I’ve organized and executed thousands of influencer marketing campaigns for brands like Depop and my own small businesses, (@pinlord, @potteryforall, @macramemaakers) and from experience, I know that the success of each one depends almost exclusively on the quality of influencers that you work with.
If you want to get the best return for your dollar, it’s essential that you know how to, first, measure if an influencer is valuable, and second, search for the most valuable ones efficiently. Your time and money are limited and you don’t want to spend either of them on social media influencers that aren’t likely to give you great results.
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How to know if an influencer is valuable:
When it comes to influencer marketing, value is determined by the number of followers/traffic/sales an influencer can drive to another user (or website) when promoting something on their Instagram profile. The higher the number of followers/traffic/sales they drive, the higher their value.
The most effective and simple way anyone can measure a particular influencer’s potential value is through measuring their organic engagement rate.
To measure organic engagement rates, divide the average number of “likes” the influencer gets in posts 4 to 10, then divide that number by their total number of followers and multiply that by 100. From that, you’ll get a percentage rate. That is the influencer’s engagement rate.
The higher the engagement rate, the higher the potential someone has to drive the largest amount of followers/traffic/sales (relative to that account’s total number of followers), and the higher their value is.
These numbers tend to change over time but for now, any influencer who has over 10K followers and an engagement rate of 10% or more, is in the top 1% of the most valuable influencers on Instagram.
Side note: Of course, people can fake engagement by buying likes and comments (or automating elements of it through an Instagram bot), but in most cases, you’ll be able to identify fake engagement by looking at someone’s content and the type of comments they get. If they seem sketchy, they probably are. There are so many great, real influencers out there that there’s no need to spend your money on someone that you’re afraid might scam you. If you’re interested in learning more about how Instagram bots (or engagement automation) work, here’s a great guide.
How to search for and find the most valuable influencers on Instagram:
Since there is no way to search for engagement directly through the app, you’re going to have to focus on the places where Instagram tends to surface the highest density of high-engagement influencers.
1. Start the search on your Explore Page:
A great place to start your search is the Explore Page on your Instagram. Why? Instagram makes money by selling your eyes to advertisers. The longer you’re staring at the Instagram screen, the more money they make. Because of that, they want to increase the likelihood that you’ll see content that keeps you on the screen for longer whenever you’re using the app (that’s what the Instagram algorithm does). The content that tends to keep people’s attention for longer are the posts that are engaged with more often than average posts.
The place Instagram uses to show you highly-engaged posts that are relevant to you (and that you don’t know about) is through the Explore Page. That’s because it’s one of the few screens on the app that the user (you) cannot directly curate. So if you want to discover highly engaged influencers that relate to you, the Explore Page is your best first bet.
To find influencers here, scroll through the posts you see on the Explore Page, tap on the ones that appear to be from people (not brands), quickly check the bio and content to make sure they speak your language and are in your country. If they are, tap through the posts 4–10, write down their average number of likes and divide that number by their total number of followers. Here’s a spreadsheet to show you how I keep track of them.
As an example, I gift for my enamel pin page, @pinlord. I’m looking for stylish US-based content creators between the age of 16–25 who have a YouTube channel. By searching on my explore page, I quickly found @nicaphan, who fits all of my requirements and has an engagement rate of over 18% (that’s GREAT!).
Most of the other posts of faces and people you see on the Explore Page screenshot above are also influencers with over 15% engagement.
2. Look through the “Suggestions for You” drop-down menu of the highly-engaged accounts you’ve found:
Once you find a highly-engaged account on the Explore Page, tap on the down arrow that’s next to the “Follow” in the account’s bio and you’ll see a large list of similar accounts.
Look through those and pick the ones that have high-engagement and are relevant to you. More likely than not, you’ll find a high-density of great accounts here. In my case, I searched through the “Suggestions for You” accounts from @nicaphan (the first account I found) and discovered over 4 other influencers (@pameluft, @behwah, @ashleesummer) who have great engagement and fit all my requirements.
3. Search category-relevant hashtags:
Another way to find influencers is through category-relevant hashtags. Before we get started here, I want to be clear: Instagram hashtags aren’t as effective to find highly-engaged influencers because most of the people who have great organic engagement tend to not use hashtags (because they are perceived as “spammy”). That being said, it’s still the third best option after searching through your Explore Page and Suggested accounts since there are very few discovery features on Instagram that are meant to help people find highly engaged influencers (as it’s not what most people use Instagram for).
To do this, go to the Search bar on your Explore Page and tap on the “Tags” tab. Here, type in the hashtag term you want to search for, scroll through the posts that appear under that term, tap on the ones that appear to be from people who might be relevant to you, quickly check the bio and content to make sure they are relevant to you, and if they are, measure their engagement.
In my case, since I’m searching for stylish US-based content creators between the age of 16–25, I searched for the “#youtuber” tag and quickly found @isampatterson, who fits all of my requirements and has an engagement rate of over 11%.
Whenever you find a great influencer through the hashtag search, make sure to also look through their “Suggestions for You” drop-down menu.
4. Use third-party influencer search tools:
Apart from searching directly on Instagram, there are a bunch of influencer search tools out there that claim to be able to make the process easier for you, but most don’t.
Honestly, I haven’t found any in the market that I feel comfortable recommending apart from Scope. Although you won’t be able to find influencers who don’t use hashtags (Scope's results are populated only by accounts that use hashtags), they are the best third-party search tool because they are focused exclusively on search (like Google), not being an influencer marketplace platform like most other similar services out there. Because of this, they are the most simple and easy to use in comparison to other options. It’ll of course still take some time and energy to sift through their data, and you won’t find the most valuable influencers here because they only show you hashtag-using influencers, but if you’re not having any luck finding influencers on Instagram yourself, Scope is your best option.
Right now, they are screening every person that they allow on their platform, but they are usually pretty great about it and you can request an invite here.
5. Use third-party influencer search platforms:
Like searching through hashtags, I’d also recommend you proceed with caution when searching for highly-engaged influencers on third-party influencer platforms (platforms are the ones who connect influencers with brands and charge commission). This is because, in most cases, these platforms populate their search results with influencers that were found through hashtags (because that’s easier to crawl for on Instagram). Another reason you should be cautious is that the influencers who apply to be featured on them tend to have low engagement and low value. Think about it, if you were a highly valued influencer, you would have a lot of inbound work requests and wouldn’t need to spend time and energy searching for partnership opportunities on an influencer platform.
It’s not that you won’t find influencers, but you won’t find the most valuable ones. It’ll also cost you money to search with these tools when you could just do it for free yourself on Instagram.
If you’re still set on using third-party tools after reading that, Traackr, Tap Influence, Pixlee, Revfluence, Fohr, and a of bunch others are all well-established platforms that make it easy for you to do campaigns at scale. However, unless you’re a brand marketer with a big budget (and you don’t care too much about getting a high ROI), they likely won’t be the most effective way to get the highest ROI for your $$.
Apart from those, I honestly haven’t been able to find any influencer search tool that can give you great engagement data and is accessible (cost effective and easy to use) to small business owners. If you know of any, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) because I want to hear about them!
Anyway, it doesn’t matter if there aren’t any excellent tools out there to solve this problem…if you focus on measuring engagement (only work with people with 10K+ followers and 10% organic engagement or more) and use the strategies I explained to find the right influencers on Instagram, you can do everything yourself!