How to Become an Instagram Influencer? This 12-Step Guide with Data Will Help You

How to Become an Instagram Influencer? This 12-Step Guide with Data Will Help You

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The growth of influencer marketing is driving more and more people to want to learn how to become an Instagram influencer. Now there is some powerful data that hints at what people can do to become more influential on Instagram and build their own unique influencer brand.

It’s no surprise that influencer marketing is a valuable business opportunity, particularly on Instagram. According to a Rakuten marketing study, 65% of consumers follow an influencer on Instagram and many of them discover new brands and products via Instagram influencers. This makes influencers a vital cog in the machine of brand promotion. 

Brands have responded accordingly, dedicating marketing money to spend on influencer marketing programs. Remarkably, the amount marketers spend on micro-influencers (those with 50,000 or less followers) is not much less than they spend on macro-influencers or super-influencers (think celebrities with mega followers). This means that influencer marketing is a lucrative business, even for people who do not have enormous followings.

average spending on influencer marketing campaigns

Tips on How to Become an Instagram Influencer

In today’s Instagram ecosystem, it’s more difficult to grow your following than it was when the platform first began–or even five years ago. Gone are the days when you could post a few photos, sprinkle a couple of hashtags, slap on a filter, and your following would grow. Instead, Instagram audiences have grown to expect a great deal of production and editing, with images that feel as polished and curated as the images found on magazine pages or from professional photographers.

Here are a few ideas about how to grow your account now, supplemented with appropriate data from Tailwind‘s Instagram Industry Report:

1.) Choose your niche carefully

Choose your niche carefully

If you are just getting started on Instagram and want to market yourself as an influencer, consider building your account in one of the less competitive categories. 

For example, in the professional services category, it takes just 3850 followers and an average of three comments and 49 likes per post to rank in the top 25 percent for the category. 

The bar is even lower to be in the top 50 percent — just 1397 followers and an average of one comment and 21 or more likes per post. 

If you can pivot your services to a less competitive category, you will succeed more quickly and build confidence as you get your start in the influencer industry.

Either way, you need to balance the existence of competition with the fact that you need to be passionate about your niche and be able to constantly create great content about it. Before leaping into the influencer “game,” make sure you do plenty of research regarding the best possible niche for your interest and the likelihood of growth. 

2.) Nail your bio

Your Instagram bio is one of the first ways to draw in potential followers. Your bio on all of your social media platforms will give new and potential followers an idea of the type of content they can expect from you, so it is important to create a biography that catches people’s attention and is aligned with your personal brand and the niche you are working within. 

From your profile picture to your “about me,” make sure you are paying attention to your target audience and their wants. 

A social media influencer will frequently use a link in their bio to link to other social platforms or allow their followers to head to other sites, including websites, blogs, and even vendors that offer unique discount codes for a social media influencer to offer their followers. 

Fleshing out your bio, grabbing your followers’ attention, and providing a way to engage with you elsewhere are some of the best ways for content creators to shift into the influencer sphere. 

3.) Create great content

Create great content

Remember that people use Instagram “to be inspired and discover things they care about, and that includes content from brands and businesses.” 

To engage people on Instagram, you’ll need a plan to translate your brand’s values and value propositions in a visually appealing way.

Err on the side of being fun and inspirational when you post on Instagram. It’s not the place to simply drop links to your content and walk away. People want to learn and gain exposure to new products, but they also want to be entertained and feel as though they are connecting with brands and people. 

Ann Handley’s IG feed (@annhandley) is a great example of how to consistently provide great content as a marketing influencer. 

Don’t forget that great content also includes:

4.) Post consistently

Whether you post to your profile or you post to Instagram stories, make sure your posts are consistent to capture and hold onto your target audience. People like to engage with influencers who are active on Instagram consistently, and your follower count is far more likely to increase if you post consistently. 

If you are nervous about the consistency of your posting habits, consider using Instagram scheduling tools to schedule posts in advance. These tools can help improve your engagement rate, and deliver high-quality content, even when you are on vacation, away from your computer, or taking a quick break from social media. 

From personal stories to advice posts to ads, your audience is far more likely to stick around for someone who has created content in advance. When you post consistently, your posts are also more likely to show up in the Instagram feeds of your followers–especially when compared to other accounts or brands that do not post consistently or regularly. 

5.) Be strategic with your hashtags

Hashtags provide a simple way for you to post content within a specific niche. They allow influencers to maximize exposure each time they post content. If you are not currently using hashtags as part of your content strategy, you are missing an opportunity to gain thousands of followers and improve your reach. 

Each of your posts can use up to 30 hashtags. To make sure you are hitting all markets as effectively as possible and creating some variation in your posts, try to use a combination of large, medium, and small hashtags. This will also increase your likelihood of reaching markets you are targeting, and markets you may not have previously tapped into. 

Before you begin using hashtags, make sure you conduct some research on which hashtags are best to use in your given niche. If you are a travel influencer, for instance, look up the hashtags that best accompany travel posts. If you are a health influencer, research trending health-related topics and subsequent relevant hashtags. 

6.) Upgrade to a Business Account

Business Instagram accounts are utilized by successful influencers, for several reasons. Instagram business accounts offer more analytics, the ability to advertise, post swipe-up and affiliate links, and easier avenues for communication from your followers. 

Analytics are important for learning more about your follower demographics, posting and engagement trends, and your account performance. Browsing your analytics can help prompt an increase in engagement, build an online community, and determine which followers are loyal followers and which are fake followers or “lurking” followers. 

7.) Leverage ALL Instagram functionality

While Instagram may have once focused entirely on the visual appeal of a panel of images, it has since become a truly enormous content creation platform. Your content quality, volume, and frequency are all important, but posting on your main page alone is not enough. Instead, to maintain your follower base, you must adapt to all of the latest features offered by Instagram. 

Wall posts and stories have been around for years, but IGTV, Reels, and Live options are all newer, and provide effective ways to engage with millions of followers, including your existing community of followers and prospective followers. People like variety, and seeing you in a variety of settings will make your followers more likely to stick around. 

Posting content in all areas of Instagram is also important because the Instagram algorithm is partial to accounts that provide different content formats. If you are sticking to only one or two Instagram features, you are leaving behind your ideal followers, and potentially limiting your exposure and reach. 

8.) Don’t forget to ENGAGE

Posting content is vital, but posting to Stories or posting a reel, and promptly checking out is the perfect way to make sure your influencer journey stops short. 

You can drive engagement by asking questions of your followers to get to know them better, or asking them for input as to what your account should feature. You can also encourage engagement by offering regularly responding to comments, reposting answers to your questions (with permission), and making connections with other influencers and brands on the platform. 

When you engage with other content creators or send messages to brands and other influencers, you are encouraging engagement from your own followers and the followers of the person or brand with whom you are engaging. 

Ultimately, being an influencer means forging connections and encouraging conversations between yourself and your followers and your followers and their peers. Each time you post, no matter the format, make sure you are inviting conversation and connection. 

9.) Be proactive in reaching out to brands

Pitching to brands and forging connections with potential brand partners is one of the most important parts of building your influencer brand. If you want to work with a brand, make sure you are talking about them regularly and tagging them in your posts, as this puts you on the radar of the brand and shows them that you will stand behind their products. 

While you may feel awkward or nervous about reaching out to brands, DMing a brand is actually a fairly standard practice. Discuss your eagerness to collaborate, and demonstrate why that might be an advantageous decision for the brand. 

If you want to engage with even more brands, consider registering on the many influencer apps and marketplaces. These platforms are designed to foster relationships between influencers and brands, and they can accelerate partnerships more effectively than simply reaching out and trying to connect with brands directly. 

As you prepare to seek out partnerships, make sure you have created a robust influencer media kit. These kits show brands your engagement rates, past projects or partnerships, and any achievements you might have in this arena. Your kit functions as a CV and outline for the partnership process. 

10.) Don’t be afraid to limit your sponsored content

While partnerships and ads are an influencer’s bread and butter, crowding your Instagram page and content with ad after ad is one of the fastest ways to lose followers, slow engagement, and damage your brand. People see advertisements everywhere, and do not want to engage with a constant barrage of people trying to sell them on yet another product or service. 

Ads are required to keep your brand alive, but make sure you create content in between ads to keep your personality alive in your influencer branding process. Some have suggested a rule of three: for every ad you post, post three personal or non-ad related pieces of content. Others have suggested a weekly schedule, either saving ads for certain days of the week or posting an ad once every 3-4 days. 

11.) Monitor engagement data and adjust accordingly

Instagram analytics and data from third parties can all help you to understand the dynamics of your specific audience. To succeed as an influencer and grow your account, you’ll need to commit to monitoring your account performance AND understanding industry trends. 

Following the Instagram business blog is a great first step to do so. Regularly checking in with your trends and data can be difficult at first, but it is a necessary tool in creating a strong influencer profile. 

Engagement rates may differ depending on the time of day, the type of posts you are creating, and the kinds of questions you are asking. If you are not an influencer in social justice, for instance, it may be better to stay away from too many politically charged topics.

If you are not a fashion influencer, suddenly posting about fashion week may prove harmful to your engagement rates. Pay close attention to all of your content and determine what you audience likes best. Once you’ve determined your most successful pieces of content, continue to structure your profile around those successes. 

12.) Learn from benchmarking data

If you are currently marketing your services as an influencer, or think you might, you need a reliable way to demonstrate your value as an influencer.

Micro-influencers especially need to be able to prove the value of their accounts to potential clients. 

With its more than 1 billion monthly active users, Instagram is home to communities of people with vastly different communication patterns. Some categories are big and chatty, while others are small (but growing) and have correspondingly lower engagement. 

Because usage patterns vary on Instagram, one size fits all metrics are less meaningful. 

They simply don’t take into account the different interaction styles within the many communities on Instagram. 

For example, in its 2020 Instagram Industry Report, Tailwind looked at 1.8 million Instagram posts published between November 2019 and February 2020. The posts were divided into 18 different categories. 

While the report focused primarily on the best time to post on Instagram, it also provides a significant amount of data about engagement by category on Instagram. 

Consider comments: in the 18 categories Tailwind analyzed, the average number of comments ranged from 4 to 18.8.

Influencers who want to understand and communicate their value well will need industry specific data in order to: 

  • Understand how influential they are compared to others in their category
  • Prove their value to potential clients
  • Write realistic pitches
  • Retain more clients 

Understanding important data will effectively prepare you to pitch your personal brand and demonstrate the value of partnership with a company or brand.

Which Category Best Describes Your Niche?

 The categories Tailwind used were drawn from the Facebook API, where Instagram logs the categories chosen by Business and Creator account holders when they sign up. The data was supplemented with information from Tailwind’s customer database. 

Tailwind looked at the following categories: 

  • Travel
  • Brick and mortar
  • Childrens
  • Education
  • Entertainment
  • Food and beverage
  • Health and beauty
  • Marketing
  • Technology
  • Recreation
  • Professional services
  • Photographer
  • Personal brand
  • Non-profit
  • Media
  • Clothing and apparel
  • Creative services
average instagram engagement ratio by category

Benchmarking Data by Category

To get started with your influencer benchmarking, you’ll need to know how many followers you have, as well as the average number of comments and likes your account gets per post. 

Here’s how to find your average comments in Instagram Insights. 

  • Sort your posts by time frame and interaction to show you the number of comments each post has gotten.
  • Total those comments.
  • Divide by the number of posts to get your average comment rate.

Now, take a look at the data from your category. Here are a couple to get you started.


Tailwind analyzed 30,367 posts from the travel category. 

To rank in the top 25 percent for followers in the travel category, an account needs 10,267 followers or more. 

To rank in the top 25 percent for comments or likes, your comment average needs to be four or more and your like average needs to be 121 or more. 

To be in the top 50 percent for the category, an account needs 2,365 or more followers, and an average of one or more comments and 42 or more likes. 

The data also shows that the best time to post Travel content on Instagram is early in the morning on Saturdays and Sundays.

the best time to post Travel content on Instagram is early in the morning on Saturdays and Sundays


 If you are in the media category, your numbers will need to be much higher to be considered an influencer.

To be in the top 25 percent, your account will need at least 42,966 followers, a comment average of eight, and a like average of 388. 

To rank in the top 50 percent, you will need 5,579 followers, two average comments and 71 or more likes per post. 

The best time to post Media content if you want to get comments is Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST. Likes on posts in this category are highest on Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. EST.

The best time to post Media content if you want to get comments is Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST. Likes on posts in this category are highest on Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. EST


 If you are a blogger, you rank in the top 25 percent if you have at least 11,492 followers and an average of 13 or more comments and 168 likes per post. 

You are in the top 50 percent if you have 2841 followers and an average of three comments and 55 or more likes per post. 

Bloggers get more comments on Thursdays and Fridays and with posts that come online at 12 a.m. EST.

They also get more likes for posts on Sundays and for content that comes online at 8 p .m. EST.

Bloggers get more comments on Thursdays and Fridays and with posts that come online at 12 a.m. EST. They also get more likes for posts on Sundays at and for content that comes online at 8 p .m. EST.

Get data for all of the other categories here

How to Use Instagram Influencer Benchmarks

Of course, there are other types of data that you will want to include as you market yourself as an Influencer, but these specific benchmarks by category can be helpful in several ways. 

First, you can use them to determine if your influence is broad enough to be valuable. If you have an account that meets the criteria for the top 25 or 50 percent for your category, you can use this data to begin marketing your services as an influencer. 

If you are already marketing your services as an influencer, consider adding benchmarking data to your pitch. The data will help you demonstrate thought leadership as someone with deep knowledge of your craft. For example, if you include niche-data in your pitch, and a client compares it to a competitor with more generic information, you will clearly stand out as more informed and therefore the better person to partner with. 

Benchmarking data will also help you (and your clients) develop realistic expectations regarding the results they can expect when they hire you. If you are an influencer in the Travel industry, your results will be more likely to align with the benchmarks for Travel than the benchmarks for the Media category. 

Make sure that you pitch your services with this data in mind, and show your clients why your pitch is realistic. 

We all know that clients who don’t get what they expect are much more likely to walk away from their influencer partners. We need to think about retaining clients from the beginning of our relationship with them.

Setting expectations realistically in your pitch is a great way to begin your business relationship, and it’s one of the most important steps in retaining your clients. 

Set Realistic Goals for Growth 

If you are growing as an influencer, these benchmarks can also help you to be realistic about your growth.

This free worksheet is a good starting point to document your progress and plan to reach the next level. 

instagram action step worksheet by tailwind

Ready to Become an Instagram Influencer?

Now that you know what you need to do to become an Instagram influencer, what’s stopping you? Go and influence! 

If you’re looking for more advice on how to become an Instagram influencer, check out these blog posts:

This is a post written on behalf of one of my marketing partners. All opinions are 100% mine.

Photo by Elevate on Unsplash

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Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer

Neal Schaffer is a leading authority on helping businesses through their digital transformation of sales and marketing through consulting, training, and helping enterprises large and small develop and execute on social media marketing strategy, influencer marketing, and social selling initiatives. President of the social media agency PDCA Social, Neal also teaches digital media to executives at Rutgers University, the Irish Management Institute (Ireland), and the University of Jyvaskyla (Finland). Fluent in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, Neal is a popular keynote speaker and has been invited to speak about digital media on four continents in a dozen countries. He is also the author of 3 books on social media, including Maximize Your Social (Wiley), and in late 2019 will publish his 4th book, The Business of Influence (HarperCollins), on educating the market on the why and how every business should leverage the potential of influencer marketing. Neal resides in Irvine, California but also frequently travels to Japan.

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  1. Great article! I think creating great contents still challenging for everyone and also consistent daily posting is difficult for most of starter influencer.

    Thank you

    • Yup, daily posting challenges us all…best to create in batch and schedule out for daily publishing!

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