What is an Instagram Influencer and How to Work With Them

According to many experts, Instagram is one of the best places for influencer marketing. After all, Instagram has a huge user base, and the visual content formats lend themselves well to this kind of activity. Not only that, but for many influencers who do paid promotions, Instagram is the most popular platform.

But all of this begs the question: what is an Instagram influencer, anyway? And how should we work with them on branded collaborations? Let’s take a look at this topic in depth.

What is an Instagram influencer?

What is an Instagram influencer?

Instagram influencers are a diverse group of people. Depending on the niche, you can have people of any age, nationality, or walk of life. Personal interests cover the spectrum of pursuits, from travel and cars all the way to cooking or crafts. In addition, people can be influencers for either business or personal subjects.

That being said, if we were take a look at the different types of people that end up working with brands, I would break them down as follows:

Instagram users recognized by others as having influence

What do these people have in common? Influence. When asking what is an Instagram influencer, the simplest answer is that they are recognized by other users as having an influence on their niche areas. For instance, there are a lot of people who talk about the greatest restaurants that they’ve ever visited. Other foodies listen to those restaurant reviews and it helps them decide which ones to try.

Similarly, a lot of fashion models talk about their favorite clothing brands, or the best business suit they’ve ever worn. As with the food influencer, these models help people decide which clothing to buy, and which ones to pass up. Here’s the thing: people learn to trust the judgement of influencers over time, and they buy products and services in response to these recommendations. This is a level of trust that takes time to build up.

Brands reach out to them for collabs

Another hallmark of most successful influencers is that brands ask them to collaborate. These collabs could be as simple as a single piece of branded content that’s posted to the influencer profile, or as complicated as a co-branded product line. These often involve an influencer designing something for the brand. For one example of product-based collaborations, look at this Adidas collaboration with Stella McCartney.

If you were curious, you could do a search for #ad or #sponsored on any given social network to get a feel for which users are already collaborating with brands. Be careful, though: Influencer wannabes often post fake sponsored content.

They get a lot of following or engagement when they post

Why do brands seek out these partnerships? Because it’s highly effective. A lot of people will see the sponsored content produced by influencers, as their opinion matters to a significant following. In addition, the postings will likely get shared, liked, and commented on over time. As a piece of user-generated content, influencer material is usually seen in the organic feed. All of these things help brands cut through the noise and reach customers more easily than they would otherwise.

How to measure Instagram influence?

How to measure Instagram influence?

Part of understanding what is an Instagram influencer is knowing how to measure influence. After all, there are a lot of different metrics that can be useful to marketers. Generally speaking, you will always use these numbers to get an idea of how effective an influencer can be. In addition, some of these factors, as specifically applied to your campaign, will help measure its success.

Follower count

With follower count, the metric is relatively easy. This is the number of people who follow a particular Instagram account. About the only things to watch out for with this one are fakes and various duplicates. The number of commercial accounts that follow an influencer can indicate their interest in sponsorships.


Next, look at the likes on each post. Most good analytics software will give you totals, individual post metrics, and averages. Typically, you’ll look at the averages and individual posts. Totals aren’t quite as useful, because the numbers may get distorted over time.


With comments, you’ll look at the number of comments on the average post. Since comments are the most time-consuming type of engagement on a non-shopping post, they demonstrate significant commitment to what an influencer is saying. If there’s a conversation centered around a post, so much the better.

Engagement rate

Finally, take a look at the engagement rate. This metric counts likes and comments, as well as shares. Essentially, when you ask what is an Instagram influencer, you’ll have to include the extent to which someone’s posts get higher engagement rates in your answer. That’s because if people don’t like or comment, they’re unlikely to be paying attention to that person’s opinion on products, services, or many other things.

Types of Instagram Influencers

Types of Instagram Influencers

Now that we understand what is an Instagram influencer, it’s important to know the different types of influencers which can be found on the platform. Knowing them will help determine which ones are the best for a given type of collaboration. It will also help determine compensation levels and other parts of the deal, as appropriate. In a nutshell, we determine types of influencers based on their follower count and level of brand affinity.

Classifying Instagram influencers purely by their follower count is what led to the rise of both Instagram influencer marketing as well as those who dupe businesses by buying fake followers in order to be seen as an influencer. That is why I developed my own way of classifying influencers based on brand affinity in The Age of Influence.

Let’s look at both types:

By Follower Count

First, let’s take a look at Instagram influencer types by the number of followers. Here, we’re only looking at the number they have on Instagram. This is because when we collaborate the intended audience is their Instagram followers, and not a combination of followers over multiple platforms. Just be sure they don’t have fake followers.


This term typically conjures up images of household names like Tom Cruise, Colin Kaepernick and Elton John. However, that’s not what we mean here. On Instagram, a celebrity influencer is one that has over a million followers. They can be celebrities on Instagram only or, in some cases like Kim Kardashian, a celebrity both online and in real life.

Macro influencer

Macro influencers are very popular on social media, with a following of 500,000 to about a million people. These guys aren’t as famous as a celebrity influencer, but they are also more effective. Why? Because a lot of people follow celebrities to see what they have to say. However, they might not engage or purchase products for a large variety of reasons. Macro influencers have a big audience, but it’s more targeted.

Micro influencer

Most experts say that micro influencers have 10,000 followers to 499,000. Some of us divide this category in two, with a “middle influencer” as 50,000 to 499,000. Either way, this group of influencers has a very targeted audience. It used to be that 10,000 influencers was the least you could have in order to get sponsorships.

Nano influencer

Nano influencers are the ones who have 1,000 to 9,999 followers. We used to ignore these guys, but we’ve found that they have insanely high engagement rates. They also often work for very cheap. If you’re trying to reach niche audiences, they’re a solid choice.

By Brand Affinity

Next, we can classify influencers by their affinity with a given brand. Keep in mind, unlike follower numbers this is something that changes for each brand considered.

Employees/Partners/Brand Ambassadors

This is a relatively diverse group of people, but they all have one thing in common: a vested interest in your company. Employees and partners typically draw a large portion of their salary from your company, so they’ll do anything to promote it. Brand ambassadors are influencers where the idea is for their personal brand to grow with your commercial brand. A lot of beauty and cosmetic companies use this technique. One example is Julia Roberts promoting a certain perfume, which she’s been doing for years.


Next are the customers. These influencers are important because they’ve bought your product or experienced your service. Customers talking about experiences was in some ways the original answer to what is an Instagram influencer. As people talked about their positive experiences to their friends, people started buying the best. Think of this as the intersection of product reviews and celebrity marketing.


One thing that people do with brands they like is follow them on social media. In particular, and influencer might follow your brand because they might want to do a collaboration with you. Influencers and ordinary users alike follow brands to hear about the latest product improvement or release. What’s not to love?

Mentioners and Taggers

Finally, there are the people who mention you. This can be done for several reasons, such as to get customer service. Getting mentioned can involve a rave review, customer complaint, or anything in between. Taggers often do this to call attention to the use of a product or enjoyment of a service.

While businesses have over-emphasized follower count, most brands have under-utilized celebrating the voice of their customer or those that have hidden brand affinity for them in social media.

No matter the type, understanding what is an Instagram influencer is key to designing the latest campaign. Depending on your goals, any of these influencer types can deliver quality results.

Further Reading: AI and Virtual Influencers: What is Their Role in Influencer Marketing? (with examples)

How much do Instagram influencers make?

How much do Instagram influencers make? iPhone calculator

Interestingly enough, the compensation levels for influencers is somewhat unclear. Much of it depends on the negotiations between influencers and brands, although some guidelines apply. For many influencers, prices are somewhat fluid while others have set prices that you must meet in order to earn the collaboration. Macro influencers and celebrities are the most famous for this.

However, these days there are some guidelines. Many influencer marketing experts recommend paying $100 per 10,000 followers for a one-off Instagram post. This would mean a single picture that’s posted. Pricing will always be higher if you want Stories, IGTV, or a series of photos. For the last item, the base rate would be multiplied by the number of frames purchased. Most brands also reward influencers by giving them free product. This is especially good if you want them to create tutorials and similar content.

Finally, let’s talk about Instagram influencer calculators. The Wild West nature of influencer marketing has inspired professionals to find a cut and dry way to price influencer marketing services. One way to do this is with influencer calculators. Some are based on the $100 per 10,000 rule, while others are more sophisticated. I did a post a while back that tested nine of these. About the only commonality was that everybody came up with a different valuation for my services.

So what’s the takeaway? While it’s always important to keep fairness in mind, the best advice I can give is to decide what a given influencer is worth to you. Some will work for as little as free product, while others charge millions of dollars. At the end of the day, you want to ensure maximum impact and an excellent ROI.

Like anything else in business or in life, the more you work with Instagram influencers the more you will have the data to understand the “market price” for collaborating with them.

How to work with Instagram influencers

How to work with Instagram influencers

Now that you understand what is an Instagram influencer, let’s talk about the basics of working with them. Your most important tool is communication. Here’s how to put it all together.

Begin a program to embrace them

First, it’s important to have a specific influencer marketing program. This is more than just a line item in your marketing budget and some staff time. Instead, you want to make influencers feel welcome in your brand community. In addition, it’s critical that influencers feel like a valued part of the team. Doing so will help recruit and retain influencers.

Reach out and have a talk about how to collaborate

Once you have identified the right influencers for your brand, it’s time to reach out. For Instagram, this will often begin with engaging their posts. Then, send a private message and introduce yourself. Based on this discussion, you can gauge their interest in collaborating with you. You might also walk away with some ideas.

Be clear in what you are looking for in a relationship and what you have to offer

During your conversations, it’s important that influencers understand what’s in it for them. If you have a well-defined program, tell them how it is run. Sometimes it’s advantageous to recruit an influencer for your program before you need to design a collaboration with them. This can be done for a variety of reasons, such as increased flexibility.


Finally, collaborate with your influencer. Whether this is a one-off awareness campaign or an ambassador engagement, influencers are an important part of your marketing team. Remember, with influencer campaigns there’s a lot of room for creativity. They are the experts on their audiences, so within the limits of corporate policy and FTC rules, have fun.

Understanding what is an Instagram influencer is key to any modern marketing program. Fortunately, with this quick guide and some creativity, you can reach both your main customer base and buyer groups you never thought possible.

Does this properly answer the question I posed on what is an Instagram influencer? Would love your feedback in the comments so that I can better improve this post. Thanks!

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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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