From Influencers to Influential Users: Letting Instagram Data Tell the Story


Charlie Brook | May 16, 2018

In the age of social media marketing, brands need to leverage not just major influencers, but influential users too, to reach the right target audiences on Instagram.

Social Media Marketing is convoluted. It’s a mess of assuming psychological behaviors and forcing those assumptions into strategies - that may or may not return the conversions your brand is looking for. 

It’s so overwhelming, that it’s not surprising to see a brand pick a basic SM marketing strategy and faithfully stick to it. 

Meanwhile, when you take a look at data from Instagram, you can clearly see the brands who are there to meet their social media quota versus those that have navigated themselves a path to reaching, not just users, but the right users. 

That takes precise analysis, commitment, and, of course, that awesome thing called strategy. 

But luckily, the data is a good place to look for answers. 

From influencers to influential users

We can’t hear enough about influencer marketing. The internet makes it seem like the only way you can get a user to glance at your product is to have a trusted face endorsing it (or give it to them for free). 

But what defines a trusted face these days? Clearly the general public doesn’t need to be sold to by Rihanna to be convinced that a product is good. This point alone is evident in how successful User Generated Content is in increasing conversions

So with this in mind, what strategies are working? The best way to find out, we’ve always found, is through the numbers.

Using our internal Instagram analytics tools, we’ve conducted a study into fashion brands that are using, not just major influencers, but also what we call influential users to reach their target audience. 

By looking at metrics like the number of ‘influential’ users and the average followerships of users posting on a brand’s hashtag, we are assessing the part of Instagram over which a brand has no direct control.

But, through investment on the platform, it also becomes a crucial space for control, if you’ve strategized enough to implement it. 

Here, brands funnel incentives into their marketing strategy to exert some level of control over having the ‘right’ users - or influential users - help them promote their brand through the network. But how effective is this strategy, really? Let’s check out the data. 

Looking at the numbers

For this study, we have assessed 210 fashion and apparel brands with more than 100,000 followers on Instagram. Our brands ranged in size from Intropia, with 102,000 followers, up to Versace, with 10.6 million with an average followership of 1.3 million. 

A diversified group of brands - big, small, luxury, apparel, you name it - allows us to look at any brand who is killing it on Instagram, as the platform gives everyone a chance to dominate. The way it democratizes the fashion industry makes a study of this nature incredibly relevant. 

To measure the number of ‘influential’ users, we set a threshold of more than 8,000 followers on Instagram and an average engagement rate of higher than 2%. 

This threshold opens the study to more than just influencer level users to include those with small-scale influence within their followership. Of course, there are accounts even below this threshold that potentially wear the ‘influential user’ hat, which is something to consider when strategizing. 

To further understand Instagram strategies of specific brands, we calculated the proportion of users posting on a brand’s hashtag who are of ‘influential’ status. As well as recording the total number of users (‘influential’ and ‘normal’) posting on a brand’s primary hashtag. 

All of this data was gathered over a 28-day window from the Instagram API, prior to its deprecation in early April 2018, which has since made a study of this nature impossible.

Getting down to business

First, we take a look at the top 20 brands of our study with the most influential users posting on their hashtag (A). This is complimented by the Proportion of Influential Users or the percentage of users posting on their hashtag being of ‘influential’ status (B).

First thing to note: Daniel Wellington has an extraordinary number of influential users posting on their hashtag. At 3,927 influential users, they score more than double that of Calvin Klein, and more than Bershka, Michael Kors, Tom Ford, Cartier, and Ralph Lauren combined. 

This is a colossal display of Instagram marketing focus. And with even a glance at the DW account, it’s not difficult to understand why.

Seemingly every other post has been taken by a user with a hefty following. The data displays that Daniel Wellington brings their A-Game on Instagram, with 4.1 million followers, a continuous cycle of high-quality customer content, and the success of their online marketplace showing that their strategy can deliver

They even get their massive following to move by implementing the #DWPickoftheDay - because who wouldn’t be thrilled to see that their photo matches up to the cool style of DW?

Image credit: Daniel Wellington 

But the Daniel Wellington success isn’t exactly new information. What is surprising is to see Happy Socks come in at number 8, given that the surrounding brands basically have household name status. 

We can’t ignore that, perhaps, not all of their hashtagged posts are thanks to strong branding, as they do have a fairly generic brand name. It wouldn’t be unimaginable that people #happysocks when talking about funky socks their mom crocheted. In any case, the brand still puts in the work to get this status for themselves. 

Image credit: Happy Socks 

Looking across the proportion of influential users (Plot 1B), we can see that both DW and Happy Socks score far higher than most of the other brands, suggesting that in terms of ‘influential’ users, they are more than pulling their weight. Both brands score almost 19% on this metric, suggesting that almost 1 in 5 of the users posting on their hashtag have ‘influential’ status. 

This is no accident. Our data implies that these brands are heavily investing in Instagram marketing in order to reach these numbers. 

We’ve already seen what DW is up to, and Happy Socks is on the same path. The only difference might be that their ‘influential’ users really do range in influence. 

With followership sizes clocking in even below our threshold, Happy Socks is willing to to take its influence where it can get it. Whereas DW has been playing this game so well for so long, that they have a few bigger fish.

Image credit: Definitely Danni 

Meanwhile, all of the more established brands in this top 20 list score between 1-to-5% for the proportion of influential users. This is what we could call a ‘normal’ range for this particular metric. 

Finally, we cannot ignore the astronomical score that Kapten and Son record on the proportion metric, with almost 40% of the users posting on their hashtag being of ‘influential’ status. This is double that of Daniel Wellington and Happy Socks.

With their lower ranking on the first metric, this proportion metric is startling. We can tell that they’ve been extremely successful in getting influencers to endorse their product - not unlike DW, almost every single shot on their feed is of or by a highly-followed user.

Image credit: Kapten and Son

But with such a drastic difference between number of influential users on hashtag and proportion of influential users, can we assume that their followership of ‘normal’ users haven’t quite taken to their hashtag?

The top 20 brands

Our second plot tells a similar story to Plot 1, but here we use the Proportion of Influential Users as the lead metric (A) followed by the total number of hashtag posts (B) as the supporting metric. 

So this gives us a better idea as to why Kapten and Son are doing so incredibly well for the Proportion metric. Many of the other brands below them have huge proportions (over 30%) because there aren’t that many posts on their hashtag. Kapten and Son are further up there with 1,462 posts, but this relatively small number explains the remarkably high proportion metric. 

The likely story here is that these smaller brands who are focusing a lot of their marketing efforts on Instagram are quickly racking up a high proportion of ‘influential’ users after recruiting just a small number of influencers to post on their hashtag. 

This immediately makes me wonder about those ‘normal’ users who still haven’t quite caught on to joining the community of using their hashtag. We know that ‘normal’ users can be inspired to take to a hashtag. Just look at the accounts of Kanken, Calvin Klein, or once again, all-around Instagram stand-out, Daniel Wellington.

Despite having more than 40,000 posts on their hashtag, they still manage to have the 12th highest proportion of influential users. Meaning, both ‘normal’ users and ‘influential’ users are ready to take part in the DW community. The more the merrier!

What’s more impressive is that with 40,593 hashtagged posts, they have 3 times more posts on their hashtag than the combined total of all of the other brands listed on Plot 2. This continues to reinforce the message that charged Instagram efforts, even after reaching a very respectable scale, can turn around thousands of users willing to post for you. 

Finally, 3 of the top brands who score highly for the Proportion of Influential Users and with more than 1,000 hashtagged posts are watch companies. This metric emphasizes the interpretation that Instagram really is the place for these types of affordable accessory brands. It certainly is an easy item to send to ‘influential’ users, and photos featuring them are infinitely capturable - when is it not appropriate to be wearing a watch?

Image credit: Kapten and Son 

Maybe it’s seeing the major success of Daniel Wellington before them that gets other economical watch brands to push a similar strategy. Whatever the motivation, this plot tells the story of the untapped potential to get Instagrammers to use your hashtag. 

And the next one will tell us just how much their influence matters. 

Do influencers make the difference?

Our last 2 plots take a serious look at what people like on Instagram. Plot 3, which shows the number of likes on a hashtagged posts vs the number of influential users who have posted on the hashtag, doesn’t tell us anything surprising, but it does give us an indication of the strength of an assumed pattern. At a basic level, it shows that the more influential users that a brand has posting on their hashtag, the more likes will be accrued on these posts. These days that’s pretty much a duh.

But the interesting point, however, is the strength of this pattern. The data points sit very close to the line of best fit that describes the model, supporting the assumption that the more influential users that are posting on your hashtag, the more likes a brand will get on their hashtagged posts. 

For you data buffs out there, this visual analysis is backed statistically as well (R Sq = 0.77, DF = 208, P < 0.0001). The closer R Sq is to 1, the better the fit of the data, meaning we can be more certain that influential users = more likes on hashtagged posts.

When we make the same model, but replace the number of influential users with the brand’s followership size, we see a similar pattern (Plot 4). But this time it’s much weaker than before. 

Notice how the points don’t fit closely to the line of best fit, and statistically it’s the same message (R Sq = 0.35, DF = 208, P < 0.0001). This time ‘R Sq’ is equal to less than half that of Plot 1. 

So what does this actually mean?

The comparison of these 2 models tell us that the success of a brand’s hashtag is determined more accurately by a relatively small group of ‘influential’ users who have posted on their brand’s hashtag, as opposed to a mass of more ‘normal’ users who follow a brand, and whom we might expect to post on a brand’s hashtag. 

So, basically, ‘influential’ users really do matter. And based on this quantitative evidence, a brand’s success on Instagram is largely determined by who they associate with. 

But, surprise surprise: who you associate with usually costs money. Whether this is the direct cost of hiring large influencers or the indirect organizational costs of recruiting smaller influencers through free products and relationship building. And again, it makes sense that affordable watch brands or smaller products, like Happy Socks, are able to get more people taking photos for them.

On that note, when you do commit to a specific and well-planned strategy focused on Instagram, you can turn your brand into a community worth investing in where people sell your products for you because they want to use them. And that’s pretty cool for you and your customers. 

What to take home

What this ultimately comes down to is how willing you are, as a brand, to funnel efforts into the belief that social selling is worth the effort. And with this analysis and everything we see from the digital world; the case is strong. 

All signs point to the force of creating a strong social media strategy based on getting people to use your hashtag. And, as it turns out, the most effective way to socially sell really is through influential users.

When you get them to use your hashtag, you get other users on your hashtag, which then creates a new cycle of customer content. We’ve all seen examples of how e-commerce can start a craze and get people obsessed with a brand, so what are you waiting for?

Cover image credit: Daniel Wellington 

Influencers | Social Media