There is literally an ocean of data about you on the Internet. The data is used to determine your social value and influence by business owners, marketers, agencies, and yes, savvy photographers. So do you know what your analytics says about your social profile?

Perhaps, the title of this article drew your attention.  Maybe you’re were thinking 34-25-36. Well, those numbers aren’t as important as the analytics of your social profile.

What’s the Value of an Instagram Follower

I’ve had an Instagram account for years, but never really used it for business. In 2017, I formed this company and dove head first into Instagram to grow a following for my company. I quickly realized that as the number of daily users of Instagram grew, the slower the followers on my account grew. A number of Instagram algorithmic shifts also impacted my growth strategy. As I wrestled with fitting Instagram into the context of a larger audience engagement, brand development, and marketing strategy, I had to ask a fundamental question–“What’s the value of an Instagram Follower?”

I honed in on the word “follower” over likes and comments. Because the only audience that you’re going to see real growth is always going to come back to the number of people who follow you. However, to get to the heart of the value question–you have to understand, ‘why do they follow?” Once you have your, “why” you have ask the “what do your followers do?” question. The answer to “what” leads us back to the heart of this story, your social profile analytics.

Understanding your Follower-to-Following Ratio

Previously, if you wanted to be considered a social media influencer, you needed to have a high follower-to-following ratio (e.g. 10:1, 25:1, 100:1, 1000:1, or even 10,000:1.) Extraordinary brands and individuals have these types of followings that produce tremendous influence.

One of my favorite influencers on social media is Dolly Castro (missdollycastro.) She has honed her brand over a period of years and provides consistently great content on Instagram. She has 6M followers and follows 614 Instagram profiles, creating a 9,772:1 Influencer Ratio. While that looks great, the analytics tell a different tale of the tape (continuing our measurements metaphor.) While Dolly has 6 million followers, she has only 1.07% engagement on Instagram. Supermodel and America’s Next Top Model mogul Tyra Banks (tyrabanks) has a similar profile with 5.5M followers while following 514 Instagram profiles. That gives her a slightly higher 10,700:1 Influencer Ratio. However, when you look at the engagement analytics, Tyra only gets 0.86% engagement from her audience.

So does having a lot of followers mean anything? It depends. As your audience grows, you need to work harder to keep their engagement from plummeting. Don’t be anti-social. You can’t risk having a lot of passive followers. Passive Instagram followers are low value and can have negative effects on your profile in the grand scheme of things.

it won't matter what your strategy is to beat the Instagram algorithm if your audience is passive

Cam EvansCreative Executive

Recently, there have been numerous reports that Instagram is only showing your posts to ten percent of your followers. If that ten percent doesn’t engage with your content, it will not be shown to the other 90%. That should be a “holy shit-aha moment” for you. You can spend a lot time, money, and resources making content for your audience and that audience’s low engagement will guarantee that no one else sees it. So your total influence is meaningless regardless of your follower count.

Modeling Hourly Rates and Social Profile Analytics

There are a lot of freelance models that depend on their social media audience for growing their influence and getting sponsorship from major brands, catalogs, or publications. The challenge for independent models is the same for everyone else on Instagram, you have to constantly create and consistently share great content to garner attention on Instagram. As the Instagram algorithm matures, it’s putting a premium on grand and engaging content over everything else. That means models need to work with photographers that have both a creative eye and the resources to bring a provocative vision to life.

The days of arm-length/shot-in-mirror selfies are numbered for many freelance models. Likewise, the days of available light photography may also be numbered if the actual composition doesn’t prove worthy of your audience’s engagement and the algorithm’s promotion. A while ago, I posted an image that got tremendous engagement that simply said, “Greatness is Complicated.” When you’re trying to beat the ever-evolving Instagram algorithm, those words have never been more true.

I’ve talked with a number of models that believe that they can demand anywhere from $40/hour up to $500/hr for model photography. This mindset has inherent weaknesses that undermine the model’s ability to create great images that he or she can share on Instagram to grow their audience engagement. Since the photographer owns the rights to the creative expression of that image, the more it costs her to make that image, the more likely it will not be shared for free on Instagram. Additionally, the model will have been compensated for his or her modeling and have no high-quality, fresh creative to feed their audience and the algorithm.

It’s not a Catch-22. Models and Photographers need to align their goals to achieve higher quality results that drive frequent audience engagement so that they can increase their share of influence.

Making it Real in the Dallas-Fort Worth Market

Recently, I connected with a model that has a 3.4:1 Influencer ratio. When I dug into the measurements that matter, I found that she had only a 5.37% engagement rate on her posts. In a real world case, any images I make with her would only benefit from being seen on my profile-not the model’s. Her profile’s low engagement rate would not influence her audience to seek my profile and follow me. Any investment in making a photograph would be cut short.

In contrast, my engagement rate is 18.73% per post. That means my influence would have more of a benefit for her even though I have fewer followers than she does. Simply, my followers are three times more active.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are always outliers that challenge the facts that I’ve presented. One outlier is the current ultra-hot model Kylie Jenner (@kyliejenner) with 103M followers and following 128 profiles for a whopping 804,688:1 Influencer Ratio. That doesn’t begin to tell the story of why brands love Kylie though. Her audience engagement on Instagram is also low at 4.13% per post. I’m sure their are exceptions in the algorithm for celebrity Instagram profiles. Why? While Kylie’s engagement is lower than 10%, 4,253,900 people are actively engaging in her audience. If you’re a brand and you want to get your product in front of 4 million people in one moment, you’re going to send it to Kylie and pay her handsomely to make a clever post. That could start a microtrend to produce the next hot thing. If you only have 1,200 followers and 4% engagement, only 48 people will see your post. So…4M versus 48…hmm?

That’s a Wrap

As more people become aware of the data, it won’t matter what your strategy is to beat the Instagram algorithm if your audience is passive. Models should align their hourly rates to their true market influence and focus on growing that influence with intention to increase that rate. Professional photographers should invest in getting the analytics on the models they photograph to ensure that they aren’t making gross investments in someone that will have low or limited return on that value.

Meanwhile, as a creative community, we need to find clever ways to consistently produce art that matters commercially and builds audience engagement. These powerful combinations will drive our collective influence without having to worry about beating an algorithm every time it changes.

What’s Next…

If you’re a model that’s currently working with MADEGRANDBYCAM and you won’t know how your social profile analytics stack up, send me a message. I invite the conversation and the deeper understanding. In the meantime, I’m going to start scoring the 300 models I have identified and ranking them based on their social profile analytics and hourly rate. This insight will help me focus on high-value folio engagement versus developmental folio work. If you live on earth, there’s high percentage chance you’re on my list. I look forward to that fierce conversation.

Leave your comments and questions in the discussion below. I invite you to follow me on Instagram and all social media platforms and please engage with me!

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Cam Evans, MBA, Photographer

Cam Evans, MBA. Photographer

Interested in a creating an epic Model Book Portfolio Photography? I have ready-to-shoot mood boards for model and actor headshot photographyhigh fashion photography, lifestyle photography, fitness and health photography, body positive/acceptance, glamour/beauty photography, and fine art nudes. You can message me on Messenger to discuss your Model Book shoot right now.

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Photographer | Branding Maven | Entrepreneur | Educator

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