Beyond Vanity Metrics: Sourcing Influencers For Relevance

Image by Matt Nelson (Unsplash)

Influencer marketing, while often used, can still fall short of expectations and the pain that comes with it gives everyone involved the not-so-useful superpower of 20/20 hindsight. 

Things begin simply enough, with a client’s directive of “find us someone to represent our brand and its image while driving sales.” A campaign then ensues, with likes and comments coming along, but seemingly not as much conversion as estimated. Why then, do campaigns not do as well as initially thought?

Much data points towards influencer marketing’s effectiveness over other channels, saying 80% of marketers find it to be the better way to go. To reinforce this trend, more numbers show 65% of budgets for influencer marketing are set to increase in 2020. This is because, at its best, social media has the ability to engage people in a meaningful, personal way and to reach out to vast and previously distant audiences.

The uptake in demand for influencers is accompanied by an increase in their number as well ー the pool of influencers to select gets wider with every year. So, it can be a growing challenge for marketing teams to sift through the extensive list of metrics to know if their social media campaigns have been effective. On the surface, we’re able to see likes and comments, though having them be the measure of a campaign’s success is not enough.

Why look past vanity metrics

Often referred to as ‘vanity metrics’, an abundance of likes, comments and follower count are not data points that add much value to businesses because they are not be-all-end-all predictors of a successful campaign or indicators of a low-reach effort.

A profile of, say, 300,000 followers, can have an engagement rate of 3%, close to a whopping 10,000 likes on every post. Some may understandably think that engaging them then and there will surely lead to the best results; a deeper look is needed at whether the influencer is suitable or whether their rate of engagement is exceptional at their follower count.

After all, selecting influencers for effect and ROI is the end goal for businesses. As talent scouts, the intention is to look for high engagement rates in an influencer’s respective follower tier or bracket. In simple terms, it is how well they keep their audiences glued to their content as they continue growing in followers. 

Bigger is not always better

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Influencers are tiered according to the size of their following, as in the chart above. For example, one with 5,000ー20,000 followers is considered a micro-influencer, and having 20,000ー100,000 followers puts them in the mid-tier. 

Then there is engagement ー the most highly used measure of an influencer’s sway over a percentage of their following. It is the percentage of followers that leave likes and comments over their entire posting history. From experience, when accounts have fewer followers, more of their audience is engaged. According to Hype Auditor, 2.84% is the average Instagram engagement rate.

Inevitably, these rates drop when an influencer gains popularity and following outside of their initial audience, as there are only so many people they can know intimately and therefore have much more influence over. The influencers more likely to convert an audience will tend to maintain this gold standard of audience attraction. From experience, a micro-influencer can surprisingly still maintain up to 10-15% in engagement rates, which is 5 times the estimated average of 2.28%.

What the chart doesn’t show are those percentages converted into numbers. For instance, 10% engagement from a micro-influencer with 30,000 followers is still 3,000, about the same as 2% of one with 80,000 followers. With this, it is possible for an influencer of a smaller following to have the same impact and conversion rates as a larger one.

Social media isn’t meant to feel like advertising, to tie back to why it was created in the first place. At its core, it is still a place for people to be engaged through content that amuses, relaxes, informs or entertains.

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Source: Technorati Digital Influence Report

From the Technorati Digital Influence Report, it’s seen that there is a sweet spot that comes before less and less of an influencer’s followers stay engaged, as they lose relevance with increased “stardom”. 

 Relevance and niche

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People have always tended to trust others who are like them. Engaging with influencers who cater to a close and receptive niche can have far greater results than one whose posts are meant for a wide but wrong audience.

With more taking on the title of influencer, content has collectively increased in diversity, meaning more niches to cater to. Matching an influencer’s audience to a brand’s target demographics should take priority over simply judging suitability by size of following. 

It is possible to engage an influencer to convert audiences outside of their own niche, as long as there is a possibility of overlap between the brand’s target audience. This is where the influencer’s content can have the effect of bringing two groups with separate interests together.

For example, a food-based influencer takes time to show followers a new recipe they’ll find exciting and suitable for their next dinner with family or a night in with friends. A cook, beyond kitchen tools, could also need a pair of reliable headphones in and out of the kitchen

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Through content that combines the use of the two previously unrelated contexts, their followers will see a connection and be just as interested in listening to good quality music as they are in wanting to eat good food.


As influencers increase in number, demand for influencer marketing grows larger with it, as seen in dedicated marketing budgets. 

However, as we reach for influencers with larger followings, it is critical to find balance between their reach against engagement and relevance – all to make our resources go their farthest.

By Hongrui Chin, Public Relations Executive, Mustard Tree Communications

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