The trend of influencer marketing has been so huge in the Middle East till everyone did believe it is true. Global brands spent a lot of advertising money on Arabic influencers especially in the beauty, fashion and tech industries while local startups and boutique businesses have been desperately chasing micro-influencers everywhere. Undoubtedly, the influencer marketing has been going crazy in the region and everyone was competing to join the race on social media.
Quick facts about influencer marketing in the Middle East:
- According to survey by BPG Cohn & Wolfe in 2017 of 100 in-house marketing and brand managers across a range of industries in the UAE, 49% currently work with social media influencers. 55% said their biggest challenge was finding relevant influencer while 41% said negotiating terms and conditions was a major concern.
- The Arabic consumer are highly consuming videos and stories. Around 30,000 Middle East-based YouTubers have more than 10,000 followers. While almost 12 million daily Snapchat users in the GCC, including 9 million in Saudi Arabia and 1 million in the UAE.
- According to Gulf News, 94% of influencers in the UAE get paid between $1000 to $5000 per post, while the remaining 6% the price per post could reach more than $10,000. In some cases, 76% influencers agree to products or experiences.
- The top beauty influencer Huda Kattan reportedly earns $18,000 per post, according to com.
- The GCC market leads the Middle East as the highest demand from brands and the top paid influencers. Lebanon, Egypt and Morocco influencers are paid less.
- Among social media platforms, Instagram stands as the top place for the influencer marketing game while Facebook is rapidly declining. YouTube is becoming the golden gate for micro-influencers who are targeting Gen Z.
The Influencer bubble is about to burst
Some would argue that the influencer marketing is going to be even bigger in the region, but I would have to remind them that in this world everything changes faster than you think. There are some facts we need to review about the phenomena of influencer marketing.
1. The Market Size is Hard to Figure
Due to fraudulent influencer marketing, the estimates of the market size are mostly inaccurate. While the size of the market seems big, it is eventually much smaller and not stable. Mike Schmidt wrote a great analysis regarding this in the Forbes magazine. He predicts that in the coming two years, influencer marketplaces and brokerages will have a tough time. The Middle East has no figures or researches about the market size to be able to identify gross and decline. However, we need to exclude the top global brands out of the equation since their budget spend on influencer marketing is considered as a budget reallocation from traditional celebrity advertising to social media celebrities. This leaves us with the total mess of untraceable activities and influencers who are despair to increase their value even it doesn’t worth it.
2. Brands are chasing the vanity metrics
It is time to release the secrets and state the fact that brands are exhausted trying to set the tracking in place. The complex behind tracking influencers exceeds setting up an affiliate management tools and requires sophisticated social media analysis, brand metrics, conversion rate and more. Investment wise, while the influencers are raising their cost, the ROI of each influencer is problematic to trace.
3. Fraudulent Influencer Marketing is Costing Brands
According to a research by American Marketing Association (AMA), engagement on sponsored content from fake followers is costing brands $1.3 billion a year which is almost 15% of the total spend. In an audit of 10,000 influencers, SocialChain found that 25% of their followers were engaged in fraudulent activity. According to research, 50% of paid influencer post engagement is fake. The rise of fake followers and engagement have been another huge pain for major brands. Major brands are now fully aware of this issue and some started to review their influencer marketing strategy: Unilever is refusing to work with influencers who utilize bots and fake followers. In addition, based on Marketing Week, A third of brands admit to deliberately not disclosing influencer marketing as sponsored content as they believe doing so will impact consumers’ trust, instead choosing to come up with “creative alternatives”.
4. Influencer Can Damage the Brand’s Reputation
The brand image and values are always at the risk of unprofessional behavior brought by influencers. Eventually, influencer marketing programs are hiring influencers based on their popularity, relevantly and engagement stats. It is extremely difficult to be able to move these social media celebrities to become a real “brand ambassador”. They are independent and driven by their own values and local competition among each other. Hiring an influencer are mainly like hiring an independent on a contract basis not a partner. Some brands could be able to achieve a partnership level with influencers and have major control on the influencer, but this is a complex mission which requires highly professional branding team and big budget. However, the region has witnessed crucial issues when some of the influencers went out of control.
Example: in 2018 a Kuwaiti beauty influencer made a negative comment regarding domestic workers which triggered a massive anger. As a result, several beauty brands decided to cut relations with the influencer to maintain their brand image.
5. Social Media is Becoming Highly Saturated
In the Middle East, social media feeds are becoming saturated with posts from all the wannabes and lookalike influencers more than ever. The ongoing floods of pretenders and followers’ buyers have widely impacted the consumer behavior. Engagement rates for Instagram influencers dropped in 2019, according to a Trust Insights analysis. Instagram started to prepare to the shift in consumer behavior by removing the likes counter. This step from Instagram proves that the change is coming. Consumer are now more aware of the commercialized approach of their influencers and filtering out paid content. They might gladly engage and like the influencers content, but they will not trust it all.
6. Influencers with Nothing to Influence
My mom says “Put a donkey in front of the camera for long and he will be famous”
We have first to stop calling everyone that generated a substantial number of followers as an influencer and define who is qualified to be an influencer.
The name can explain itself clearly. The influencer is someone who can influence the public audience with an idea, opinion, and most importantly a style of life. Yes, the style of life is the key concept behind the whole idea. The critical factor of being an influencer relies on the ability to influence your context of choice not just your choice.
What is the difference then between influencers and content creators? It is a massive difference. Content creators demonstrate their skills and knowledge which engage the audience but don’t follow a systematic and planned agenda. Let’s imagine the content creators as a TV entertainment channel with an objective to attract as many views as it can so it can sell Ads.
On the other hand, influencers are more like the News channel with an agenda to influence the public opinions in a certain direction. The main difference here is not particularly the content but it is more about influencing the audience according to a predetermined strategy.
The relevancy is a matter of consistency. In an industry like fashion and beauty, major amount of the Arabic influencers are themeless. They are crazy about chasing trends and showing off to stay connected with the audience. You cannot blame them for following such strategy, however the issue relies that it is becoming hard to differentiate who is who.
Huge number of Arabic influencers are copying style of life, stories, content, tips and rotating around the timeline. Therefore, the social media is more saturated with endless posts of people who is trying to influence the consumer with whatever.
7. Change in Arabic User Behavior
According to a recent Social Media Influencers’ Survey of 1000 Emirati and Saudi residents aged 18 to 35, 79% said they have unfollowed an influencers for flooding their timelines with promotional content.
People will be smarter with social media before you know it.
Eventually, that’s not the biggest fear yet. Another major factor is rising in the horizon. Let’s welcome the Gen Z who will dominate everything soon (In Egypt I call them Yassta Z due to their overuse of Yassta word). The consumer who are born after 1996 are evolving to become the biggest segment in the region. How the Gen Z are using the internet and social media is going to be totally different than us as Millennials. They are native digital consumer, faster, smarter detectors and sensitive to authenticity. Forget the old times of picture-perfect, super-edited type of content. They know the filters; they sniff the promotions and they need something authentic.
Therefore, what influences this generation is going to be a different game. Gen Z is not influenced by the trend, they are the trend itself. Eventually, Gen Z will continue to follow influencers, but they have more control on direction than the influencers himself.
Millennials will have to follow the Gen Z era
So, in the coming years, the shrinking part of the pie will be Millennials while Gen Z will grow rapidly. Millennials will need to adopt to the native digital consumer who will dominate the social media. The first impact of Gen Z first we started seeing in the last couple of years was emerging from the influencer into Micro-influencers. Moreover, the Nano-influencers is arriving. Gen Z are decentralized and extremely diversified segment across the Middle East and regular segmentation won’t work out. The reason for this is pretty simple: They are not receiver like older generations, but they are influencers themselves. They are not the customer unless they are part of the game.
8. Arabic Influencers Are Hard to Deal With
As a marketing consultant, I have worked with tons of influencers in the region for several brands and always faced three common issues. 1) The majority are buying followers and engagement, 2) They are not authentic, and they rely on heavily edited photo sessions instead of creating content, 3) Unprofessional attitude and lack of commitment, 4) Overestimation of their value and expected results.
In conclusion, the brand had to spend a lot on building campaigns, hiring teams and paying for a list of influencers and the results showed that only small percentage had a positive impact on the brand and ROI. It was extremely problematic to handle the Arabic influencers.
9. Brand Strategy Inconsistency
Another regional issue appears with the culture. While brands are looking for straightforward strategy and focused groups of influencers who can control, each country has its own preferences when it comes to the influencers. The market is saturated when it comes to values and consumer. The Arabic dialect, shopping preferences and social trends are all part of the influence game. The segments across the region are completely diversified and it requires deeper research on the culture and consumer, not just the influencer popularity. An example: While I was working for a beauty brand in the UAE, we chased several Arabic makeup artists but the surprise we discovered later that the majority of consumer in the market are expats who rather influenced by an Indian expat beauty blogger. We have been following a completely wrong assumption.
Bottom Line: Influencer marketing is evolving rapidly in the region and brands started to consider it as overestimated market and expensive. In-house marketers started to predict the danger of the big bubble and step back while media agencies are trying to push hard on gaining more. While some brands will withdrawal, there will be others who will focus on Micro and Nano influencers. In the last round of consultation, I advised the brand to turn influencer marketing into affiliate and push towards partnership based on commission instead of paid posts. However, it obvious that consumers and brands are losing faith in people who claim to be influencers.