The UAE is home to many different kinds of expatriates. Some are here to support families in their home countries, others want to work for a few years in the sun, and some are looking for opportunities unavailable elsewhere.
One group capitalising on the country's breathtaking landmarks, thriving social scene and endless list of activities is influencers.
For a number of years, influencer marketing has been a way for companies to target their demographic with pinpoint accuracy. Who better to promote a new eyeliner than a beautician with a dedicated fanbase of make-up enthusiasts, or a child psychologist to promote a new educational toy to a sea of parents?
In the early days of social media, being a card carrying influencer raised a lot of eyebrows.
But the professionalisation of the industry has steadily increased as our consumption of real-time digital content on social media has risen.
Whether you’re a micro-influencer or mega-influencer in the UAE, one post can earn you anything from Dh3,000 ($817) to Dh30,000 ($8,170) – or even more.
A business agreement that involves a collaboration between brands and influencers is a new-age marketing approach that effectively had an impact on an audience’s purchasing decisions.
Influencers have now become trustworthy experts in their field, and their earnings reflect this.
Varuna Mehta, chief executive of Light Digital, a marketing agency in the UAE, said influencer marketing, as opposed to traditional marketing, focuses on a specific type of audience, which is its primary advantage.
“[Influencers] know who they're talking to and can tailor the content to increase sales and ROI [for the brand],” she said.
“The potential for earnings is highly subjective because earnings are determined by the type of campaign in which an influencer is involved and the budgets that the organisations have set aside for the campaign.
“However, for a simple campaign that includes a sponsored post and story, an influencer can earn anywhere from Dh3,000, in the micro or mid range, to Dh30,000, if a mega influencer.”
In terms of who is pulling in the most money right now, Ms Mehta said lifestyle influencers promoting a combination of fashion, beauty and food are in demand, as well as fitness-focused influencers.
Influencer engagement rates are determined by the number of followers an influencer can obtain for their page.
Anishkaa Gehani, chief executive of Yardstick Marketing, said the average engagement rate for UAE-based influencers at her agency is 4.59 per cent on Instagram, 2.3 per cent on Facebook, and 1.6 per cent on YouTube.
“In my experience, micro-influencers charge up to $5000 (Dh18,300) for a single collaboration post with a few stories, while mega-influencers charge $10,000,” she said.
“Influencers nowadays also earn money through commissions affiliate links, brand endorsements, subscriptions, and partnerships.
“We've seen influencers devote at least 42 – 50 hours per week to creating content for some of the projects on which our agency has worked.”
The influencer landscape in the UAE has evolved tremendously over the past few years.
The introduction of Social Media Influencer licenses and the requirement that influencers pay VAT has played a big part in professionalising the industry, said Fares Ghneim, partner at Anavizio, a research agency in Dubai.
“What this means is that the biggest and most popular influencers have turned into fully fledged businesses with whole teams behind them to manage social media accounts, content creation, photo shoots, brand partnerships, business affairs and so forth,” he said.
“The influencer spectrum is quite large, with individuals who have millions of followers and mass appeal at one end and very niche, focused influencers at the other.
“Individuals at the higher end of the spectrum often command large sums of money per post and have become celebrities in their own right.
"Broad, popular categories like fashion, beauty, lifestyle or automotive is where you'll often find these mega influencers, with hundreds of thousands or millions of followers.”
Choose your influencers carefully
Mr Fares said what type of influencer to work with and who is most effective depends on what a brand is trying to achieve.
If there is a large budget and the brand wants to achieve high visibility, then a top influencer with a huge follower base would be the way to go.
However, depending on what the objective is, working with smaller influencers who have a more targeted following can often be more impactful and cost effective.
“In fact, the question of effectiveness and influencer partnership ROI is an issue we constantly hear brands complain about”, he said.
“It’s very easy to go for the big names when partnering with influencers. But if the individuals don't align with a brand’s values and if their follower demographics don't match up with the brand’s target customers, then, no matter how creative a campaign, no matter how much or how little money is spent, the outcomes will not be as expected.”
In 2021, HypeAuditor released an Influencer Income Survey and asked 1,865 Instagram influencers in the US about their monthly income from their Instagram account workflow.
Among those surveyed, influencers with 1,000 to 10,000 followers made up 50 per cent of the results, and influencers with 10,000 to 50,000 followers made up 32 per cent of the results. Those with higher followings made up the rest.
Close to half the Instagram influencers surveyed (49 per cent), said they earn money from their accounts.
On average, influencers said they earned $2,970 (Dh10,000) per month.
Breaking it down, the survey revealed micro influencers, with 1,000 to 10,000 followers, earn about $1,420 per month, while mega influencers with more than one million followers earn $15,356 per month.
On average, the influencers surveyed spent 24 hours per week on maintaining an account, with most of the time devoted to posts, stories and communication with followers.
A solid marketing strategy
Natasha Hatherall-Shawe, chief executive of TishTash Communications, works regularly with influencers in the UAE.
Despite the pandemic, she said companies have upped their budgets on influencer marketing as online engagement catapulted during the Covid-19 outbreak.
“However, they have become savvier and more educated as to who they work with and what they spend on specifically against business and marketing objectives,” she said.
“Because we are seeing brands invest more into influencer collaborations, potential earnings have actually increased.”
For those that still don’t accept the term influencer, or fail to take them seriously, there are several reasons for this.
“We still see smaller brands and start-ups confused by the whole idea of influencer marketing and it still gets a bad rap publicly and in business circles,” said Ms Hatherall-Shawe.
“Solopreneurs and micro businesses can struggle to understand the market and make mistakes when engaging influencers leading to disappointment.
“It’s never about the follower numbers and companies must understand this. Influencers, especially in the UAE, still buy followers sadly, but there are free and low cost tools available to be able to analyse accounts as to genuine following and engagement.
“A solid marketing strategy in 2022 needs to include influencers, where appropriate, as within various platforms, there is barely a service or product that would not benefit,” she said.
“Measuring ROI is available to all now and there is no need to be in the dark about the true business potential of utilising influencers.”
Adapt to change
While some influencers have had to accept that a few companies did reduce their budgets during the pandemic, that did not necessarily mean they were losing out on income.
Speaking to The National, one Dubai-based influencer with more than 92,000 followers on Instagram, said the key is to adapt to the changes in the market.
“Some budgets have been cut, yes, but people can still make a living by adapting their content,” said Lavina Israni, 29, from India who regularly posts about entertainment, travel and food.
“It’s a question of tailoring the content to give people what they want to see and that has changed since the start of the pandemic.
“During the first months there was a lot of content just being churned out but now people are much more picky about what they want.”
She said it was a case of influencers either moving with the times or being left behind.
“There’s no question that bloggers have had to up their game significantly,” she said.
“I haven’t suffered a reduction in earnings, in fact it’s remained much the same but the type of content I need to produce has had to change.”
She said one of the most significant changes has been international travel, which was no longer an option for most influencers due to the pandemic.
“The travel market as we know it is dead and I can’t see it picking up again by the end of this year,” she said.
“To compensate for not being able to travel internationally for work, I’ve been producing content by going on staycations and road trips here in the UAE.
“I’ve been doing that because that is the reality for a lot of people, we need to produce content they can identify with.”
While the pandemic has caused difficulties for influencers and bloggers, much like everyone else, there have also been new opportunities created, said Ms Israni.
“Reels on Instagram and TikTok are huge right now where people are consuming shorter content,” she said.
“There are influencers who weren’t around until recently and have suddenly become very popular thanks to those platforms.”
Dubai-based Courtney Brandt has almost 20,000 followers on Instagram where she produces content about food.
The demands on influencers and bloggers have changed considerably since the beginning of the pandemic, she said.
“In 2019 you would have three or four events to cover on the same night and choose which of them you would attend,” said Ms Brandt, 41, from the US.
“We’re not back to those levels but there definitely has been a considerable pick-up since November.”
Before the pandemic, influencers would often be invited to events and would be free to post whatever they liked.
Those sort of invites are no longer the norm, according to Ms Brandt.
“Now they are much more specific, you are likely to be told you need to post a certain amount of stories on Instagram for example,” she said.
“Previously it was not uncommon for them to not even follow up after your visit but now they pay much scrutiny to what you are producing for them.”