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One of the biggest areas of discussion is how branded influencer content is executed. While there is a seemingly endless variety of combinations in which content can come to life, researchers on this project found two major post types that influencer and brand partnership content fell into. It’s important to note that these definitions are not the industry standard, but are the result of this research project. These post types are:

  • Sponsored Content: Influencer content with the primary goal of generating awareness for a particular product or brand (with no direct call-to-action or CTA).
  • Promotional Content: The key distinction between sponsored content and promotional content (promo) is that promotional posts usually include a benefit or incentive for the influencer’s audience. This usually takes the form of a direct CTA in the copy of the post, for example, entering a giveaway or using a custom discount code.

We categorized over twelve thousand posts into these two categories and found statistically significant differences in engagement performance, specifically looking at engagement rate (ratio of engagements to influencer follower size). Promotional content saw a stronger engagement rate overall compared to sponsored content; this trend held true when the data was broken down by media type:

“Brands and agencies should think about how they can incentivize the influencer’s audience to take an action, whether that be to follow the brand, click a link, or make a purchase.”

No exceptions to this trend across media types simplify the takeaway: promotional posts consistently drive stronger engagement from audiences than sponsored posts, roughly 34% higher. This means brands and agencies looking to strike content deals with influencers should think about how they can incentivize the influencer’s audience to take an action, whether that be to follow the brand, click a link, or make a purchase.

Depending on the campaign objectives, however, sponsored content can still be effective, especially when looking at top of the funnel drivers (awareness and consideration). Promotional content, while also generating awareness, is inherently tied to the lower half of the funnel as its use of a CTA drives audiences toward converting into a sale, redemption, subscription or any other action or engagement.

It’s also important to note that incentivized engagement can result in lower quality engagement. Although this research project showed that promotions like giveaways increase engagement rates, industry best practices recommend a conservative and strategic use of this post type. Brands interested in building out a robust influencer marketing strategy should consider working with a consultative agency to ensure their influencer partnership campaigns match the goals of the organization.

Digging a little deeper into the data, we looked at the impact of copy on engagement across both sponsored and promo content. A very familiar term in the world of social media stood out: “Link in bio”. This term was used frequently as it appeared in 11% of sponsored posts and 15% of promo posts that were analyzed. While the term’s usage was associated with lower levels of engagement overall, we found its use to be more effective with promotional posts compared to sponsored posts, in alignment with the finding that promo content consistently performs better than sponsored content in regard to engagement rates.

“A very familiar term in the world of social media stood out: ‘Link in bio’. This terms was used frequently as it appeared in 11% of sponsored posts and 15% of promo posts that were analysed.”

Further, although engagement rates are consistently lower when “Link in bio” is in the post copy, that does not necessarily mean the post is ineffective. Because engagement rate in our model is calculated as likes, shares and comments, link clicks would not be considered “engagement.” Engagement rates could be lower because “Link in bio” encourages users to stop engaging with the post and move over to the influencer’s bio page to continue engagement. A robust influencer marketing strategy should take this action into consideration and not disregard “Link in bio” as a tool if their marketing objectives align with the consumer action.

In short, fewer consumers taking more significant action, like clicking to a brand’s website, could be a better result than higher engagement on a single post.


  • Consumers are more likely to engage with content that feels casual and authentic, not like a sales pitch.
  • Influencer partners should be encouraged to speak about their own experience with the product or service, using language like “I,” “me,” and “my” in their posts.
  • Create readability guidelines for influencer partners that encourage bulleted lists and numbers that outline steps or actions. This has been shown to improve engagement rates with the content.
  • When it comes to disclosing an influencer and brand relationship, less is more. Ensure your copy meets the FTC requirements without over-using sales and advertising language.
  • Include important details like the relationship disclosure, product information or giveaway instructions at the top of the post and reiterate disclosures using hashtags at the bottom of the post.
  • Think of influencers as partners, not just another advertising channel. Your content should reflect an equitable and collaborative relationship.
  • Promotional content that incentivizes consumers to take an action always results in higher engagement rates.
  • Including a “Link in bio” that drives users away from the post can lower engagement, but may result in more qualified consumers taking more significant action, like a website click.
  • The choice between sponsored and promotional content, and including a “Link in bio” copy, depends on your marketing objectives. Identify whether awareness or conversion is more important to your campaign before working with an influencer.


Overall, every influencer partnership is different, but the learnings we’ve found help to ensure optimal performance through best practices. Brand and influencer partnerships don’t need to be left in the hands of chance or instinct; there can be a method to the madness. Influencer content can be strategically planned when practical insights are integrated into the process. The best brand marketers will take these insights and apply them to every campaign to ensure success in influencer marketing.

If you’d like to learn more about how influencer partnerships can build advocacy for your brand, drop us a line at 😉.

This post was written by: Majed Alnahwi, Raheal Aragawi, Andrew Bose and Savannah Hobbs

Research by: Jared Watson, Lauren Grewal, Shoshana Segal, Kalinda Ukanwa, Ted Matherly, Andrew Bose, Deanna Sandmann and Majed Alnahwi


Jared Watson is an assistant professor of marketing at NYU whose interests include information diagnosticity and social influence in online environments. Lauren Grewal is an assistant professor of marketing at Dartmouth College whose interests include social influence and identity relevance in the marketplace. Shoshana Segalis a PhD student at NYU whose interests span from the role of social media in marketing to the role of marketing in healthcare decisions. Kalinda Ukanwa is an assistant professor of marketing at USC whose interests include reputation dynamics and algorithmic bias. And last, but certainly not least, Ted Matherly is a visiting assistant professor of marketing at Tulane whose interest is in applying big data to providing insights into everyday consumer behaviors.