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How engagement rates can predict TRUE reach on Instagram

Marketer & Fortuneteller

Managing influencer marketing campaigns is tough work on the best of days. Endless moving parts, missed deadlines, demanding clients and sometimes equally demanding influencers. It would drive a lesser person mad. But you are an unflappable super-marketer so you got this!

As you know a major aspect of marketing is forecasting. You create reports that compare what happened during a campaign, to what you thought would happen.

How do you currently forecast the results of your influencer marketing campaigns?  Do you take the total number of followers and apply some small percentage of "Call to Action" (0.0001%)? Do you predict how each influencer will perform?  How do you use those predictions to select the best influencers? 

Rejoice, it is possible to predict how an influencer's content will actually perform on Instagram. And we have the data to prove it!

In this article I am going to cover:

  • the difference between Instagram followers vs. actual reach on Instagram
  • factors that contribute to this difference
  • and how you can use engagement rates to predict how your Instagram influencer will perform

NOTE: we are going to use actual Instagram Insights Data from a real campaign to illustrate these points so you are going to want to read along.

Instagram Followers vs True Reach

Back in the summer of 2016 Instagram (by then owned by Facebook) made a decision that would change everything, for everyone, forever!

Instead of users viewing the post of those they follow in chronological order Instagram switched to an algorithm-driven feed, “ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most”.

Instagram felt that this change would ensure that the best content would “be waiting for you when you wake up”. While this may indeed be true let’s not lose sight of what this change ultimately means: Instagram now controls what post people see. Just because you are following someone does not mean that you will be served their latest post. Especially if you don’t scroll deeply into your feed.

The truth is that a mystery Instagram algorithm is determining if/when a post is served to the followers of that person. This means that only a fraction of a creator’s followers could be seeing their content. Yet, most creators are signing campaign contracts based on follower count. Brands are wasting money trying to reach followers who may never see their #sponsored post.

Why influencer's rarely reach 100% of their followers 

Fake Followers

If you haven’t read my previous blog on influencer fraud I encourage you to check it out. The bottom line is, Instagram fraud is very real and very easy to perpetrate. During my research I found several services that could instantly give someone 10,000 fake Instagram followers for as little as $150.00. When you think about the money some influencers are charging based on their follower count it is pretty easy to see how buying fake followers is a tempting trick that many, many, many, influencers fall prey to.

Instagram's Algorithm 

We have established the existence of an Instagram algorithm that determines how content is shown to users. Instagram analyzes an account's previous post to determine who (if anyone) will want to see their newest post?

The exact variables that go into this algorithm are a better kept secret than the Colonel's 11 herbs and spices. Despite the secrecy we can be pretty sure that engagement (Likes + Comments) are critically important factors. The Instagram algorithm uses engagement on someone's previous post as a signal that people will want to see future post. Accounts with high historical engagement are favoured by the Instagram algorithm.

Smart marketers have always assumed that hight engagement rates mean that an influencer is reaching more of their audience....but now Socialpeeks has data to prove it.

Let’s look at the actual Instagram data from a real campaign so you can see for yourself. Throughout this article I am going to focus on metrics I believe to be critical to Influencer Marketing:

  • True Reach: How many people on Instagram actually see a piece of content
  • True Reach % = [True Reach / follower count] x 100

Instagram Influencer Fortunetelling

Engagement Rates Predict Instagram Reach

At Socialpeeks we use our FREE Instagram Analyzer to evaluate Instagram accounts before we do deeper Instagram Insights driven analysis. After dozens of influencer campaigns we have noticed that there appears to be a correlation between engagement rate percentages AND true reach on Instagram.

To examine true reach on Instagram we will be using organic Instagram Insights data from a recent health and wellness campaign executed by Socialpeeks. None of these posts were boosted with paid promotion. We are simply looking at the Instagram Insights for organic posts from each influencers account.

(This research is possible because allows marketers to create a private-secure connection directly to the Instagram accounts of the influencers they hire).

The influencers in this campaign were all recruited to create original post showcasing a new health beverage. Influencers all live in the same country and were given the exact same product to promote, and published their post over the same 3 week period.

This campaign recruited 10 influencers who’s follower count ranged from a max of 60,923 to a low of 425. The average follower count across all 10 influencers was 10,701.

Here is the complete list of the campaign influencers. The first column shows Reach Rate which means how many Instagram accounts saw their campaign post(s) as a percentage of their Followers.

ER vs % Reach

 (Note: someone could reach more than 100% of their follower count because it was discovered by people who don't follow that account...which is awesome).

The second column is engagement rate which is calculated by taking their average likes and comments divided by their Follower Count. 

There is a clear pattern here, Influencers with higher engagement rates reached a higher percentage of their Followers on Instagram than those that had low engagement rates.

In fact there is a very strong correlation of (0.78) between Engagement Rates and True Reach on Instagram. 

Below you can see 3 influencer examples and their engagement rates as calculated by the Socialpeeks Instagram Analyzer.

Influencer A with only 1,353 followers reached 117% of their audience also had the highest engagement rate at 17.5%

Small Influencer (5)

Influencer B with 8,970 followers reached 43% of their audience had an engagement rate of 5.2%.

Mid Influencer
Influencer C with 60,000 followers only reached 2000 people with their campaign post and have an abysmal engagement rate of 0.5%.
Large Influencer (Ver 2) (2)

IMPORTANT: our research has shown that influencers with higher follower counts can have lower engagement rates and still have high TRUE reach. For example, an engagement rate of 9% is good for an influencer with 10,000 followers but an influencer with 100,000 and an 4% engagement rate will also reach a significant percentage of their followers. 

The easiest way to select the best influencer is to use the Engagement dial on our Instagram Analyzer.  This shows you how the engagement rate on the account you are analyzing compares to other accounts of a similar size. 

When the needle is in the Green that is the single best predictor that an influencer will reach a significant portion of their followers (as verified by the Instagram Insights). 

NOTE: With the news that Instagram is removing like count from the app it is important to know that you can still use the Socialpeeks Instagram Analyzer to calculate engagement rates even after Instagram removes the Like counts.


Marketers need to be aware that Instagram’s Algorithm plays a major factor in who sees content on Instagram. Simply having followers is NOT enough.

How do you know if you are getting good value from your Instagram influencer campaign? We know that Instagram influencers frequently negotiate their rates based on their follow size. We also know that follower count on its own is a very unreliable metric. So what can marketers do?

  1. Pay close attention to an Instagram accounts average engagement rates. This number can be a predictor of true reach on Instagram. The easiest method is to select influencers who rank high on our Instagram Analyzer.
  2. Demand access to an influencers Instagram Insights. This is the truest information about their account and you deserve to see them. Either demand screen shots from their phone or use Socialpeeks which creates a private secure bridge between marketers and the Instagram accounts of the influencers they hire. Either way you deserve to see these numbers. 

Influencer marketing does NOT need to be a guessing game. If smart marketers go beyond the most obvious Instagram numbers they can improve their chances of selecting the influencers who provide their brands the best value.




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