The huge growth in the use of social media in the Middle East presents marketers with great opportunity to capitalize on influencer marketing. A report from We Are Social in 2016 highlighted how active the region is with as much as 75% of the population of Qatar using social media, 69% of those in the UAE and 40% in Saudi Arabia. More generally, internet usage has grown 17% year on year -more than 20 million new users and many of these users are mobile- using their phones to access both the internet and social media. Snapchat usage has leapt from 3% to 12% in just a year, and YouTube watch times are up 80% year on year- in fact, the MENA region has the highest online video viewership after the United States.
In the wave of widespread digital adoption comes the rise of the social media influencer, with reports suggesting that as many as 71% of consumers would be interested in buying from a brand if endorsed by an influencer. Beauty bloggers appear particularly popular, with 63% of consumers influenced in purchase decisions by them. According to an article in The New Yorker, the Middle East is L’Oreal’s fastest-growing new market.
When my company indaHash launched its first campaign in the region for Dubai Tourism, it took just 48 hours for it to be booked out and performing. In fact, just last year, Dubai held its first ever Social Media Influencers Summit, highlighting the growing importance of the medium in the region. Influencers in growing markets like the Middle East can be disproportionately influential, due to the fact that within a more conservative culture or society, they represent a more independent voice and distinct personality which has greater value juxtaposed to more mainstream media. In short, they are more authentic to their audiences and, as a result, more entertaining and relatable. For example, brands in the region love vlogger Max of Arabia, as he encapsulates the crossover between the expat and Emirati cultures and maintains his authenticity. There is also a close-knit and fast growing community of “mummy” bloggers and foodies in the region.
In a developing influencer market, brands don’t necessarily need to do much in this space to attract attention, and so, it may be tempting to blow the budget with top tier influencers who have something akin to celebrity status. But marketers with an eye on the long-term might be better to think about a more strategic approach with mid-tier or “power users” with followings between 1,000 and 20,000. In more developed markets like the US or Western Europe, it is this tier that enjoys the highest engagement rates between 5-12% with indaHash campaigns versus an industry average of just 0.5%.
As the MENA region also matures, it is likely that its market will follow the same trend. Parenting bloggers are already seen to be directly influencing fellow parents within local businesses and brands, particularly within fashion and beauty verticals. Quality control is also important, as there are still only a handful of “decent” influencers in the region, so marketers need to ensure that there is a moderation layer that ensures quality without impeding efficiency. The 100,000+ global influencers on our platform are vetted for a good aesthetic standard, as well as their reach and engagement rates. As the brands retain copyright for content created by influencers, they are able to reuse it in their digital marketing and so vastly increase their ROI.
Influencers, in the main, are not professional marketers and require guidance, especially in a newer market, and so with indaHash, the influencers are guided on the appropriate hashtags, creative and brand messaging to ensure they adhere to the brief and to any regulatory requirements. Brand marketers have had time to embrace their digital strategy. With a wane in print advertising opportunities, and a social engagement opportunity that cannot be ignored, it makes sense for regional and international businesses to embrace influencer marketing.
As in the early days of social media usage, it is time to move away from the “spray and pray” approach, and strategically apply objectives to the multitude of online personalities that exist. Choosing, and working carefully with social media influencers, who represent the values and vision of your brand, to deliver messages, create product awareness and even CSR will lead to a transparent, measurable return on investment for GCC businesses looking to increase visibility online- translating of course, to offline footfall and brand goodwill.