When choosing an influencer, ensure that they reflect your audience

Candidates who properly reflect the target society and understand their culture are crucial to promoting a brand effectively

Women and children pass the shuttered entrance to a closed store during prayer time at the Al Yasmin mall in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017. After relying on oil to fuel its economy for more than half a century, Saudi Arabia is turning to its other abundant natural resource to take it beyond the oil age -- desert. Photographer: Tasneem Alsultan/Bloomberg
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A client of ours was looking to promote his business through a digital marketing campaign targeted at customers from the Arabian Gulf States.

In the brief, he conveyed that he wished to work with certain influencers from the region to promote his business. He believed they would fit well because of their high numbers of followers, something that many businesses look for first when deciding which social media influencer to work with.

We took his request into account and, as part of our research exercise, we conducted a focus group of 56 potential customers from his target audience and asked them whether they felt that the influencers he wished to work with reflected them or their culture, and whether they would actually influence their purchasing decision.

Around 88 per cent of the participants said that those influencers didn’t reflect them or their culture and society, while the remaining 12 per cent said that depending on the product they were promoting, they may be influenced to try it. “If it’s in the area, and I happen to be free that day, I may check it out,” stated one of the participants.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t shocked by the 88 per cent figure. In my social circle, some of my friends would discuss a certain influencer’s behaviour when promoting a product. More and more of my friends don’t believe that many of the regional social media influencers are credible with their products and services recommendations because they are paid advertisement posts. I, for one, am one of those people and become very sceptical, especially when it’s an influencer with millions of followers.

Most importantly, many of them collectively agree that a lot of those influencers don’t properly reflect our culture, or us as society members, and wonder how they got advertisement deals to begin with.

In our focus group for our client, one of the participants stated something interesting, which I have witnessed through my work: “Many advertisements and promotions seem that they’ve been translated from a script written by someone who hasn’t lived in the region and doesn’t understand our culture or its norms.”

How many times have we seen advertisers get it wrong? When the setting used for an advertisement doesn’t authentically reflect our society? Or when the actors hired for an advertisement can’t properly pronounce certain local words? Countless. And what’s shocking is that in the age of the internet, and with the ease of access to resources of information, marketers are still getting it wrong - whether it’s by choosing the wrong influencer to begin with, or when writing the promotional script.

More and more native culture consultants and consultancies have emerged in the region, where businesses can be assisted in everything from choosing the right social media influencer for their company to advertisement script writing.

I strongly urge both international and regional marketers and brands to conduct proper research when choosing who should represent their brand. It’s not just about their number of followers, but how they interact in social media overall. Are they rude? Are they culturally insensitive? Are they racist? All of those factors could affect your brand negatively and you would spend more fixing a shattered brand image, especially if you hire them for a long-term promotion or contract, or as ambassadors of your brand.

If you are an international brand and new to the region and its culture and norms, then take your time to ensure that you are not wasting your money on an influencer who won’t deliver on your objectives. Sometimes it’s more effective to work with micro influencers with a few thousand followers, than with someone who has millions. Work with local culture consultants, or thought leaders and market consultants from your target country and audience, who can provide you with proper insight and guide you to the right direction.

Network and be "in the know". Influencers’ popularity fluctuates. The one who was cool yesterday isn’t necessarily cool today.

Last but not least, take your time when choosing that influencer and ensure that your values are aligned. Your customers will see them as a reflection of you and what you stand for.

Keep in mind that an influencer mirrors your brand, so choose wisely.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi