social media
79 per cent of social media users in the UAE and Saudi Arabia “unfollowed” influencers this year due to a spike in such promotional content in their messaging Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: Put up “paid” posts and followers are less likely to trust an influencer.

In fact, 79 per cent of social media users in the UAE and Saudi Arabia “unfollowed” influencers this year due to a spike in such promotional content in their messaging.

And users are getting smarter — 73 per cent of respondents in a survey said they can see through whether an influencer’s page features paid content or is the genuine stuff.

And 59 per cent are “less likely” to trust influencer recommendations if they have been paid to advertise it.

The survey was carried out by BPG Group in association with YouGov.

These realisations could be why brand owners and marketers in the Gulf seem to have lessened their presence on influencers’ social feeds this year.

This is quite a change from the last two years when marketers big and small wanted to latch on to this bandwagon, shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for a few mentions or a video upload featuring their brands.

This year, so far, it’s all turned sedate. While influencers still feature in their media spending plans, they need to show they can be trusted with the follower numbers and the likes and shares they garner.

“Since influencers got “regularised”, there is a better understanding on their KPIs (key performance indicators) and we see a “rationalising” of rates,” said Satish Mayya, CEO of BPG Max. “Now, the deserving get more, at times, based on what they promise to deliver on quantitative and engagement measures.”

Rate drops?

Why did influencers in the Gulf get to be this prominent in the last two to three years? In the digital world, they provided an instant accessibility with an audience and which brands coveted. But the more popular they became, more brands co-opted them into their promotional plans.

That’s when reports started coming out that influencer followers numbers were highly inflated, and more often than not, bought.

Now, popular platforms like Instagram — and no self-respecting influencer can do without this one — are “hiding” the likes for influencers.

Given the hit their credibility has had, should marketers pay less for taking on influencers? According to Alex Malouf, Board Member at Advertising Business Group, “I’m not sure if I have a straight answer. Rates rose quickly — but I’m not sure if they’ve come down. (But) I think the bar to the entry for new influencers is higher.”

Malouf was part of the panel discussion that followed the survey results being put out.

According to the BPG survey, the top influencer categories were entertainment — with 94 per cent of consumers following them — followed by food (92 per cent), travel (91 per cent), tech (90 per cent) and lifestyle (89 per cent).

Among consumers, 73 per cent have purchased from a brand or tried a service mentioned by an influencer, and 73 per cent discover new trends by following them.

Wild, wild west

The survey also has messages for marketers wanting to tie up with influencers. It found that the “quality and type of content” on an influencer’s page is more important to consumers than the number of followers. Seven out of 10 respondents said they follow an influencer because they find their content interesting.

The conclusion from all that the survey brought up? “The “Wild West” days of influencers are over,” said Scott Shuey, Business Editor at Gulf News, who also on the panel. “But they’re not going to go away, because there will always be a place in marketing for paid endorsements.

“But I think brands are starting to realise that throwing money at online personalities offers up as many risks as it does advantages. Brands are going to be more careful about who they partner with, not only to make sure they’re getting a return on their investment but whatever message they put out is done professionally and doesn’t get caught in the cross-fire when an influencer decides to go off-script.”

* Nearly four in five respondents are aware that influencers can buy followers, likes and comments on Instagram.