INSTAGRAM influencer generic
For illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Gulf News archives

Dubai: Seeing less of “influencers” these days? The sort who pop up on your Insta and social media feeds with a photo/video of themselves and an “opinion” about one brand or the other. And getting paid — handsomely — for passing those opinions to you.

After two heady years, influencers are now keeping a lower profile. The reason? “Influencer fatigue” is how Alex Malouf, Board Member at Advertising Business Group, puts it.

“Brands are becoming more aware of the need to engage influencers sparingly rather than in every online initiative,” said Malouf. “This may be due to costs — but it may be also due to a perceived push back by the public.

“Several smart advertisers have also made it clear they won’t work with influencers who buy followers.”

If so, this is indeed quite a wake up call for influencers here, who command $1,000-$6,000 plus for a couple of posts. If they were “celebrity” kind, their asking rates for a few words and video posts would soar well above those levels. “Each influencer had their own price and there were no regulation on rates,” said Amit Raj, General Manager at BPG Max.

“Influencer charges are not just for the “followers” but other considerations like engagement, expertise and perception as well.”

But right now, influencers are not getting the same sort of love.

Tightening the “likes”

Social media platforms are making it less easy to get away with making tall claims about their followers and the ‘likes” they generate. Malouf says that Instagram — the favoured hangout for influencers — has removed “likes” from the app in a number of markets.

“Instagram has also introduced creator accounts, which offer influencers more information that they can share with brands,” he added. “These types of actions will help both brands — and influencers — better understand what’s going on regarding the right data points.

“More needs to be done when it comes to data transparency and the culling of fake accounts.”

But for influencers, their run of bad luck didn’t stop there.

Crack down

At the UAE level, the authorities too have made it less easy for influencers to pick up easy money from brand marketers and advertisers using inflated claims about their reach among followers.

Last year, the UAE made it binding on all those social media influencers to be registered and licensed by the National Media Council. (The licences cost Dh15,000 annually.) But to be eligible for a licence, influencers must have a permit from any of the economic zones in the country.

Failure to do so comes with financial penalties — a Dh5,000 fine.

So, on one side, they have to shell out money to ensure they are properly licensed. And on the other, they find advertisers are less willing to accommodate them in their brand campaigns. Influencer opinions are just not that hot any more.

In fact, “Reduced investment on influencers is the new normal,” said Raj. “Investments that were doled out initially without proper understanding — and blinded by the novelty glitz — have been toned down due to better available information about influencers and more regulation.

“Advertisers are cautious about fraudulent practices — this is good for the industry. It has shaken up influencers and only genuine ones will last.

“Advertisers never had problem with genuine influencers — the deterrent was the fake ones and a lack of correct information about their actual influence. After the influencer industry got regulated, it has started to get back some credibility.

“With stringent regulations and fraud detection tools in the market, genuine influencers will get their place back in marketing schemes.”

But maybe not to the same levels in 2017-18, when just about every other brand was intent on using influencers as a cost-effective option to reach a digital-savvy audience. Some of those reasons are still valid, but brands who take on influencers must do a bit of proper search.

“Marketers are becoming smarter with their choice of influencers and using specific tools to determine the legitimacy of followers,” said Bassam Mustafa, Managing Director at Nine71, a marketing services consultancy. “They are also analysing social media insights to ensure these match their campaign objectives.”

New ways

Today’s influencer-led campaigns come with “unique discount codes and/or swipe up links”, which are linked to an influencer’s social media page. “This allows a brand to directly measure their return on investment,” said Mustafa. “Thus, brands are using traditional methods … but targeting the community with a digital approach.”

Influencers will hope greater scrutiny of their ways and a bit more honesty from themselves will keep them in the advertiser mix.

Tied to a greater purpose

Brands these days cannot just get by running a great advertising campaign. They need to show a “purpose”.

And not just any plain-vanilla sort of purpose. This could be the next big advertising trend in the UAE, according to Alex Malouf of Advertising Business Group.

“More consumers are asking what brands are doing to tackle big issues such as the environment and gender equality,” he said. “Purpose-based marketing has become mainstream in the US, Europe and Asia. I hope to see the same in the Middle East over the coming 12 months.”