Wow.

The last 48 hours since Part 1 was published have been quite enlightening. Raves, rants, Twitter DMs, complete defensiveness from certain bloggers and utter bile from certain anti-bloggers, with the occasional excellent points in between.

My inbox hates me. 🙂

Alright so let’s get started, shall we?

First off, I want to go over the point of the free market. Yes, bloggers and social influencers are under no obligation to anyone on how to behave or what to charge – if that – or even what quality their content should be. They are absolutely free to do whatever they want, whenever they want and however they want it.

However, so are anarchists.

In a city as close-knit as Dubai or a country like the UAE, it’s only a matter of time before the weeds get, well, weeded out and the roses stay. You need to ensure quality if you want to survive. Banks, pharmacies, schools, radio, TV, F&B, hotels, every major industry has gone through this cycle and come out bruised, burned and educated. Some got destroyed. All of us, brand managers, CMOs, bloggers, all included, serve the public. And the public is fickle. They thrive on quick fixes via low quality content but will only make the high quality stuff go viral.

That’s the point when it comes to the free market for influencers: It needs to be self-regulated.

Take away the free market point though, and things become a bit more interesting: What the absolute heck are the brands, PR and advertising agencies doing? What is wrong with you lot? Why are you not putting your foot down? Why are you entertaining mediocrity in the hopes of a few more clicks rather than fixating on excellence that drives your clients’ prestige higher?

Agencies, you’ve long had the reputation of being pushy and moody. What happened? Why are you suddenly allowing influenzas to dictate to you?

Brands, particularly those in this region and specifically this country, you know how Dubai is. You know the small market geography guarantees that you are here today, gone tomorrow. It takes one good campaign from a competitor to make you disappear. I’m looking at you, Uber. Careem has kicked your butt and you haven’t recovered since. Etisalat, you too when it comes to du, but you made a great recovery since then.

Time for a few other pointers. One of the areas the discussion went to since Sunday was how it isn’t really anyone’s fault, the market is too new. Blogging has seen a comeback and the millennial generation is still finding its footing in an age of instant gratification and quick attention. Social media is giving everyone a voice and with the right hashtag you can create the impact you want. Here’s the thing: Influencers can definitely engage with an audience, but a majority of people in that sphere of influence never go beyond social chatter.

As a social media influencer, you’re not a driver of action, you drive awareness. That’s your super power. Your killer punch. It is your CONTENT that drives action.

“We are living in a time where everyone wants to have a voice. They want to broadcast their thoughts and opinions on social media or through their blogs, and I think most people recognise the situation and don’t have a problem with that.

I think we are seeing what many would consider as sub-standard blogs or influencers who have a limited audience, receiving recognition for their work. I think many people don’t think that it’s deserving, and that’s where the frustrations stem from.

The root of the problem doesn’t lie with the influencers themselves, I think it starts from the top, or whoever is in control. The problem lies with the media buyers, the brands or the PRs who are working with sub-standard “influencers”.

I think there’s a lack of understanding from brands and PRs on the value of working with influencers and deciding what constitutes a good or valuable influencer to work with vs who doesn’t. I get the sense that maybe many don’t even care, and any coverage is good coverage regardless of where the content is published, whether it’s relevant to their target audience or how many people are likely to see or engage with it.

Perhaps this will change as the industry matures, but I think for now that’s just the way it’s going to be.”

Mark Rofe, a Dubai based digital marketer from the UK

“It’ll blow away very soon. Clients are fanboys now. But soon, talk is going to turn to conversions and sales. It ends then.”

Hisham Wyne, one of Dubai’s top MCs and presenters as well as one of its best copywriters. His website is here

I like the point about maturity of the market, which brings me to another point: transparency.

I’ve discussed this with many PR execs and brand managers, and they’ve all been unanimous: none of the influenzas who they speak with ever share their blog or social media metrics. I find that interesting. If you were genuinely an influencer in any of the channels, you would have arrived at that conclusion if your stats showed you this. If they do, there’s nothing wrong with sharing this. The only reason for refusing to share the statistics of your blog, Facebook page, Instagram account or Twitter handle would be that they were not anything worth sharing.

In other words, you’re lying about being an influencer. Harsh words, but it’s my dollars I’m putting into your appearance for my brand, and I sure as hell want to know the truth about your influence.

Transparency is key. One of my favourite editors/journalists in the UAE had this to say on transparency:

“We’ve been approached for collaborations. All couldn’t/wouldn’t provide metrics that would be a must for sales pitches. Try selling ad space on a commercial website without any stats!” Jane whose last name shall not be quoted as I’d like my neck to remain attached to my head and torso 😉

Brands love transparency. You proving to us you’re worth it WITH NUMBERS will make us look extremely good when we pitch you to our board members. Numbers matter. But the right numbers. If you tell me you have 100,000 followers on your Instagram account but your photos get an average of 20 likes, some of us know what’s wrong. You’ve either bought the followers or if they’re genuinely organic your content is horrible.

Sorry, I need to say it like it is. Let me add a little education on this topic to help you if you’re a budding blogger or social media junkie:

If you have a blog or channel that has mediocre content, it doesn’t matter how many followers you have because you won’t be able to influence them to use or purchase my brand. However, if you have only 20 followers and exception, excellent content then I want to do business with you because I now have a guarantee of 20 people who will engage with my brand. Those 20 are more influential because of the quality of your product. The most viral original content in the world doesn’t come from celebrity influencers. They are influencers BECAUSE they are celebrities. The most viral content comes from people who aren’t well know but have exactly the right people in their social circle who clicked retweet or shared the content.

Quality is always transparent. Your numbers, if transparent, tell me you’re quality and you’re worth it.

Zuberance.com had this to say in an excellent infographic I will share below:

While influencer outreach can create social chatter, its impact is often short term and ineffective for driving behaviour. Leads and sales make it important to understand the motivations behind advocates and influencers.

Here’s some important numbers for influencers and brands to keep in mind based on their research:

18% of consumers trust influencers
92% trust brand advocates
Infuencers: want to grow their audience
Advocates: want to help friends
Influencers: want incentives
Advocates: don’t

The infographic:

influencers-versus-advocates-e1341838167537

What you say matters. And not just to consumers, but to the government that regulates the sale of goods and products.

And that brings me to point three: legality.

Under UAE law, it is illegal to charge for services when you don’t have a valid UAE trade license and an operating business account with a local bank. Even if you have a No Objection Letter (NOC) from your father or guardian which enables you to work in Dubai without a trade license, in order to receive funds in exchange for services such as branding and advertising which you as a social influencer do, you need to have permission to do so. There is, however, a grey area to this which revolves around the permissions around freelancers and their operations when under someone else’s sponsorships. The laws vary from emirate to emirate, hence we have yet to know more. I’ve had an interesting conversation today with one of the UAE’s leading lawyers in this space and they were very clear about this: It. Is. Illegal. to charge for services such as posting a blog post for money when you don’t have a trade license to do so. Period.

It becomes doubly illegal – where the fine goes to you AND your company – if you do so while under the employment of another firm.

The grey area I referred to about sponsorship was addressed too: The sponsorship by father, husband or guardian only allows you to work for a company. You are not allowed to work on your own for a salary or charge for your services on your own. While a blind eye is turned to this because of the nascent market and a very accepting culture, there are whispers that a massive crackdown on such online services is on its way.

Yes, the rumour is the government will crack down on services such as sales of material or services online in and for the UAE without a license to do so and that includes social media.

POTENTIAL SOLUTION: Legally, you CAN pay them if you draw up a contract with a legal firm. The legal firm handles how and when and why. They will help the brand to be able to pay a blogger or a social media influencer to get paid for services, however it is important to note here that the blogger or social media influencer needs recourse to a legal avenue of payment. This could be Paypal or a foreign account. There are many ways for this, but it must be taken into consideration.

I am not against influencers, influenzas and social media advocates. I’m very much for them, in fact. The reason I’ve written these two posts is to highlight the issue of quality. What you do matters to all of us, brands and bloggers alike. Your diluting of the content out there makes it more difficult for the genuinely high quality professionals to do their jobs and in the long run to get funding and permission from the Board Room to continue such activities. Marketing is an art and a science, and I love both. I love my industry. I love this art, this science and I can’t sit around watching it suffer like this.

Bloggers, social media folk and budding influencers in the UAE: if you truly want to be taken seriously and get rewarded for your services either in cash or kind, treat brands with respect. STOP demanding, STOP being arrogant, learn some humility and focus on honing your craft. Some of you, learn some better damn English and read a few good blogs on how to create quality content. I assure you, you up your game and us brands will come after you with arms wide open and wallets full.

Brands: grow the hell up. You weren’t born yesterday (unless you literally were, like, launched yesterday in which case my point will still apply). You didn’t go through years of marketing school and work to suddenly throw caution to the wind. Put your foot down. YOU dictate the terms to media, not the other way around. Your consumer wants YOU, not media. Your consumer will listen to you and your brand. They don’t know Foodie Dubai something something blog, they know the restaurant the blog promotes. They don’t know Travel Junkie Sharjah, they know the airline or tour company the instagram is advertising. Demand metrics. Demand numbers. Demand quality. And yes, if your PR company is telling you something, LISTEN TO THEM! THEY KNOW HOW THIS WORKS.

PR companies: You’re the bridge. Please stop encouraging this. Please enforce and educate. If you’re dealing with a pushy brand, show them numbers. Brands will listen to numbers. The numbers matter. Show them the way the numbers will run and make them look bad and they’ll step back. And they still push, fine. Go with it. But at least you’ll have tried.

If there’s something I haven’t covered yet, let me know. I’d love to feature it. Keep fighting the good fight, folk.

Resources:

Here’s some excellent resources I recommend for understand and engaging influencers, or becoming one yourself.

The Tipping Point (2000) by Malcolm Gladwell

The New Rules of Marketing and PR (2010) by David Meerman Scott

Six Degrees/Weak Ties (2003) by Duncan Watts

Citizen Marketers by Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell

Trust Agents (2009) by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith

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