What’s the most important metric to gauge an influencer’s efficacy?

Influencer marketing in India is a booming business. With the number of collaborations at an all time high and snowballing consistently, identifying an influencer and assessing their worth has become a critical determinant, which, if not done judiciously, thwarts ROI. Experts shed light on the pivotal metrics that hold the key to success.

Harshal Thakur
New Update
Influencer's worth

India is the most populous country in the world. And despite the majority of this population hailing from rural areas–causing lack of penetration–the country has surprisingly managed to foster the most number of internet users. As of 2023, India had 1.24 billion internet users, more than any other country in the world. 

This massive number of internet users largely consume content on social media. The decline in attention span has led to a barrage of short-form content. The growth of Instagram as a video-sharing platform implies the shift of the audience from the long-form-based platform–at least for the majority of its existence–YouTube. Creators no longer need to create full-fledged videos requiring a moderate production value and necessary equipment. The implication? Anyone can become a creator–the basic requirement being reduced to having a smartphone and internet connection. 

The last couple of years have witnessed a significant rise in the number of content creators on social media, particularly Instagram. The number of content creators in India are estimated to be around 3.5-4 million. These are often classified into various buckets such as nano, micro, mega, celebrity, etc. with regards to their number of followers. 

Naturally, the amount of followers and the diverse set of eyeballs this medium is able to harness, attracts attention from brands who seek to capitalise on its potency. As per a recent report, influencer marketing in India is expected to surge by 25% in 2024, reaching INR 2,344 crore, and further expand to INR 3,375 crore by 2026. 75% brands are expected to consider influencer marketing as part of their marketing strategy. 

With the influencer market booming, the opportunities for advertisers and brands to engage with a diverse audience and tap into a niche market have risen exponentially. Especially, when it comes to micro influencers, the followership that they are able to muster is something small scale brands with limited budgets can leverage to a great extent and target a community of people they wouldn't get access to with conventional mediums.  

The flip side of the coin? The ability to gauge audience engagement and the metrics involved differ significantly from traditional mediums. With that, the increase in uncertainty seems inevitable with the increasingly dynamic behaviour pattern of followers. 

Further, brands are often left wondering how to assess the followers of an influencer given the rise in bots and inflated followerships. An analysis by KlugKlug recently revealed that nearly two out of three (58.5 percent) Instagram profiles in India have spurious or fake followers in excess of 60 percent.

This fabricated following can severely affect ROI that a brand has anticipated. Thus, brands are often left to linger on the question: Should the number of followers be relied upon when collaborating with influencers? 

Calculating an influencer’s ‘worth’

Conventionally, brands have been collaborating with celebrities and onboarding them as ambassadors. Celebrity endorsers have been in the game for a long time, and brands and agencies have devised methods for selecting the appropriate brand ambassador. However, influencer marketing as a field is relatively new and understandably has multiple variables at play. 

If you are a brand seeking to collaborate with an influencer and tap into a particular set of audience, what factors would you consider? 

In the case of celebrity endorsers, brands have tangible data regarding a celebrity’s popularity and reach. Public figures have an established image that is well-known and evident in the industry as well as the public. And despite the substantial capital expenditure incurred, a brand is, at the least, sure about gaining attention and drawing eyeballs–whether or not that delivers ROI is a conversation for another day. 

Notwithstanding, when it comes to influencer collaborations, this assurance of certified eyeballs also takes a back seat. Not only are you left to guess an audience’s purchase behaviour in uncharted waters, but there remains uncertainty regarding the number of people that would actually engage with the content, let alone the question of ROI.  

So, how would one calculate an influencer’s worth? 

“Influencer value is increasingly determined by metrics that reflect direct engagement and reach rather than merely follower counts, particularly in markets like India where content relevance strongly influences audience behaviour. For instance, payment for emerging influencers might start from INR 0.2 to 0.3 per view, which can significantly increase based on the influencer's established reputation and the quality of their community interaction,” says Manjul Wadhwa, Founder and Managing Director, Anagram Media Labs.

Wadha further says that factors such as niche authority, content originality, and engagement consistency play crucial roles in setting these rates. “This approach helps brands invest in influencers whose audiences are genuinely engaged and likely to respond to campaign messages, making each collaboration more cost-effective,” he adds. 

Himani Agrawal, Senior Vice President, Product & Analytics, Hypothesis, OML Entertainment, says that factors considered in assessing an influencer’s worth include engagement rates, content quality, audience demographics, platform-specific influence, and authenticity. “Brands need to be aware of these factors and not rely solely on follower count when evaluating influencers. It is about adopting a comprehensive approach beyond just follower count. We also consider past campaign performance, niche expertise, growth trajectory, multi-platform presence, and personal branding,” she adds. 

“It is (an influencer’s worth) mostly determined by a variety of comprehensive measures other than follower count. What is critical to measure an influencer’s effectiveness are past performance in terms of campaign results such as engagement, conversion, sales, brand alignment and general interaction quality,” Agrawal explains. 

There has been a shift in how brands view influencers and the qualities they seek.

“Brands care more about the audience demographics, like having a young, female fanbase, for instance. It's all about finding the right match between the influencer's audience and the brand's target market. That's where an influencer's real worth comes in,” remarks Divyansh Sharma, COO & Founding Member, IPLIX Creator Academy. 

Ramya Ramachandran, Founder & CEO, Whoppl Studio, shares, “Brands measure effectiveness through metrics like likes, comments, shares, conversion rates, and audience sentiment, using advanced analytics tools to track performance. This shift in perception is due to the recognition of fake followers and the importance of genuine interactions.”

“An influencer's worth is determined using various factors and performance measurements to showcase impact, reach, and capability to influence social media viewers. When brands are looking to collaborate with influencers or extend brand reach via influencer monitoring campaigns, it has its goals and audience clearly defined to start evaluating relevant influencers,” remarks Varun Grover, Brand Safety BU Head, mFilterIt.

Mansi Gupta, Chief Business Officer, OpraahFx, points out that an influencer’s prior collaborations and work add to the way they are perceived by brands. “Influencer's value is crucial and is significantly shaped by the kind of brands they collaborate with, as it instantly results in building a notion around them. Additionally, the social groups and communities they are a part of, further add to their credibility,” Gupta remarks, adding, “The lifestyle they lead, the values they uphold, can also align with specific brand philosophies, making them more attractive to potential collaborators. All these elements combined provide a comprehensive picture of an influencer's worth in today's market.”

Vaibhav Gupta, Co-founder and CPO, KlugKlug, says that there has been a shift in influencer marketing in terms of brands' view. “Many D2C, E-com, and cosmetic brands have shifted their marketing focus from brand awareness to performance. Some brands are now engaging with creators on a cost-per-engagement basis, and many have shifted their campaigns to performance-based models, such as cost-per-sale. Although still in the initial phase, there is significant scope for improvement,” shares. 

Followers v/s engagement

For an average social media user, the number of followers of a particular creator might indicate their popularity and showcase their standing among the plethora of creators producing content. A significant number of followers might add to the credibility of an influencer and indicate that they are being liked by netizens. However, when looked at from the lens of a brand, followership might not be the appropriate metric to gauge the success of a potential collaboration with an influencer. 

Thus, engagement–the number of people actually interacting with an influencer’s content–seems like a more credible metric to assess an influencer’s ability to drive brand success. 

On what brands should give more precedence to among the two metrics, Divyansh Sharma has a clear answer. He says, “When deciding between follower count and engagement, brands should focus on engagement. A good rule of thumb is to check if the influencer's content gets at least 60% of their follower count in views. This indicates that their audience is genuinely interested and engaged with their content.”        

Vaibhav Gupta reveals that when deciding on influencers for a campaign, each brand uses different metrics. He says that some aim for more reach and frequency, so they go with mega and macro creators to target a wider audience. “However, the major metric for shortlisting a creator is the engagement rate, which is very basic. I want to emphasise that the quality of followers and the quality of engagement are more important.”

Sharing a similar view to that of Sharma, Ramya Ramachandran, says, “When choosing influencers, brands prioritise engagement over follower count, valuing active and responsive audiences that lead to better conversions. Genuine engagement is indicated by consistent interaction, meaningful comments, and audience alignment with content themes, translating to higher ROI,” 

“Brands should prioritise engagement over follower count. An influencer with a smaller, more engaged audience can be more effective than one with a large, passive following. The decision should be based on the campaign’s goals: for awareness, a high follower count may be useful, but for driving action, high engagement is crucial,” remarks Gautam Madhavan, Founder and CEO, Mad Influence. 

“Prioritise engagement as it is the key to achieving goals, whether it's boosting sales or increasing awareness. Engagement determines the audience who actively interact with the content and the brand,” advises Mansi Gupta. 

Divyansh Sharma holds a similar view that brands should focus on engagement. “A good rule of thumb is to check if the influencer's content gets at least 60% of their follower count in views. This indicates that their audience is genuinely interested and engaged with their content.”

Sharing her advice to brands looking to evaluate influencers based on engagement rather than follower count, Sejal Kumar, Content Creator & Influencer, remarks, "(Brands) should try to see which creators have an audience that is very engaged with their recommendations, their lifestyle and content- if that matches with your product use that tone of voice they have already and work with it to create a campaign together. Dictating the script and how it should be presented won’t help with the campaign to do well!"

A few experts on the other hand, advocate for a balanced approach. 

Himani Agrawal shares that depending on the brand’s goals and target audience, one metric may be more important than the other. She adds, “if a brand wants to increase its visibility and reach a large audience, then reach might be more important, whereas if a brand wants to drive more direct interactions with its target audience, then engagement rate might be more important. Additionally, a balance between reach and engagement rate is ideal, as it suggests that the influencer not only has a larger audience but is also more likely to initiate continuous interactions with their audiences.” 

“The decision hinges upon maintaining a balance of follower count and engagement as brands often collaborate with multiple micro and nano influencers as well. They provide brands with the desired reach with multiple small segments of followers. This is where they give precedent to engagement rather than the number of followers,” opines Varun Grover. He also mentions that for such collaborations, brands need to monitor for brand and ASCI guidelines violations.  

Wadhwa says that the decision to prioritise one metric over the other hinges upon the requirements of a campaign. He remarks, “High follower counts might be more beneficial for campaigns aiming to maximise reach and visibility, particularly useful in sectors where brand image and recognition are paramount. Conversely, if the goal is to drive interaction, cultivate loyalty, or prompt specific consumer actions, then engagement metrics become more critical.”

Experts seem to hold a consensus that when it comes to collaborating with micro and nano influencers, engagement holds more value–the brand’s intention behind collaborating with such an influencer wouldn’t be more eyeballs in the first place but rather a set of audience that palpably has more chance of being converted into potential consumers. 

Thus, it might be wise for an established brand to go after an influencer with a massive following, however, brands whose primary aim is ROI, might not benefit from such capital-intensive collaborations.

The new panorama

The way brands see influencer marketing as a whole has changed over the years. 

“When we started Opraahfx in 2017, there were only a handful of mega-influencers with whom brands wanted to collaborate. Now, with the explosion in the number of influencers, it has become harder for brands to identify the right fit. They now need to filter out the influencers and also evaluate them on various parameters to understand who would be the most suitable influencer to bring value to their brand,” shares Mansi Gupta.  

Gupta reveals that brands have started to consider other important factors, such as how long an influencer can hold their audience's attention. “Whether it's 15 seconds, 30 seconds, a minute, or five to six minutes. The longer an audience engages, the more it reflects the influencer's loyalty and the strength of their community. These are the key factors brands have now started to consider,” she notes. 

Madhavan holds that the shift in how brands view influencers is driven by the increasing emphasis on authentic engagement and the growing awareness of fake followers and bot-generated interactions. He says, “The focus has moved to genuine influence where the audience trusts the influencer’s recommendations. Social media algorithms favour engagement, pushing brands to prioritise quality interactions over follower count. The rise of micro-influencers and niche markets also contributes, as they often have more dedicated and engaged followers, leading to higher conversion rates.”

Sejal Kumar notes, "I think brands look for quality + the fit of that personality with the brand along with numbers! It’s not just dependent on numbers anymore." 

Initially when influencer collabs emerged as an avenue, brands placed emphasis on selling products. With the growth of consumer intelligence and general trends, the focus shifted to building authentic connections. 

“Today a consumer is quick to sniff campaigns that lack genuinity. So when we speak of what has changed, it is how brands are leaning towards influencers to bring that raw and unfiltered perspective to whatever is being pushed towards them. That's why we see brands leaning towards influencers and creators because they bring that raw and unfiltered perspective to whatever is being pushed towards them,” expounds Himani Agrawal.   

This evolution is not merely qualitative. With the rise of influencer-first and digital agencies, the tools and metrics of gauging collab success have improved too. “There's a significant shift towards viewing influencer marketing through the lens of performance marketing, emphasising measurable returns over broad brand exposure,” shares Wadhwa. 

Wadhwa says that this transformation is driven by the need for transparency and accountability in marketing spends.

“Influencer campaigns are now expected to deliver clear ROI, quantified through direct sales, engagement metrics, and conversion rates,” he adds. Wadhwa further notes, “This performance-driven approach encourages a more analytical strategy in influencer selection and campaign design, ensuring that marketing dollars are spent on campaigns that deliver tangible results.”

Sharma opines that the shift started with the advent of affordable smartphones and widespread 4G internet connectivity across India marking the decentralisation of content creation. “Brands recognise this change and are increasingly targeting regional storytellers. They understand that these influencers have a unique connection with their local audiences, making their content more relatable and impactful, he adds. 

Grover says that the change has been primarily driven by the need to connect with the GenZ audience. He cites studies to back his assertion, “According to a study, 50% of millennial audiences trust product recommendations from influencers.  The trust and high engagement that influencers enjoy are the reasons they are sought for brand partnerships.   In a survey of marketing professionals conducted in 2022, 25% of respondents said that they leverage influencer marketing. Out of these, 89% of the respondents said they would maintain or increase their investment in influencer marketing in the coming years.”    

Perception has also changed in terms of how the effectiveness of an influencer is viewed by brands. It is now established through  a combination of quantitative and qualitative metrics, such as engagement rates, views, and the sentiment of comments and shares. 

To sum up, over time, brands have shifted their view of influencers from prioritising large follower counts to emphasising genuine engagement and authentic connections with audiences. This change is driven by the need for more effective and measurable returns on marketing investments, as well as the recognition of the high prevalence of fake followers. The evolving landscape of influencer marketing in India, fueled by a massive number of internet users, highlights the increasing importance of engagement metrics for brands aiming to tap into niche markets and achieve higher ROI.

Influencer marketing content creators Content Creation micro influencers ROI follower count engagement metrics GenZ influencer collabs