Digiday+ Research: Influencers see more Instagram engagement with still images than Reels

This research is based on unique data collected from our proprietary audience of publisher, agency, brand and tech insiders. It’s available to Digiday+ members. More from the series →

This is part of a research index that was originally published on Digiday’s sibling publication Glossy. Read the full index here.

These days, it can feel like social media is a bit obsessed with the short-form video format. But recent research on influencer marketing conducted by Digiday came to a bit of a surprising conclusion: When it comes to sponsored posts featuring influencers on Instagram, images actually perform better than short-form videos.

Data from 15 influencers and their Instagram and YouTube channels was analyzed for this year’s Influencer Index to measure the impact influencers have on consumers’ purchasing behaviors. The full index collected Instagram data from Jan. 1, 2023 to Dec. 31, 2023, with data collection occurring in February 2024. Data collection was conducted in collaboration with social media management company Dash Hudson.

Below, we look at the levels of engagement popular influencers received on different types of sponsored Instagram posts.

Instagram engagement favors imagery over short-form videos

Digiday+ Research examined which types of sponsored posts garnered the most attention for a brand on an influencer’s Instagram account. Sponsored still images had the highest engagement rate on the platform, meaning the number of likes and comments per following count. Interestingly, Reels had the lowest engagement rate.

But looking specifically at the brand category for these sponsorships, those in the beauty category received a higher rate of engagement on average for posts that included a single still image. For fashion and all other categories, carousel posts had the highest average rate of engagement.

Beauty content on Instagram is largely focused on imagery. According to influencer Stephanie Valentine, that is because the beauty audience tends to be well-educated in beauty products and includes high numbers of industry professionals. “Instagram is more savvy in beauty,” Valentine said. “YouTube is more relationship-built and people are looking for more relatable content. TikTok is more education and intro to beauty.” The beauty community on Instagram may not always want in-depth explanations or step-by-step tutorials. Instead, they’re looking for inspiration or industry news like upcoming trends and events. This could be why the beauty category is more successful than others when using single still images to promote products or brands. 

Carousel posts allow for up to 10 images or videos to be grouped together in a single post, which is helpful for displaying product details, lookbooks or event photos in a slideshow format. Carousel ads have been beneficial for categories outside of beauty, like fashion and technology, for their ability to showcase more information in a swipeable interactive format. 

For instance, influencer Alix Earle partnered with Warner Brothers on a sponsored carousel post to promote last year’s release of the “Barbie” movie. The carousel post, with images of Earle at the movie premiere event and posing in front of multiple Barbie-themed backdrops, performed very well among her audience, garnering over 926,000 likes and over 1,000 comments. Another sponsored post from Earle that performed highly was a carousel post for Victoria’s Secret that included nine different fashion looks from a campaign featuring Earle. The post has over 658,000 likes and nearly 2,000 comments.

Carousel ads are quickly becoming a preferred posting format for brands, especially as the feature grows in popularity and functionality. Meta recently added a helpful carousel ad feature to Instagram which Instagram advertisers can use to automatically apply custom positioning to media feeds, regardless of the following size of the advertised account.


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