presented at U.S. Air Force Academy, Fortune 500 companies, and TEDx, covering trending topics from data visualization to leadership and veterans’ advocacy. As a filmmaker, he directed the award-winning short film, “Memorial Day.”

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