How Follower Count and Authenticity Impact Influencer Marketing Success

The influencer marketing industry is a booming sector, projected to reach a staggering $21.1 billion in 2023, a five-fold increase in just half a decade. This explosive growth has not only placed influencer marketing at the forefront of digital advertising strategies but also sparked debates about how to optimize influencer content creation and engagement effectively.

Two recent studies published in the Journal of Marketing“Influencer Marketing Effectiveness” and “Finding Goldilocks Influencers: How Follower Count Drives Social Media Engagement” provide critical insights into these debates. They delve into the intricacies of balancing follower count, content authenticity, and brand familiarity to maximize the impact of influencer marketing campaigns.

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When increases in followers lead to a drop in engagement

Traditional wisdom in the influencer marketing realm often links a higher follower count with greater marketing power.

Yet, the study “Finding Goldilocks Influencers: How Follower Count Drives Social Media Engagement” by Simone Weis, Alexander Bleier, and Alexander Edeling, challenged this viewpoint; uncovering a fascinating inverted U-shaped relationship between an influencer’s follower count and audience engagement.

While initial increases in follower count boost engagement, the study finds that there is a point of diminishing returns – a threshold at which further increases in followers lead to a drop in engagement.

The researchers calculated the total number of likes and the cost per like for influencers with varying degrees of followers, ranging from 10,000 to 3 million, for a contractual agreement of one post per influencer. They used an equation to predict the number of likes per post for each influencer type, and then used cost data to estimate the cost per post for each type of influencer.

They also factored in uniform management costs of $1,000 per influencer, which covers the resources needed to acquire, instruct, advise, and monitor an influencer. Additionally, they considered a scenario where an extra $1,000 is allocated for management costs for influencers with very low (10,000 followers) and very high (1 million or more followers) numbers of followers. This accounts for the additional resources required to guide less experienced influencers or to compensate those with celebrity status.

With this data, they could then compute how many influencers could be contracted for the campaign, how many posts the campaign would feature, and the total number of likes these posts would generate. They could also determine the corresponding cost per like.

Weis was quoted by the American Marketing Association as saying, “One of our most surprising findings is that we observed an inverted U-shape between follower accounts and absolute engagement with a post or a story that an influencer publishes on Instagram. So that means that at some inflection point, engagement decreases, and it might be bad having that many followers if the influencer or advertiser seeks to optimize engagement.”

For marketers, this is significant as it suggests a way to quantify the return on investment for influencer marketing campaigns. It also highlights the need to consider management costs and the additional resources required for influencers at both ends of the follower count spectrum. By considering both the number of likes (a measure of engagement) and the cost per like, marketers can better evaluate and compare the cost-effectiveness of influencers with different follower counts. It can help guide decisions about how to allocate budget most effectively within an influencer marketing campaign.

Influencer originality

Delving deeper into these nuances, the study “Influencer Marketing Effectiveness” extends the understanding of the complex interplay between influencers, their followers, and campaign effectiveness. The study underlines the importance of influencer originality, balanced influencer activity, and appropriate follower-brand fit.

It suggests that posts about existing products are more effective than those announcing new product launches, adding another layer to the strategic considerations of content creation.

Brands need to be strategic

In this fast-evolving digital landscape, these findings are invaluable for brands and influencers alike. Brands need to be strategic in their influencer selection, leaning not just on follower count but also on influencer authenticity and campaign specifics. There is merit in considering both micro-influencers, with their personalized interaction, and macro-influencers with a broader reach, depending on campaign goals. However, an optimal balance seems to be struck with influencers having approximately 1.1–1.9 million followers.

For influencers, the studies recommend practices that foster authenticity and maintain follower engagement. They suggest customizing content for different audiences, maintaining a regular but non-saturating posting schedule, and achieving balanced positivity in posts.

These studies illustrate that the most effective influencer marketing strategy goes beyond just the numbers. It is a delicate balancing act, taking into account a multitude of factors from follower count to content authenticity and brand familiarity. As the industry continues to grow, understanding and implementing these findings can pave the way for more successful influencer marketing campaigns in the future.

Marketing managers and influencers need a strategic approach

The sector necessitates a thoughtful and strategic approach from both marketing managers and influencers. Managers should focus their efforts on prioritizing the engagement of influencers with authentic voices. Tailoring the content to individual influencers, rather than using standardized scripts, increases the sense of authenticity, which is key to engaging audiences. The effective use of both micro and macro-influencers within a campaign, capitalizing on the unique strengths of each, can maximize the reach and depth of engagement.

For influencers, it is important to recognize that the effectiveness of their platform may decrease after crossing a certain threshold of followers. To counteract this, influencers should tailor their content to different audiences, ensuring a personalized and relevant engagement. Maintaining a balanced posting schedule and the right degree of positivity can enhance authenticity and connection with followers. The overarching takeaway from both perspectives is that the key to success in influencer marketing lies in balancing a multitude of factors, from follower count to content authenticity and brand familiarity. This intricate juggling act determines the true return on investment in this booming industry.


  1. Wies, S., Bleier, A., & Edeling, A. (2023). Finding Goldilocks Influencers: How Follower Count Drives Social Media Engagement. Journal of Marketing87(3), 383–405.
  2. Leung, F. F., Gu, F. F., Li, Y., Zhang, J. Z., & Palmatier, R. W. (2022). Influencer Marketing Effectiveness. Journal of Marketing86(6), 93–115.