12 Days of Data 2021, Day 2: Instagram for Influencers

12 Days of Data 2021, Day 2: Instagram for Influencers


Welcome to the 12 Days of Data 2021 Edition, our look back at the data that made marketing in 2021. We’re looking at the year that was (and oh, what a year it was… again…) from an analytics perspective to see what insights we can take into the next year. Sit up, get your coffee ready, and let’s celebrate some data and look forward to the year ahead.

Instagram Influencer Engagement for Unpaid Content

On day 2, we look at influencer accounts. Influencers – individuals who can create awareness, build trust, perhaps even incite purchasing – have been a part of Instagram’s landscape since the very beginning. In recent years, they’ve emerged as one of the most powerful forces for marketers to ally with.

Using a curated list provided by Crowdtangle (a Facebook company) and then manually inspected and augmented by Trust Insights, we analyzed a sample size of 10,290 Instagram influencer accounts. Based on that data, we wanted to see what Instagram influencer engagement looked like for 2021.

Before we go further, we define engagement as the number of interactions (reactions, comments, shares) that occurred on an unpaid, unsponsored Instagram influencer post, divided by the number of followers of that Instagram influencer account at the time of posting. For all the computations that follow, we use the median as the measure of centrality, rather than the mean (average) because medians deal better with outliers, especially in large social media datasets.

How have influencers fared on Instagram in 2021?

12 Days of Data: Instagram Influencer Data

Let’s start with the high-level summary. In 2021, influencers had:

  • A median of 171,555 followers on their accounts
  • A median of 1,732 likes on their posts
  • A median of 46 comments on their posts
  • A median engagement rate of 1.26% per post

Put another way, 1 out of every 79 followers engaged in some way with unpaid influencer content.

That number doesn’t tell the whole story, however. Let’s look at how unpaid influencer content performed throughout 2021:

Instagram influencer content through the year

As seen above, the engagement rates for unpaid influencer content has dropped considerably throughout the year, from a January high of 1.7% to a most recent 0.7%. That’s an intra-year drop of -58.8%.

So What?

The news about Instagram influencers’ engagement shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone; what is a surprise is that influencer engagement dropped more on a percentage basis in 2021 than brands did, a first in the three years we’ve been looking at the data. It’s impossible to know the exact reason for the decline, only that it exists.

It could be that as influencers become more prominent, Facebook expects them to pay up for reaching their audiences. That would be unsurprising given Facebook’s track record of what feels like bait-and-switch marketing about their platforms. It could also be that as the space gets more and more crowded, with dozens or even hundreds of prominent accounts on nearly any given topic, there’s simply less attention to go around.

Whatever the reason, there are two key takeaways.

  1. If you’re an influencer (or you aspire to be one), now is the time to diversify. The writing is on the wall for engagement for influencers, at least on Instagram. Unless you have the budget to keep in front of your audience through paid means, it’s time to slowly migrate your audience to someplace else. Ideally, it’s a platform you have more control over, such as a Discord instance, but no matter what, it shouldn’t be solely any property owned by Facebook, Inc.
  2. If you’re a brand engaged in influencer marketing on Instagram, aim to be flexible in any contracts you sign. An influencer who earns great results for you in February may be delivering sub-par results by October depending on market conditions. Consider paying more for performance, rather than just awareness and exposure.

Influencer engagement continues to decline on Instagram, while many creators have moved or are replicating content on YouTube and Tiktok. Survey your ideal customers, your audience, and ensure you’re following them wherever they go.

Methodology Statement

Trust Insights used Facebook’s Crowdtangle software to extract 1,461,599 unique posts from 10,290 influencers on Instagram. The timeframe of the dataset is 1 January 2021 – 30 November 2021. Trust Insights is the sole sponsor of the study and neither gave nor received compensation for data used, beyond applicable service fees to software vendors, and declares no competing interests.


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