Analysis: Influencer engagement rates have plummeted – but there's 'no need to panic'

Influencer engagement rates have nosedived in the past year, particularly among those with larger follower bases. The drops are being driven by Instagram’s move to hide likes, and one expert believes it’s not a bad thing.

Changes to Instagram has resulted in influencer engagement rates dropping
Changes to Instagram has resulted in influencer engagement rates dropping

Influencer engagement rates have plummeted by an average of 10 per cent in the past year, according to new research by influencer analytics tool HypeAuditor.

In the UK, engagement rates dropped between five per cent – for influencers with followers of 5,000 to 20,000; and 21 per cent – for influencers with more than a million followers. The other categories had engagement rate drops in the mid-teens (see third chart below).

HypeAuditor chief executive Alex Frolov told PRWeek the drops are being driven by Instagram’s decision to hide likes, which disproportionately impacts “mega-influencers” who benefit from what he calls “like momentum”.

“Celebrities and influencers benefited from like momentum, meaning a user may like their post because they see a high like count and join in,” Frolov said.

“Getting rid of this mob mentality reduced the engagement influencers have on their content.”

In the UK, where likes were not hidden, the engagement rate of "mega-influencers" increased marginally compared to other countries where likes were hidden (see above).

Another factor impacting the engagement rate is rising popularity of Instagram Stories versus Instagram's feed.

Marketers have regarded engagement rates as an important metric of an influencer campaign’s success because it provides an indicator of whether an audience is interacting with a campaign.

In reality, engagement rates can easily be artificially inflated if influencers buy likes, comments or use comment pods.

Ogilvy UK head of influence, Rahul Titus, told PRWeek he has noticed a drop in engagement rates across a lot of influencer work for clients in the past year and the overall findings of the HypeAuditor study ring true.

“I’m not convinced it is as high as this report, but we are seeing it and it varies by sector and type of influencer. It’s something that has been going on for a while now,” Titus said.

The categories with historically higher rates, including food, travel and beauty have “self-corrected” the most, bringing them closer to the average across the industry, while categories with typically lower engagement rates have dropped more marginally. Titus has noticed drops of between 0.5 and 1.2 percentage points across different categories.

‘Not a bad thing’

Titus told PRWeek the drop in engagement rates is not a bad thing, because he believes using vanity metrics to determine success is poor practice.

“Influencer marketing should be measured by business outcomes and not campaign outputs,” he said. “I don’t understand what all of the panic is about, to be blunt. We’ve always tried to get our client to move away from vanity metrics such as likes, comments, etcetera.

“This drop has not affected a lot of our clients as much as this industry seems to be reacting to it.”

Titus said that Ogilvy encourages clients to focus on the role influencer marketing plays in the broader marketing mix, rather than as a channel in isolation.

He explained: “It’s about taking influencer marketing away from being a silo, where you are looking at engagement rate as a metric for success, to influence being an integrated channel, where you are looking what impact influence is driving, [whether] it is sales or an increase in brand uplift, or consideration. Those are more important metrics.”

As influencer marketing grows up, he believes measurement has to become more consistent with mature marketing channels.

In other words, focus less on vanity metrics – such as the engagement rate – and more on business outcomes.

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