Top social media influencers gather in Dubai for 1 Billion Followers Summit

Gathering of influencers addresses AI and other changes in social media landscape

Influencers and content creators at the 1 Billion Followers Summit in Dubai. WAM
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Amid an onslaught of artificial intelligence buzz and a fast-changing social media landscape, the 1 Billion Followers Summit, a gathering of some of the world’s top social media influencers and content creators, got under way in Dubai.

The two-day event, now in its second year, is taking place at Emirates Towers and Dubai’s Museum of the Future, and features at least 3,000 attendees, 100 speakers and more than 300 companies from the technology and social media landscape.

Some of the many social media companies present include Facebook parent Meta, YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat.

In the opening keynote for the summit, Alia Al Hammadi, chief executive of the New Media Academy, which organised the event, reflected on the optimism surrounding influencers and content creators.

“The impact we have is not just in numbers,” she told attendees. “The impact we have is in the stories we tell and the positive change we can inspire.”

Ms Al Hammadi said there were about 50 million people working as content creators globally and compared it to her estimates that there were 67 million working in the energy industry.

“It's not just a bunch of youths standing in front of the camera for the sake of fun and entertainment,” she said. “It's a multimillion-dollar industry, and it's expected to keep growing.”

Among the influencers and content creators headlining the summit are Khaby Lame, originally from Senegal, who has 113 million followers on TikTok, Hassan Suleiman, better known as Aboflah, a video gamer and live streamer with more than 35 million YouTube subscribers, and Abeer Al Sagheer, a Lebanese celebrity chef with more than 27 million followers across various social media platforms.

Also taking part in the summit, although not necessarily from the social media influencer world, is Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef, who hosted a discussion on “The dark side of making it on social media”.

Influencers, many of whom first gained their fame, followers and financial success amid social media’s global ascent around 2007, have been faced with the challenge of quickly adapting to the changes in social content consumption.

When it was launched in 2010, Instagram, which put many influencers on the social media map, originally consisted of mainly photo content with various photo filter options.

Influencers made their mark by showcasing aspirational lifestyles and eventually made money through branded content and product placement on the platform, setting the standard for the influencer economy model for several years.

However, in recent years, the Meta-owned company has pivoted towards short videos, or Reels as the company calls them, in an attempt to catch up with Snapchat and TikTok.

What once worked for both influencers and businesses on that particular platform, soon took a back seat to videos, forcing many to change strategies almost overnight.

It is merely one of many instances throughout the social media world of companies changing strategies and altering platform options to adapt to a changing landscape.

The methodical growth of video platforms such as YouTube and interactive live-streaming platform Twitch, also helped to push the envelope for influencers seeking to grow audiences.

Also factoring into changes in the influencer world is the increasing prevalence of AI, which is streamlining the process of composing posts, scheduling content and even the generation of videos, photos and art.

In some instances, AI-generated social media accounts have cultivated large followings, prompting some to question the longevity of the people-powered influencer economy.

“AI can do it better, and it’s OK”, one of many panel discussions at the 1 Billion Followers Summit, addresses the AI-infused social media changes dramatically changing the landscape.

However, the social media influencer economy shows no sign of slowing down.

Despite the dramatic changes being thrust upon content creators, according to a report from Goldman Sachs, the creator economy market has the potential to double in the next five years amid an increase in digital media consumption and the emergence of new technology, possibly rising to $480 billion by 2027, from $250 billion in 2023.

The bank’s report went on to say that there were about 50 million independent online content creators around the world.

However, coupled with the potential economic upside for creators is a growing concern that social media use might be affecting mental health.

According to the 2023 Arab Youth Survey, most young people in the Arab world believe social media is having a negative effect on their mental health, and slightly under three quarters of those surveyed, 74 per cent, said they were struggling to disconnect from social media.

There is, however, also the sentiment that social media and content creators help to show a common humanity and bring the world together.

That notion was conveyed by Ms Al Hammadi as she addressed the packed conference room in Dubai.

“A meme can change your mood, a song can change your outlook and a podcast can give you skills you didn't have before,” she said, reflecting on the relatively new social media and content consumption landscape of the last few years.

“Content changes the world and your influence surpasses boundaries and sets the tone for society … you have the power to shape this world,” she said.

Updated: January 10, 2024, 1:52 PM