What Is an Instagram Influencer, and How Do You Work With One?

Ready to take your marketing to new heights? It may be time to explore Instagram influencer marketing. But what is an Instagram influencer exactly, and how can they help brands get noticed?

These days, social media has completely taken over traditional media and advertising (including television) — and with more than 2 billion active Instagram users each month, there’s a good chance your target audiences are already on the platform.

In fact, of the companies using influencer marketing in 2023, 79% consider Instagram the most essential platform. Meanwhile, studies have shown that influencer marketing can yield a return on investment (ROI) of more than $5 for every dollar spent on a campaign.

It’s clear that influencer marketing is effective and that many brands are already using it to their advantage. But if you’re not sure where to begin with your own Instagram influencer strategy, it may be time to start at square one with this comprehensive guide to Instagram influencers and how to successfully work with them.

Here, we’ll answer the common question of “what is an Instagram influencer, anyway?” and dive into some strategies for success.

Key Takeaways

  • Instagram influencers are those who have built large followings and reputations on the popular social network Instagram, with followings ranging from a few thousand to more than 1 million.
  • Influencers often share products or services in exchange for payment or free products or services from a brand — this is known as influencer marketing.
  • There are five tiers of influencers that can be broken down by an account’s number of followers: Nano-influencers (1,000–10,000), micro-influencers (10k–100K), mid-influencers (100K–500K), macro–influencers (500k–1M), and mega-influencers (>1M).
  • Well-known mega-influencers include Cristiano Ronaldo (540 million followers), Kylie Jenner (379 million followers), and Dwayne Johnson (360 million followers).
  • Brands looking to get started should consider working with nano-, micro-, and mid-tier influencer campaigns due to their smaller budgets but larger reach potential compared to mega-influencers.
what is an instagram influencer

What Is an Instagram Influencer?

Instagram influencers are those who have built large followings and reputations on the popular social network Instagram. Influencers tend to have followings with engaged audiences of anywhere from a few thousand to more than 1 million.

Instagram influencers may have been traditional celebrities before they started on social media — though it’s becoming increasingly common for people to build a following organically on the Instagram platform itself.

Because of their broad audience and reputations, Instagram influencers have a lot of leverage over their followers. As a result, they often share products and/or services with their audiences in exchange for payment or free products or services from a brand. This is known as Instagram influencer marketing.

By working with an Instagram influencer, you can essentially guarantee that your brand or product/service will be put in front of a large target audience and promoted by a trusted social media celebrity.

These influencers can create compelling user-generated content in the form of Instagram posts, reels, and Instagram stories that showcase your brand in a positive light, increase your brand awareness, and boost sales. Often, these sponsored posts will also include relevant hashtags that can increase the visibility of your brand.

Hierarchy of Instagram Influencers

instagram influencers

You’ve probably heard of some of the most popular Instagram influencers, like Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian (both of whom have hundreds of millions of followers). However, the reality is that many Instagram influencers don’t fall into that category. In fact, there are five “tiers” of influencers that can be broken down specifically by an account’s number of followers.


Nano-influencers are Instagram users who typically have between 1,000 to 10,000 followers on the platform. Most often, these people are not “big-time” celebrities but may be influential bloggers, brand ambassadors, or other content creators who have built organic followings in a specific niche.

Usually, influencer marketing is not the primary source of income for these influencers. They may be very choosy about the brands they promote because they have built a great deal of trust with their followers and have established credibility with them.

The great thing about nano-influencers is that this high level of trust and established credibility tends to lead to high engagement rates. By working with someone in the nano tier, you may not reach an audience of millions, but your influencer marketing campaign will likely be more effective with the people you do reach.

Likewise, because of their smaller followings and the fact that influencer marketing isn’t a full-time gig, they tend to be more cost-effective to work with — especially for smaller brands that may not have large celebrity marketing budgets.


The majority of influencers on Instagram are of the micro variety. Specifically, these influencers have between 10,000 to 100,000 followers and make up about half of the influencer market on Instagram, according to Shopify.

Because of their larger followings, working with micro-influencers tends to be costlier than working with nano-influencers. However, the reach can be significantly higher with this type of influencer campaign — especially if your influencer is genuinely involved in your industry or niche areas.


Mid-influencers on Instagram usually have somewhere between 100,000 to 500,000 followers. Typically, these are celebrities or thought leaders who make most of their living off of influencer marketing, so they are regularly promoting different brands or products.

Their large followings tend to make them more expensive to work with, but for some brands, the reach may be worth it because this tier of influencers still has good engagement rates.


Macro-influencers are those with anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million followers on Instagram. Most often, macro-influencers are people who became famous online (though not necessarily on social media directly). Working with a macro-influencer can be costly, but for most brands that want to maximize their reach, this may be a suitable option.

Many macro-influencers are approached for marketing campaigns on a regular basis, however, it may be more challenging to get a deal accepted. For those who want to retain the trust of their followers, it will be extremely important for them to genuinely believe in your brand and/or product before they’ll promote it on Instagram.


Although they actually make up a small share of the influencer pie, most of the influencers you’ve heard of are probably mega-influencers. Specifically, these are people with more than 1 million followers (and sometimes tens or even hundreds of millions). Typically, these are celebrities who were already famous before they opened their Instagram accounts — though this is not always the case.

Mega-influencers have the largest and most diverse audiences, but their personal connections to their followers tend to be weaker. And as you can probably imagine, working with a mega influencer on a campaign is outside of most companies’ budgets. Still, if you are able to strike up a working relationship with one, you can quickly get your brand in front of millions of people.

Who Are the Most Well-Known Instagram Influencers?

Now that you have a better understanding of what an Instagram influencer is and the different tiers of the influencer hierarchy, let’s explore some of the most well-known influencers out there. Who knows? You might even follow some of these celebrities on your own Instagram account.

Cristiano Ronaldo (540 Million Followers)

With more than 540 million Instagram followers (as of January 2023), Cristiano Ronaldo is a Portuguese professional soccer player who plays for both the Portugal national team and the Saudi Professional League. Despite initially gaining popularity as one of the best soccer players in the world, Ronaldo has built an even stronger following with his entertaining and engaging Instagram posts. In addition to posting about soccer, Ronaldo is known for sharing posts about his close-knit family.

Kylie Jenner (379 Million Followers)

First known for her role in the television series “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” Kylie Jenner has built her own massive following on Instagram over the years. She’s perhaps best known for her beautiful photos and aesthetic, and she enjoys sharing insights into her glamorous life on the Instagram platform. She does a lot of promoting of her own cosmetic brand, though she regularly works with other brands as well.

Dwayne Johnson aka “The Rock” (360 Million Followers)

You’ve probably been living under a rock if you haven’t heard of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. This social media influencer got his start as a professional wrestler for the World Wrestling Foundation (WWF) in the mid-nineties. However, in the late nineties and early 2000s, he began making his mainstream television and movie debut. Today, his followers enjoy his posts and reels, which are usually focused on him working out.

How to Find and Work With Instagram Influencers

instagram influencer marketing

If you’re ready to get started with this type of marketing, you may be wondering where to begin. After all, you probably won’t have much luck reaching out to a mega-influencer yourself.

The reality is that many brands dipping their toes into the pool of Instagram influencer marketing will have the best results when they work with nano-influencers, micro-influencers, and even mid-tier influencers. These influencers tend to have a large reach while retaining that important niche connection and credibility with their audiences.

Regardless of your marketing budget or industry, there are a couple of options to consider when it comes to finding and reaching out to potential influencers.

Sign Up for an Influencer Marketing Platform

If you want to streamline the process as much as possible, the easiest route is to use an influencer marketing platform. These platforms can differ greatly in their specific features but generally offer things like campaign management, analytics, and other useful features to help you get the most out of your influencer campaigns. 

Signing up for one of these platforms can also be a great starting point if you’re new to this type of marketing and want a little guidance throughout the process.

So, which platform is right for you? Explore a handful of the most popular Instagram influencer marketing solutions available today, along with some of their most compelling features and differentiators to help you decide.


Known for its comprehensive influencer discovery tools, this platform is useful for matching brands with the most relevant influencers, whether you’re looking to work with micro-influencers, mega-influencers, or anybody in between. Upfluence also offers plenty of features to help brands manage their influencer relationships and even automate campaigns in one easy-to-use platform.

Shopify Collabs

As Shopify’s influencer platform, Shopify Collabs makes it easy to match up with the best influencers and even create custom application pages. Likewise, Shopify Collabs includes affiliate payout integrations, allowing for seamless payments to influencers regardless of compensation structure.


Grin is another popular influencer platform that offers discovery and relationship management tools for companies of all sizes. Whether you’re just starting out with influencer marketing or have existing campaigns, this platform is intuitive and offers plenty of features to help launch and manage campaigns.

Grapevine Village

With tens of thousands of influencers in the Grapevine database, this platform is great for brands looking to use Instagram for influencer campaigns. From finding the ideal influencer to handling payment and tracking performance, you can do it all with this comprehensive tool.


If you’re looking for an influencer platform that is really focused on helping you find influencers to achieve your goals and KPIs, TapInfluence is worth a look. This platform boasts a huge database of influencers with a wide range of filters (including demographics, location, age, and more) that help you narrow down your list of potential partners.

Regardless of the platform you end up using to find the right influencers, it’s important to fall back on your brand’s reasoning for wanting to work with an influencer. What are you hoping to get out of the deal? Perhaps you simply want to leverage the influencer’s reach, or maybe you genuinely want to work with an influencer as a consumer and get their feedback on your product. Ultimately, your best chances of success with influencer marketing begin with choosing somebody who is a good fit for your brand and your goals.

Likewise, it’s important to research an influencer’s engagement rates, as this will be a strong indicator of the kind of performance you can expect on posts about your brand. For those with 1,000 to 5,000 followers, the average engagement rate is around 4.84%, but it drops from there. Instagram influencers with 5,000 to 20,000 followers see 1.7% engagement rates.

Do Your Own Outreach

Once you’ve narrowed down the top influencers you’d like to work with for your campaign, defined your goals/outcomes, and decided on a budget, all that’s really left to do is to reach out. Of course, this can be easier said than done — especially if you’re trying to strike a deal with a huge celebrity influencer.

Generally, the best way to reach an Instagram influencer is actually through email. Most influencers have their own websites, and you can find their email addresses or other contact information either on their websites or directly on their social media platforms. For influencers with a larger follower count, you might even see a link or reference to contact information that’s specific to marketing inquiries. 

When composing a message to an influencer, it’s important to keep your approach as personal and genuine as possible. Take the time to thoughtfully explain why you believe the person would be a great fit for your brand, focusing on shared values or other authentic connections. Make sure you’re clear in your message about what you’re proposing.

This should include details about:

  • What you’re offering in exchange for their posts (money, free products, etc.).
  • What type of content you’re looking for (reels, stories, sponsored posts), and how much.
  • Your specific goals and outcomes as a brand.

Likewise, because Instagram influencers tend to get countless similar messages from brands like yours, it’s a good idea to keep your message short and sweet. This demonstrates that you respect their time. If you don’t receive a response through email or your other chosen method of contact, you may want to consider reaching out via Instagram DM instead.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Influencers Actually Influence Anything?

While many influencers are more celebrities than anything else, the reality is that anybody with a large social media following can have a huge and real influence on others. This includes others’ buying habits and even their personal beliefs. 

What’s the Difference Between Influencer Marketing and Instagram Advertising?

There are many differences between influencer marketing and Instagram advertising. Specifically, Instagram advertising involves paying the social media platform directly to promote a brand’s products and/or services. Paying for advertising on Instagram can help get your brand in front of more people by having your posts show up in Instagram feeds based on a person’s demographics, interests, or other factors. Influencer marketing, on the other hand, is more organic. Brands aren’t paying specifically for blatant advertisements. Instead, brands work with influencers who share a niche or interests to promote products and/or services on their personal pages. Because influencers have large followings, there’s a large potential reach with this social media marketing strategy.

How Do Influencers Get Paid?

Compensation structures for influencers can vary greatly depending on the agreement. Some receive a flat payment for each post they make about the brand, whereas others may be paid only based on the campaign’s performance and/or engagement.

How Many Followers Qualify as an Influencer?

There are five “tiers” when it comes to influencers (nano-influencer, micro-influencer, mid-influencer, macro-influencer, and mega-influencer), and the exact number of followers needed to be considered an influencer can vary depending on who you ask. In general, however, Instagram users with 1,000 followers or more are considered social media influencers.

Wrapping Up

So, what is an Instagram influencer? An Instagram influencer is someone with a large following on the social media platform who can generate revenue through promoting products or brands. The size of an influencer’s following, engagement rate, and reach are important factors in determining their value to brands.

If you’re looking to reach more Instagram users, use the tips in this post to put together a strategy to help get your products or services in front of the right audience.