The optimal follower size for engagement
Medium size influencers (100K-500K followers) are the most effective in creating engagement, vs larger or smaller influencers.
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Influencer campaigns are useless if posts don’t get engagement, or drive sales.
We’ve seen before that micro-influencers maximize sales (10k-100k followers).
But sometimes we need to focus on reach and engagement (e.g for brand building), not direct sales.
Here are the influencers you should choose in order to get optimal engagement, according to science.
P.S.: The strategy and creatives of your influencer campaign can make it or break it. Here’s how to optimize your chances of success, according to research from last summer.
Influencers with 100K-500K followers have the most cost-effective engagement
Channels: Social Media | Content | Influencer Marketing
For: B2C. Can be tested for B2B
Research date: August 2022
If you want to have the most cost-effective engagement, work with medium-sized influencers (100k to 500k followers).
And no matter the size of the influencer, ask them to create customized content about your brand - not simply repeat your talking points. That will increase effectiveness.
Pro tip: want to maximize sales rather than engagement? Then choose microinfluencers (10k to 100k followers).
Influencers with between 100k and 500k followers are the most effective at maximizing the engagement of social media influencer campaigns. They bring more likes, shares, and comments than larger or smaller influencers.
In an analysis of 6,400 posts and 6,100 stories from 1,738 influencers on Instagram:
The follower count and engagement of an influencer follows an inverted U-shape - more followers provide better engagement up to a certain point, after which increasing followers reduces engagement.
Smaller influencers, with around 175,000 followers, attract 376 more likes per post for every 10% increase in their follower count.
Larger influencers, with around 2.5 million followers, lose 314 likes for every 10% increase in their follower count.
Eye-tracking experiments showed people paid close attention to follower count when considering whether to engage with sponsored content (like, comment or share).
The effect is strongest when the sponsoring brand is familiar to the audience and when the content is customized to the influencer.
🧠 Why it works
The bond we have with a person giving us a recommendation is key - the closer and more connected we feel to them, the more likely we are to follow their recommendation.
We assume smaller influencers are more likely to interact with us, since they have fewer followers, so we engage with them more. On the other hand, influencers with more followers feel more distant, we engage with them less.
Even though we engage more with smaller influencers, their effectiveness for sponsored campaigns is lower because of their smaller reach.
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The study looked exclusively at influencer marketing on Instagram. Other platforms such as TikTok, Twitter, or LinkedIn may (or may not) have different dynamics.
The researchers looked at posts across a variety of sectors, from 802 campaigns randomly chosen from 5 digital agencies. This means that the results cover most categories, on average. But there might be big differences within categories (e.g. tech vs beauty influencers).
The analysis looked at engagement for sponsored posts, it doesn’t look at other social media behavior like following or engaging with the brand itself. It also didn’t look at whether there was any impact on sales or brand perceptions, based on the influencer used.
🏢 Companies using this
93% of companies say they plan on using Instagram for their next influencer campaign. Engagement is a key metric used to measure the ROI of influencer marketing, since direct sales may not be the goal or are hard to measure.
Examples of mid-size Instagram influencers who regularly work with brands:
Puma ran campaigns with German athlete and influencer Johannes Vetter.
⚡ Steps to implement
If your goal for your next campaign is to maximize reach and engagement, look for influencers with a following between 100k and 500k.
Check how often the influencers post. An average frequency is the sweet spot.
Encourage them to post original content in their own voice - rather than just repeat the talking points you give them.
🔍 Study type
Lab experiments and market observation (Instagram data from 802 campaigns with over 6,400 posts and 6,100 stories from 1,738 influencers)
Finding Goldilocks Influencers: How Follower Count Drives Social Media Engagement. Journal of Marketing (August 2022)
Simone Wies.Goethe University Frankfurt
Alexander Bleier. Frankfurt School of Finance & Management
Alexander Edeling. KU Leuven
Remember: This is a new scientific discovery. In the future it will probably be better understood and could even be proven wrong (that’s how science works). It may also not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.
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