I’ve organized and executed thousands of influencer marketing campaigns for brands like Depop and my own small businesses, (@pinlord, @potteryforall, @macramemakers) 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.
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.
There are more effective ways to measure an influencer’s value but they require A LOT of data (and know-how), which isn’t accessible to most people. Although it’s not perfect, engagement rates will give you a relatively accurate measure of potential value and it will be more than enough for most of us.
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.
You measure posts 4–10 because posts 1–3 are still getting likes, so they will not be the most accurate way to calculate their engagement. You don’t measure after post number 10 because that is likely to be historic engagement, and you want to measure the engagement an influencer is getting NOW, not in the past.
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, 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.
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 Explorer Page:
A great place to start your search is the Explorer 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.
A post that gets a larger amount of likes, comments, shares, views, etc, relative to the total number of followers that account has, is more likely to be getting people’s attention in comparison to a post that’s getting a smaller number of likes, comments, shares, views, etc, relative to that account’s the total number of followers.
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 Explorer 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 Explorer Page is your best first bet.
To find influencers here, scroll through the posts you see on the Explorer 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.
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 explorer page, I quickly found @nicaphan, who fits all of my requirements and has an engagement rate of over 18% (that’s GREAT!).
Instagram wants you to discover great content that keeps you on the platform for longer. They measure great content by the engagement posts get, so the higher the engagement on a post, the more likely it is to show on other people’s explorer page.
Most of the other posts of faces and people you see on the Explorer 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 Explorer 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, @ssuunniittaa) who have great engagement and fit all my requirements.
Through the “Suggestions for You” drop-down menu, Instagram usually shows you accounts that have similar characteristics. If you’ve found a highly-engaged account, it’s likely to show you other highly-engaged accounts. Since searching on Instagram can be a BIG time drain, this feature is likely to save you a ton of time and energy.
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: 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 Explorer 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 Explorer 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 platforms & tools:
Like searching through hashtags, I’d also recommend you proceed with caution when searching for highly-engaged influencers on third-party influencer search platforms. 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, here are some of the best influencer search tools:
Traackr, Tap Influence, Pixlee, Revfluence, Fohr, and a bunch others are all well-established companies that make it easy for you to do campaigns at scale, but 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 businesses 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!
By the way, if you want to dive deeper into other strategies and systems to grow your Instagram faster, read these articles on how to grow your Instagram without buying followers. Then, you can tackle the following: how the Instagram algorithm works, how to make money on Instagram, the best Instagram bots, why your Instagram account isn’t growing, how to create effective Instagram story ads, how to create a visually appealing Instagram grid, how to increase your Instagram engagement, how to find the most valuable Instagram influencers, how to measure what an influencer is worth, how to measure your influencer marketing ROI, and how to reach out to influencers.