Over the course of 2017, influencer marketing has become a core component of many brands’ marketing strategies. But while a given brand can determine the engagement lift provided by existing influencer partners, brands cannot easily see the big picture, preventing them from understanding the business efficacy tradeoffs of working with influencers with larger or smaller followings.

We set out to determine the average lift in engagement associated with brand mentions of influencers of 10 different community sizes, ranging from fewer than 20,000 followers to over 7 million. Our sample includes 5,038 influencers partnered with 875 brands across 16 sectors.

Sectors Included in Study

Influencer sectors

Methodology: Our first task was to decide which influencers to study. We started at the brand level, cultivating a list of 875 brands balanced across sectors, and crawled these brands’ Instagram pages for mentions of other handles. Any handle that received more than one mention by the brand was flagged as an Influencer handle. The follower counts of these handles were collected, and all posts mentioning each handle were grouped.

Across the 5,038 handles mentioned, we calculated the average lift in engagement afforded by mentions of each influencer as follows:

Engagement formula

Results: Aggregating these engagement lifts and bucketing by ranges of influencer follower counts reveals a U-shaped curve. Micro-influencers (under 70,000 followers) and macro-influencers (over 2.5M followers) provide brands with engagement lifts above 10%, with mega-influencers (over 7M followers) yielding outsized lifts in engagement. Middling influencers (70,000–2.5M followers), however, generate disappointingly low lifts under 10%. This should be a red flag to brands, as influencer contract value is heavily dependent on follower count, often overlooking engagement. Therefore, middling influencers cost more than micro-influencers, despite generating less engagement.


Further analysis confirms that increased follower counts are perceived as more valuable by advertisers.


Yet an overlay of all three data sets paints a clear picture of questionable efficiency in the influencer market. Many brands partner with middling influencers at middling prices in exchange for inefficiently low lifts in follower interactions. One can only wonder if these murky waters are in part muddied by cases of fraudulent influencer follower counts, resulting in low engagement in spite of large community sizes.

 Influencer chart

Key takeaways: Beware the middle ground. Micro and macro-influencers are associated with the highest lifts in engagement, while influencers with medium-sized followings produce relatively feeble results despite the relative expense incurred by working with them.


Next steps: The next time we tackle the influencer question, we’ll increase the sophistication of our methodology by taking into account the engagement generated by influencer mentions of a given brand not reflected on brand Instagram pages. This modification promises to round out the picture by taking into account all Instagram interactions produced by influencer partnerships, and may reveal new insights about the ROI dynamics of working with influencers of various sizes.

The new iteration of our formula for determining the ROI associated with influencer partnerships will be as follows:


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