The Numbers Are In: Sponsored vs. Unsponsored Engagement Rates

You’ve seen the studies that show the average engagement rate differences within follower ranges, but none have taken a look into how sponsored posts affect engagement. For the following charts, over 10M Instagram posts were analyzed from more than 200K profiles.

Chart Breakdown: Engagement Rates for Sponsored vs. Unsponsored Posts

To no surprise, the engagement rate decreases for sponsored and unsponsored posts, until about 75K-100K followings. This first chart shows micro-influencers thriving at 25K and under with highest engagement rates for both sponsored and unsponsored posts. They truly have the closest relationship with their followers and can affect purchases.

Between 75K and 100K followers, the engagement trend flips and both sponsored and unsponsored posts begin to increase. However, the unsponsored posts maintain a higher engagement rate, which shows how authenticity for larger influencers is extremely important. At the higher follower count, their audience views them as mini-celebrities and truly appreciate when the influencer posts something real, simply because the influencer actually loves it. (Hint hint: make sure your campaigns are authentic.)


Chart Breakdown: Impressions and No. of Influencers Needed to Generate 100K Engagements

It turns out, the engagement rate is not as simple as once thought! By taking the average rates, we can find the number of influencers needed to reach 100,000 engagements and the associated impressions (per follower range).

Though the engagement rate for follower counts of 5K-10K may be the highest, a campaign would need 423 influencers to generate the same amount of engagements as four influencers at the 1M follower range. Of course the benefit of the micro-influencer is, again, that their relationship with their followers is much closer than the influencer at 1M followers. So the important ROI of purchases/subscription/etc. of the 100K engagements may ultimately be higher due to the trust level and friendship feeling the followers have with the smaller influencers (i.e. higher conversion rates).

Over 400 influencers can seem like a daunting number for coordination. That is where real world events, micro-events or larger events, come in to play. You can host eight mid-level events across the country and fill the event with micro- influencers; you can hire 40 influencers to host their own micro-events with their influencer friends; or of course you have have a few large launch style events filled with influencers. These events will add to the authenticity of the posts from the influencers and increase the engagement from their followers, your consumers.


Chart Breakdown: Influencer Cost/100K Engagements

Campaign cost factors include shipping, staff time, events, etc., but for this purpose we focused on the average cost for influencer payouts. This graph assumes the average influencer payment of $1,000 per post, per 100k followers.

When looking at only influencer payments, influencers between 500K and less than 1M are the most expensive for their engagement. This is most likely due to one of two factors: (1) the fact that they are on the brink on mini-celeb status but have not reached it yet, so they have not hit celeb-status engagement, (2) their followers know that many of their posts are sponsored and don’t have full trust in their recommendations since they know the influencer is a professional influencer. That doesn’t mean their followers don’t like the influencer, they still follow them for inspiration, style guides, and overall aesthetics. At this level, it is all about brand awareness and helping your brand have the “cool kid” image.

For any of these levels the cost will vary, pending the influencer, the ask, the product, and anything else that goes into a campaign. If you are spending the money on events, the influencer payments will go down. If you are seeding product that doesn’t fit the influencer’s channel, the cost will go up for the reason of lower engagement due to inauthenticity, and due to the influencer requesting higher pay since they know the product won’t fit their channel.

Final Considerations

While developing a campaign, consider your ultimate goal. Do you want hundreds of pieces of content that can be re-purposed for other marketing material? Is staff time a major cost for you and you only want to work with four larger influencers? What about other cost factors for you? Shipping, product availability, product costs? There is a lot to think about when planning your next influencer marketing campaign, and we are here to help with the planning.

To learn more about our insights and analytics, our turnkey influencer marketing campaigns, or just more about XOMAD in general, please contact us at the below.


Nichole Brandt
VP of Influencer Marketing and Insights
Categories: Insights
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