After recently talking to you and Meltwater about how to build an influencer marketing campaign with an impact, I wanted to take a few moments to share with you what I believe to be the next influencer marketing trends to look out for in the Middle East.

Here are 9 main trends for influencer marketing in a quick 6-minute read.

Trend #1: Data will dominate the conversation

Brands are becoming more informed about working with influencers, which moves them towards demanding more data from influencers and agencies alike. The most common information requested will include an influencer’s audience analysis as well as post-influencer campaign reports. As marketers, we’re often required to justify where, how and why our budgets are being utilized – and such numbers argue for our case!

With data that’s focused on the true reach and impact on an influencer, measuring ROI becomes simpler and in return allows for brands to justify allocating budgets to influencer marketing campaigns.

Some of the standard (and expected) analysis requested will be:

  1. Demographics: is the influencer’s audience geographically located where your brand would like to be? Does the influencer’s audience reflect the group your brand is targeting?
  2. Engagement: Does their follower count somewhat match their engagement rate? How does the audience interact with the influencer’s day-to-day content? What about sponsored content?

Trend #2: ‘Fake-fluencers’ will be caught red-handed

If you haven’t read the New York Times article on fake influencers – read it now.

Let’s be real; for the price of a few Dirhams, any social media user can buy thousands of fake followers. This creates a new generation of ‘fake-fluencers’ (i.e. people who amassed large fan base by purhcasing them vs. creating content that appeals them).

I was having a conversation with my nephew the other day, and he told me that his dream job was to be an influencer.

Am I suprised? No.

Everyone (kids included) wants to be a social media super star these days, at whatever cost!

We can definitely expect a hike in the number of ‘fake-fluencers’, which means that agencies and brands alike will need to be more careful about the influencers they choose for their campaigns. Or else, they’ll be left in hot water once they realize that their entire campaign strategy has failed, only because the ‘fake-fluencer’ did not deliver what was promised!

The best way to avoid this?

Implementing an airtight process for vetting and choosing influencers. Don’t focus on the number of their followers only, but monitor their engagement too. It goes without saying; followers who are  ‘bought’ rarely interact or engage. A large following with minimal audience interaction/enagement should raise the first red flag!

However, identifying ‘fake-fluencers’ is becoming more of a challenge today, as people now have the ability to not only buy ‘followers’ but also pay for ‘enagement’. This is where influencer marketing tools come in handy, as the in-depth analysis makes it easier to spot the different types of influencers.

Trend #3: Influencer campaigns move from ‘one-off’ to ‘always-on’

Most brands that have recently joined the influencer marketing bandwagon still have the project-based influencer marketing mindset. However, more and more brands are moving into recruiting and using influencers for the longer term.

We see this within the market from brand in various sectors such as fashion and retail. IKEA, Careem, Samsung are a few examples of brands that include influencers consistently in their marketing messages.

In addition, more brands will shift the influencers that fit their brand best, to become official brand ambassadors. We will also witness power middle influencers declare ambassador relationships with power middle brands.

Trend #4: Laws and Regulations will rise for Influencer Marketing

As influencer marketing continues to grow in the region, it becomes necessary to protect consumers; full disclosure and transparency will most likely become mandatory. This also goes in line with many GCC countries recently implementing VAT, which means we could see the act regulation resulting in influencers being required to register in order to work with brands. By standardizing and regulating this market, both brands and the influencer guarantee protection in the collaboration.

Update: the UAE will be the first GCC country to regulate influencers in the region, other countries will surely follow in its steps!

Trend #5: The battle of Influencers vs. Content Creators

We’ve touched base on this during the webinar from a ‘How much should I really be paying an influencer?’ point of view.

We often see influencer agencies and managers promoting content creation as one of the core selling points of an influencer, this alongside the influencer’s audience and reach. We’ll soon start seeing the emergence of a naming battle between “influencers” and “content creators”.

YouTubers prefer referring to themselves as ‘content creators’ rather than ‘influencers’, but have you ever thought of the reason? Well, it is because they’re capable of producing great content that actually threatens and competes with traditional media outlets (and they know it!).

To give you an example; a digital agency may charge their clients AED 500,000 for a video production project, whereas a ‘content creator’ is able to produce content of a similar quality for a fraction of the cost.

While many believe that the main reason we collaborate with influencers is for their reach and audience, we often forget the importance of their actual content creation skills.

As marketers, we need to understand that the perfect ‘influencer’ is both one with an audience, and one who creates content that is engaging.

Trend #6: Paid promotion of influencer content

With social media platforms such as Facebook altering their algorithms, a brand’s ability to reach their audience organically is now limited. In effect, both brands and influencers will be highly selective of the type and quality of content they choose to post.

Brands and influencers alike will utilize their budgets carefully to promote and push the content and posts that prove to be popular and engaging in order to reach their audience. Now before you think I’m crazy, keep in mind that the best influencers and agencies have already been doing this quietly in the background. Personally, I’ve been pushing clients to take this approach for the past year.

Trend #7: Vloggers of YouTube – The Takeover

When you hear the word ‘Influencer’, Instagram is usually the first platform that comes to mind as it is thought to be the founding hub for influencers.

On Instagram, influencers are easy to spot, relatively less costly and content creation is much easier and faster. Instagram has taken good measures in their recent updates that encourage influencers to create content and provide brands with data.

However, KPIs such as reach, impressions and engagement are only relevant if your campaign goal is to raise brand awareness. This is where YouTube vloggers gain advantage, as YouTube provides more in-depth analysis and measurability, not to mention the combination of scale and OOT advertising.

Trend #8: The rise of micro influencer tools

Micro influencers serve a different purpose compared to influencers. In comparison, you need several micro-influencers to replace one major influencer in a campaign.

In my opinion, using micro-influencers for a campaign gives you access to a more diverse and authentic audience. However, the process of discovering, reaching out, negotiating, tracking and paying 25 micro-influencers for one campaign does prove to be quite tedious.

Brands and agencies alike are still torn between using micro-influencers or social ‘celebrities’ for their influencer marketing campaigns, a topic that was also discussed heavily at the Dubai Influencers Live event that took place in February.

As we’re currently seeing in the Middle East, micro-influencer solutions are emerging to help brands (and influencers) run scale collaborations with less effort. To date, there are several tools founded in the UAE, but how user-friendly are they? I find that there is still lots of work to be done with our local micro-influencer platforms. Building up their database of micro-influencers (active app users) would be the first step in the right direction.

Trend #9: Influencer agencies will get a seat at the table.

A few years ago, mentioning the word ‘influencer’ in a room filled with CMO’s and brand managers would result in me receiving blank stares. followed by a blunt rejection.

It’s safe to say that today my phone will not stop ringing with calls requesting for my input and consultancy on including influencers in brands’ upcoming campaigns.

More brands are seeing the value in collaborating with specialized agencies due to their expertise in both influencer and digital marketing. I think it’s evident that when influencer agencies get a seat at the client’s table, the output leads to a more effective and memorable campaigns.