Instagram Influencer Marketing: The Complete Guide

Instagram Influencer Marketing: The Complete Guide

Instagram is where influencer marketing went mainstream. With a huge base of active users that includes many types of influencers, Instagram has become a central platform for not just influencer marketing but social media marketing in general. This makes it an excellent platform from which to reach your target audience. 

For all of Instagram’s potential, how do you find relevant social media influencers on Instagram, how should you vet them, and what types of collaborations can you do with them? To answer these and more questions that I get asked when consulting, speaking, or teaching, I’ve prepared this brief guide on how to be successful with your Instagram influencer marketing. Let’s dig in!

What Exactly is Instagram Influencer Marketing?

From micro – influencers to macro influencers, influencer marketing is a form of marketing that relies upon the ideas and opinions of influencers–people who are seen as reliable, trustworthy users from which to gain information or experiences. Influencer marketing takes advantage of the sense of connection that can come from watching, viewing, or reading recommendations from people who seem like the average Joe, rather than endorsements from celebrities.

Influencer marketing is, as its name suggests, designed to influence or sway decisions. It is not always an overt advertisement “Try this product!” but can often simply be a demonstration of use for a specific product or service.

Instagram influencer marketing refers to this practice of influencer marketing specifically on the Instagram platform.

Why Use Instagram Influencer Marketing?

Instagram influencer marketing can help brands and companies reach their target audience more effectively than many of the larger marketing campaign options, because they take potential influencers, and show a clearer and more realistic picture of how products or services fit into everyday life. 

Larger celebrities like Kylie Jenner have also become influencers, but prior to that, the true start of influencer marketing focused more on smaller accounts with a significant number of followers, and offered them products or a smaller fee than would be required by a celebrity, in order to feature those items. By letting influencers take the reins, you are making it easier to imagine a product or service in actual life and saving a hefty amount of money in the process–at least, usually that is the case. 

Influencers Rule the Instagram Feed

Influencers are great content creators. Because their livelihood depends largely on engagement rate, people on influencer marketing platforms are excellent at developing new content to suit their collaborators’ needs. Influencers experience widespread visibility for their content in comparison to brands, which makes them an ideal partner for brands.

Although brands and companies are certainly capable of being seen or discovered on social media platforms, influencer content is frequently more readily accepted and widely seen by audiences. Influencer marketing strategy focuses on high engagement, making it more likely for your preferred audience to see your products.

Consumers Trust Recommendations

Authenticity and transparency are often considered the golden rule of social media marketing, and relevant influencers tend to deliver these in spades. Customers trust genuine recommendations, and often rely upon others’ reviews before making a decision to purchase a product or enlist in a service. Influencers help put a name, a face, and an experience to basic reviews, and make them more compelling.

From mega – influencers to micro – influencers, influencer partners can lend an air of authenticity to a marketing campaign that a brand or company is frequently unable to. An influencer program recognizes the value of organic and genuine experiences, and uses those to their advantage through influencer content.

Precisely Target Your Niche Audience

Another significant benefit of influencers is the nature of their audience. because they are not large-scale celebrities in most cases, they have a niche audience that brands can successfully target. The audience demographics of influencers are usually more nuanced than the audience demographics of large-scale companies, which means that brands can more precisely target a niche audience.

Being able to target a niche audience is valuable, because it allows brands to tailor marketing campaigns and increase the likelihood of connecting with and impacting a larger portion of their audience. Influencer marketing budgets are also often more attractive to companies than more traditional marketing efforts.

The Potential for User-Generated Content

User generated content, like influencer marketing overall, is often seen as more trustworthy than the content developed directly by the brand or company. User-generated content is any type of content that is created by users, rather than a dedicated marketing team, and can include the highly polished work of an influencer, or the more down-to-earth content created by typical users.

Working with Instagram users ultimately gives you access to source images and short-form videos to use on your own platforms as well as the influencer’s platform. This doubles the reach of any content being created within the campaign, and increases the availability of relatable, likable content to use to promote your offerings.

It’s Cost-Effective

Influencer partnerships can be quite cost-effective when you take into account the potential ROI of influencer campaigns. Hundreds of influencers work within the parameters of highly affordable, and leveraging the UGC content created by influencers and potential conversion of the influencer into a brand advocate can further improve the success of seeing a return on your investment into an influencer campaign.

A truly substantial pool of influencers are available to work alongside, and appealing to their user base can significantly increase the number of people coming into contact with you. An influencer marketing agency can increase the amount being spent on campaigns, but even when using an influencer marketing hub, this type of campaign can offer a great ROI.

The Different Types of Instagram Influencers to Collaborate With

It almost goes without saying that Instagram influencer marketing requires a company to engage influencers. But who are they, anyway? Briefly, influencers are people that are well-known on a social media platform or blog. However, they aren’t just well-known. Rather, they are trusted voices in a particular niche. Other people seek them out for advice on what to buy or which experiences are worthwhile.

Although successful influencers are all alike in some ways, influencers come in different types.

I look at influencers being in two different categories:

  1. The traditional way of looking at influencers: by follower count.
  2. The brand affinity model for leveraging influencers that I introduced in The Age of Influence

Influence by Follower Count

Marketers often classify influencers by their follower count. An influencer’s category changes somewhat over time, as an influencer’s following grows or they lose favor with social media users. The guidelines themselves, however, are relatively consistent.

Note that the numbers given below are generally accepted numbers, but there is no one fixed definition.



Celebrities are influencers who have more than a million followers. While many offline celebrities are also celebrity-level influencers, this isn’t always the case. Furthermore, many people are celebrity influencers on Instagram, but hardly anyone knows them in real life. This rule is also true of other influencer levels: they may be everyday people on the street, but are quasi-famous online.

Macro influencers

Macro Influencer

Macro influencers have between 500,000 and a million followers. Unlike their celebrity counterparts, they tend to cater to a specific niche. In other words, they don’t draw everyone to their profile page. Instead, they tend to have more common interests with the people they influence.

Micro influencers

Micro influencer

With micro influencers, the follower count is between 10,000 and 500,000. At the lower end of this range, you can access niche markets that are too expensive to reach using macro influencers or celebrities. At the higher end, the influencer has a much broader appeal while also being cost-effective to engage.

Nano influencers

Nano influencer

The last group is nano influencers, who have between 1,000 and 10,000 followers. These influencers will often work for just the cost of a product or service. They also have extremely high engagement rates, and, unless they’re just starting out, the audience tends to be very niche. Until recently, marketers didn’t work with them. However, they’ve proven to be extremely valuable, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Influence by Brand Affinity

Next, let’s take a look at the classifications by brand affinity, which gives any company the ability to leverage influencer marketing in a more authentic and realistic way.

In this case, brand affinity is the level to which people have a connection to your brand. Depending on your campaign goals, cost constraints, and corporate policies, any of these can be useful.

Employees or Partners

This is obviously the closest level of affinity, because employees and business partners depend on your company for at least some of their income. If they’re business partners, then the connection tends to be even closer because they’ve invested money into the brand. Consider this type of influencer for corporate responsibility-focused campaigns or brand stories.


Here, people have made a purchase from your company. This can be a great class of influencer to use whether you’re a B2B or B2C brand, but it’s especially powerful for B2B. That’s because these brands like to hear about use cases, which works well for customer influencers from a wide range of industries.


These are the people who haven’t necessarily bought something from you recently, but admire your brand. For instance, there are a lot of people who admire luxury cars or fashion but can’t afford to buy them. These users are great to engage, because they can compare your products with the ones they were using before. The fact that they are either following your brand, have mentioned your brand, or tagged you in a post means that in one way or another, you are on their radar.

How Much Does Instagram Influencer Marketing Actually Cost?

The cost of Instagram influencer marketing varies based on several factors. That being said, however, there is an average you can go by for influencer posts or collaborations. According to a survey by Later, 66% of businesses say that they pay less than $250 per post. Another 27% pays between $250 and $1,000.  That being said, as with anything marketing-related, there’s a range.

Once again, let’s look at the cost of Instagram influencer marketing by follower count and brand affinity. The difference between the two will give you a good feel for how varied the costs might be for any particular influencer or campaign.

Cost of an Influencer by Follower Count

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When you think about it, the easiest way to set prices for Instagram influencer marketing is by follower count. Here, you’ll want to think about a cash price plus any extras, like free product. Any giveaway items would be on top of that, since the influencer doesn’t keep them.

These days, the most common rule of thumb on Instagram has been $10 per 1,000 followers. That being said, there is no rule that you have to stick to that. Of course, there are many exceptions. For instance, celebrities often charge much more than this–sometimes $100,000 or more. On the other end, a nano influencer might be happy to accept free product and nothing more. In other situations, the brand might provide free product plus a commission through discount codes or affiliate links.

If you’re curious, check out my post on Instagram influencer calculators to see what tools recommend you pay specific influencers.

Cost of an Influencer by Brand Affinity

The beauty of working with influencers who already know, like, and trust your brand is the flexibility with which you can structure a collaboration.

Therefore, depending on their level of brand affinity, influencers can be rewarded in a variety of ways.

Do you want to encourage employees to pitch your company on Instagram? Cash might not be the best way to do it in this case. After all, they’re already drawing a salary from you. However, there are other ways to reward them. One idea? Consider giving them some company swag. Letting them wear a special polo shirt or jacket is a cost-effective reward that lets them keep bragging long after the promotion is over and you have reached your campaign goals.

Another option would be to give free product to a brand fan. Remember: these influencers often don’t have the money to buy your product outright, or it might not be available in their area. In this case, you are allowing this person to see how your product lives up to their expectations in real life. Plus, they can use the freebie as part of the Instagram influencer marketing campaign over traditional advertising.

How to Find Relevant Instagram Influencers

Finding the right people for Instagram influencer marketing can be a challenge. After all, even after you find people in the right niche, it’s important to avoid the ones with fake followers. This is a major concern: According to CNBC, fake followers cost brands over a billion dollars in inflated influencer fees and reduces the ability of influencer marketing to function as an effective form of advertising.

Fortunately, there are some great ways to find great people for influencer marketing.

Manual Search on Instagram

If you were logging into Instagram and wanted to learn about something, what would you do? You would probably do a hashtag search and look for great content. This is the best way to find influencers who are talking about the hashtags that are relevant to your niche that also has content that you find aligns with your brand values.

Further Reading: Instagram Hashtags: Where To Find Them And How To Use Them

Use Instagram Influencer Marketing Platforms


Your other options for finding influencers involve third party sources. For instance, there are a lot of influencer marketing tools out there. Some will handle only limited parts of the campaign like influencer discovery, while others are total Instagram influencer marketing solutions. You can also use influencer marketplaces. These will help you find the right people, and then support the campaign on various levels. Some will even do most of the work!

Ask Around

There is something to be said for the old stand-by of asking around to help find the influencers who will advertise on your social network and theirs. Influencers can be found by asking employees, customers, industry contacts, and even other influencers with whom you have worked in the past. Promotional content is like any other type of advertising: go where you feel you can trust and be trusted.

If you see a campaign whose style or approach you greatly enjoy, you can ask the brand in question about their influencer. If you see customers gravitate toward a specific influencer or marketing approach, you can also take this tack, and ask about the influencer involved in the campaign.

Further Reading: The 15 Types of Influencers You Need to Know for Effective Influencer Marketing

How to Evaluate Instagram Influencers

Now that you have found the Instagram influencers who are creating the types of posts you are interested in, you need to move on to evaluating them to make sure they are the best fit for your influencer marketing strategy. There are a few key points that you should evaluate to make sure an influencer is right for you and your target market. These include brand affinity and fit, past sponsors, and collaborative reputation and ability.

When evaluating influencers, make sure you are looking at their recent online behaviors and stats; someone could have been a good fit for you when they first started out, but they are no longer a good fit.

Brand Affinity Check = Do They Love Your Brand?

An influencer cannot successfully cater to your brand’s needs if they do not have at least a passing affinity for your brand. Your target demographics will likely be able to tell if a campaign is entirely for the sake of compensation without a genuine love for a company or product, which will work against you. Make sure the influencer in question loves or at least enjoys your brand.

Although the influencer in question may not be aware of your brand when you first reach out, give them some time with your products and services, and determine how they feel at that point.

Brand Fit = Does Their Content and Vibe Mesh with Your Brand?

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Even within the same niche, not all influencers and brands will mesh well. Some brands are in a niche, but have a serious tone, while an influencer within that niche has a more carefree, easygoing air about them. To make sure that your partnership is actually a lucrative and useful one, you need to make sure that your partnership is well-fitting.

The best way to make sure your tone meshes well is to go back through their sponsored content and standard content, alike. Doing so will ultimately help you identify the most consistent tone and attitude seen throughout their account, and will help you make an informed decision.

Size can also factor into this decision: vibe and content itself can be wildly different from the intimacy of a smaller influencer to the larger and more impersonal air of a large influencer.

Past Sponsors = What Is Their Track Record When Collaborating with Brands?

Reviewing past sponsors can help you get a window into what you can expect of your own partnership with an influencer. This can include the seeming business goals of the partnership, and the types of accounts they have worked with previously. If the accounts are within your niche or are similar to your own, that is typically a good sign.

You can also look at the performance of the content (its average engagement rate, whether or not it demonstrated authentic engagement, and whether it was enjoyed by the audience), and how authentic and creative it was in its delivery. Stale, rote delivery is not going to garner a ton of likes or interest, so make sure the influencer you are interested in working with shows a genuine enjoyment of their work and the companies with whom they have worked.

Are They Collaborative?

Influencer partnerships are true collaborations. They require both parties to offer a give and take, of sorts. You, as the company or brand, produce expectations and parameters within which to work. The influencer takes those boundaries, and creates something that will benefit you both through compelling storytelling and connection with their audience. If collaboration is not present, the campaign is not likely to succeed.

It may not be easy to determine whether or not your influencer collaborated well with all of their partners, but there are some tactics you can use to determine how collaborative they likely were. You can speak directly with past collaborators, look at the creative direction of the campaign versus a company’s usual direction, and even look into how well the influencer engages with their audience and the brand through comments and shares.

Further Reading: How to Reach Out to Influencers For Collaborations (with Sample Templates)

How to Collaborate with Instagram Influencers

Now that you have found the right influencers, what options exist for collaborations? There are a few popular options (which I will list below), but the possibilities are limited only by your imagination! Many influencer campaigns will actually mix together a few or all of these potential collaboration types for a more robust strategy.

Leverage Influencers as UGC Content Creators

Influencers are frequently used as ambassadors on their own accounts, but they can also be used from an UGC-based approach to influencer marketing. When this is the case, it more closely resembles traditional marketing efforts, with one important difference: all of the onus of creation is taken off of you.

This particular type of influencer campaign is useful, because it allows you to have useful images, videos, and text created for your company (or product, service, brand, etc.) that you can use across multiple platforms. UGC is often considered more authentic and interesting than the professional images and videos churned out by marketing teams, which can help bring in more of your target audience.

Gifting Product for Mentions

Gifting product is typically the way to go with nano influencers, rather than larger creators. Gifting product is nonetheless a useful tactic to use, because it helps generate brand awareness, while limiting costs. Brand awareness is a valuable tool in the arsenal of any marketing team, as it is half the battle in sales.

Gifting product for mentions is often simple: you give a smaller influencer your product and in turn, they mention the product on their social accounts and introduce people to your brand who might not otherwise have a means of exposure.

Sponsored Content for Product Reviews (with Discount Codes)


When working with larger influencers that require a dedicated budget, you can request more than simple brand awareness. The most popular approach in this case is to ask for a review, alongside an influencer discount code to encourage (and track!) purchases made from that specific campaign.

Have you ever browsed Instagram, and stumbled across a user offering a linked discount code? This is an instance of sponsored content, and is a common and highly effective means of utilizing influencers for marketing campaigns. These influencers are typically larger, as stated above, and the goal here is to fuel sales with the discount code, increase exposure, and develop an ongoing relationship with an influencer.

Affiliate Marketing (with Discount Codes)

Affiliate marketing is similar to a sponsored post, but the discount codes offered are ongoing, and the discount code allows content creators to receive a small commission on each sale. Affiliate marketing is a narrower form of influencer marketing, in that it typically focuses on a specific product or service or a line of products. Affiliate codes are typically used with a specific product or for a specific period of time.

Affiliate marketing is another extremely common form of influencer marketing. This is largely in part because it is a short-term relationship, but can pave the way for a more consistent partnership between the influencer and company. Which leads me to…

Further Reading: The Definitive Guide to Instagram Affiliate Marketing

Brand Ambassador Program (with Discount Codes)

Similar to affiliate marketing programs, brand ambassador programs provide influencers with discount codes in order to receive a small percentage of all sales. These partnerships are typically entered into after an affiliate marketing program has been procured and has proven successful. A brand ambassador is essentially a face of your brand, and can help produce regular content highlighting the use of your company or products.

Brand ambassador programs are successful in a wide variety of industries and niches, and they frequently deliver well on ROI. The existence of discount codes that further incentivize sales for both the influencer and the potential customer is one of the greatest assets of brand ambassador programs.

How to Measure the ROI of Your Instagram Influencer Marketing

Now that the Instagram influencer marketing campaign is over, it’s time to measure the results. Below are some common ways in which marketers measure the activities of the influencers that they work with.

Measure engagement / hashtags / click throughs

In this case, you’ll make use of analytics and social listening tools.

Engagement is measured primarily with likes, shares, and comments or their equivalent on other platforms. Hashtags are measured using social listening tools, while click throughs can be numbered using cookies and unique URLs.

Further Reading: The 7 Best Instagram Engagement Rate Calculators

This one’s pretty easy. Discount codes and affiliate links are easily logged through your website, and the results can be tabulated for the marketing department. Sales will also get a good look at how Instagram influencer marketing affects conversion rates.

With influencer-created content, compare cost and effectiveness

Keep track of how much money the content is costing your company overall. This should include commission or content fees, freebies, and staff resources. Now compare the cost and effectiveness of influencer-generated content with your internal content or agency expenses.

Once you have determined the extent to which your Instagram influencer marketing was successful, you’ll want to compare numbers on an influencer-by-influencer basis. If an influencer didn’t provide great value for money, then you should consider making adjustments the next time. After a while, the ROI will improve as you work more and more with higher-performing influencers while bringing new influencers aboard to replace under-performing collaborators.


Instagram influencer marketing may seem daunting when you start out. Fortunately, by applying the knowledge I provide in this guide, your brand can join the thousands that are already reaping the benefits.

Have you been using Instagram for influencer marketing yet? Would love to hear about your experiences!

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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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