Influencers & the Importance of Credibility – an Example from SeaWorld Abu Dhabi

life-lessons-article-by-khalid-alameri-in-the-national

When choosing influencers, brands and publishers need to ask themselves if the person has the credibility and expertise to influence others.

As anyone working in comms will have noticed, 2016 was the year of the influencer. That trend will not only continue into 2017, but it’ll pick up pace. Everywhere you will look, you’ll see brands and organizations working with influencers to address public issues with their stakeholders.

There’s many issues around working with influencers. One, which I’m going to highlight here, is the importance of credibility. Often brands (or publishers) will seek out an influencer  who has a wide following and is popular. That’s unfortunately not the best approach to follow. Instead, brands need to think about credibility, by asking themselves if the influencer they’d like to work with is 1) an expert in this field, and 2) has talked about the issue before, and 3) are considered to have integrity.

I’ve talked about this topic before, most notably when Etisalat brought on-board a load of social media influencers from rival Du. It’s a topic I’ll probably have to keep coming back to again and again, as brands (and publishers) keep on making the same basic mistake.

A fellow communications professional shared with me an opinion piece from the Abu Dhabi-based English-language newspaper yesterday. It was on why Abu Dhabi and SeaWorld will be a good fit, and why both will benefit the wider environment. The piece was written by Khalid AlAmeri, a well-known and well-respected influencer.

The piece is well-written in terms of the argument, and while I could argue to the contrary I’m going to focus on the choice of the influencer. Firstly, Khalid writes prolifically on entrepreneurship and issues around Emiratisation. He’s well-known and admired for this work. However, he’s not an expert on the environment or wildlife (if he is, his expertise should be highlighted here). He’s highlighted some criticisms of SeaWorld, which is the sign of an experienced writer who knows how to engage in a debate. But again, why should I believe someone who firstly isn’t an expert in the field, and who hasn’t written previously on the subject.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not an easy task to find influencers on issues that aren’t mainstream (fashion, food and travel). However, there are organizations in the UAE which do oversee the environment, such as the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (which I assume Khalid references in the piece), or the Emirates Diving Association. There are also associations and people who take part in marine life conservation, such as the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project. These bodies would have made for a much more powerful and compelling argument, primarily due to their expertise. Knowing this, I’d be much less willing to question their lines of argument. As it stands, Khalid’s opinion piece is weakened due to his lack of credibility in this area (as opposed to his expertise on entrepreneurship). To me, that lack of expertise weakens an argument rather than promotes it.

Two-Thirds of UAE Residents Will Take Advice from Social Media Influencers on a Purchase, Apparently…

Now, this may shock you. But, we’re all now listening to social media celebrities to decide what we want to buy and eat. At least, that’s the result of research carried out by PR agency BPG Cohn & Wolfe with YouGov. Out of over a thousand people surveyed, 71 percent of those aged between 18 and 40 said they’d be happy to take advice from their favorite social media influencer before buying. And if you don’t believe me, Results for BPG Survey (Fashion Food, & Beauty Influencer), see the press release or have a look at the infographic below.

The growing power of social media influencers and bloggers has been borne out by new research from Dubai-based PR agency BPG Cohn & Wolfe that shows that 71 per cent of UAE residents aged 18-40 are happy to take advice online before purchasing.

 

Beauty, fashion and food are the areas where residents are most likely to turn to leading social media influencers for recommendations say the results of the research undertaken for the agency by YouGov who interviewed 1000 men and women across the country.

 

Tech-savvy residents used their smartphones to follow their favourite influencers with 68 per cent of those polled admitting that where they eat out can be prompted by online recommendations or reviews and 63 per cent more likely to buy fashion or beauty products based on what these influencers might say.

 

BPG Cohn & Wolfe PR Director, Consumer Practice, Taghreed Oraibi managed the research process and said: “We are working closer than ever with bloggers and influencers and wanted to find out just how influential they have become in a country that is more switched on and digital than many all over the world.

 

“The results have clearly shown that companies now have to take these online influencers seriously and listen to what they have to say and find creative and engaging ways to work with them to tell their story and reach customers in that vital 18-40 demographic.

 

“BPG Cohn & Wolfe has identified the rise in influence of bloggers for some time and this led to commissioning the research to assess just how widespread their influence is and in what areas they have the most impact.”

 

BPG's research has found that over two thirds of UAE consumers will take advice from social media influencers before they buy. But what does this really mean?

BPG’s research has found that over two thirds of UAE consumers will take advice from social media influencers before they buy. But what does this really mean?

The issue of social media influencers is controversial (have a read of this guest blog post from yesterday by Rijosh Joseph). I’m personally a fan of working with social media influencers when they’re used strategically (i.e. who they are and what they do is aligned to the brand they are working with), when there’s a long-term commitment rather than an agreement for a single post or three, and when the goals are clear and there’s a sensible set of measurement metrics in place.

And, I’ll be honest, I don’t see many organizations in the region thinking through what influencer engagement can do for their brands or customers. Instead, it’s a ‘me-too’ approach. I hope I’m wrong.on this (if I’m wrong, then tell me). In the meantime, I’ll be listening to my influencers when making my next purchase, namely my wife and daughter.

When it comes to social media, advertising and the Middle East, why don’t we have any ethics?

The region loves social media, but its influencers and advertisers are less keen to say when a post is paid for (image source: www.business2community.com)

The region loves social media, but its influencers and advertisers are less keen to say when a post is paid for (image source: http://www.business2community.com)

Who needs ethics right? Ethics are boring, they’re dry, and they mean we have to use disclaimers. Ethics really aren’t fun. But you know what, without them we’d be in a fair amount of trouble. With the Arab Social Media Influencers Summit happening this week in Dubai, and a fair few social media influencers being in town (including quite a few from Kuwait who don’t make it clear that they accept money for posting on their social media channels), I want to reprint this post which I shared with the Media Network Middle East last month. I’d love to hear your views on ethics, or the lack thereof, when it comes to social media and advertising in our region.

While European and American consumers are benefiting from crystal clear regulations on sponsored social media content, there’s little to no clarity here on the same.

We’re awash with social media in our region. Everywhere you go, you’ll see people sliding their fingers left and right, pushing up and pulling down on their smartphone screens. We’re all at it, checking our Instagram accounts, refreshing our Twitter feeds, and posting Facebook updates.

Today we have social media celebrities, people who have become famous through their online activities. There are Instagrammers in Kuwait with over a million followers, Facebookers in the UAE with hundreds of thousands of likes, and Saudi Tweeters with followings equal to the population of Bahrain.

Alongside these social media celebrities we have witnessed the rise of paid posts. Those of you with a keen eye will have noticed how many celebrities online have become more commercial, and have begun to share updates, images and videos promoting brands.

There’s nothing wrong with promotional advertising. Using paid influencer marketing is a common tactic to spread awareness, promote a brand, and to engage social media users across the globe. Online advertising can be more cost effective in terms of measurement and reach.

However, there’s no distinction between an advert and paid-for content. Both involve a payment of some kind by a company for a promotion of its brand or services. Regulators across Europe and the United States have essentially ruled that if money is changing hands, obvious disclosure must occur in-ad. Their reasoning is simple; consumers have a right to know what is an advert and what is not an advert.

While European and American consumers are benefiting from crystal clear regulations on sponsored social media content, there’s little to no clarity here on the same. Consumers here have no authority to turn to or no regulations to guide them on what is and what isn’t sponsored.

There seems to be little eagerness for brands or social media celebrities to advertise what is paid-for content either. This is understandable, as their followers may be less inclined to engage with a post if they know it is sponsored, or even follow a person who they know accepts money for posts.

While this lack of disclosure may appeal in the short term and help to maximise revenues (paid-for posts in Kuwait can fetch up to three thousand dollars per posting), it does nothing to building goodwill and trust with consumers across the region. A lack of honesty and transparency on what social media celebrities are paid to post will negatively affect trust in both the sponsoring brand as well as the celebrity who is accepting the payment in return for sharing the content.

In the US the burden is on brands to ensure that their endorsers, such as bloggers and online influencers) are in compliance in terms of disclosure. Paid-for posts have to include language such as #Ad, Ad: or Sponsored. Even brand posts and shares by a company’s employees have to be clearly labeled to account for the bias.

Either brands can take action and begin to self-regulate, or they can wait for regulators to finally step in and possibly take a harder-line approach to sponsored influencer endorsements. Is risking a reputation and trust, built up over years of marketing, worth risking over a lack of disclosure? I hope the answer is no.

The cost, and ethics, of paying Instagrammers in Kuwait

Kuwait is known for its love of Instagram and local Instagrammers (image source: http://www.248am.com)

A fascinating blog post by Mark of TwoFortyEightAM has me focusing on not just the cost of using Instagrammers, but the ethics of advertising through influencers in this region. In his post last week, Mark published a list of how much Kuwaiti Instagrammers get paid per post by advertisers. To quote from Mark’s blog, here’s a sample of some Kuwaiti Instagrammers and how much they/their agencies charge (note: prices are in Kuwaiti Dinars and one KD is just under 3.5 US Dollars).

@ahmad_asb (134,700 followers) KD450
@alimubarak1 (68,152 followers) KD450
@ameralshaibani (204,455 followers) KD450
@ascia_akf (1,005,559 followers) KD850
@azizbader (497,708 followers) KD850
@basharnoo (342,316 followers) KD400
@batoul_alkandari (224,233 followers) KD450
@bb_alabdulmohsen (59,123 followers) KD350
@dalalid (866,687 followers) KD850
@daneeda_t (358,396 followers) KD450
@dr_shammat (887,156 followers) KD750
@elham_alfedhalah74 (1,758,795 followers) KD900
@faisalalbasri (474,132 followers) KD850
@fawaz_alfahad (111,874 followers) KD400
@groupwanasah_ (444,647 followers) KD350
@hayaalshuaibi_79 (814,972 followers) KD700
@kaftanusman (516,835 followers) KD500
@nohastyleicon (811,541 followers) KD850
@omaralothman (92,482 followers) KD500
@thedietninja (351,952 followers) KD550
@therealfouz (216,096 followers) KD500
@theveeview (631,973 followers) KD500
@yousif_alblooshi (171,520 followers) KD350

You can see pricing lists for one agency, Ghaliah, here.

What fascinates me more than the pricing (and the analytics) is that of the ethics associated with influencers such as the above. In the US, if an influencer is taking money for a post they’ll have to make this known to their audience – it’s a legal requirement to ensure that their audience understands what they’ve just posted online is paid-for and therefore is an advert.

However, there are few Instagrammers here who do the same. As mentioned by one of Mark’s visitors, one of the Instagrammers above does use a * to denote a paid-for ad. But as for the others, there’s no suggestion as to what is paid-for and not paid-for.

Is this right? As a follower, I’d like to know if someone is paid for promoting another brand. It’s honest and forthright. Unfortunately, we will have to keep on guessing whether or not these posts are free or paid-for. Maybe this is one area where we need more government legislation to help consumers know what is really going on.

As for the costs of these Instagrammers, it’d be interesting to know how advertisers track their return-on-investment for sponsoring these paid-for posts. While Kuwait is one of the largest markets for Instagram in this region, it’s still difficult to know what percentage of followers is real and what percentage is fake. Similarly, when you’re spending over $2k USD on an Instagram post what are your intended outcomes as an advertiser?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the above, as well as how much Instagrammers get paid in the rest of the region. Ta for now!

Will Huffington Post’s entry into the Gulf be a game-changer?

How will the Huffington Post affect the Gulf’s media landscape? We’ll find out early next year. (image source: http://www.aim.org)

Being in the Middle East’s media sector can often feel like waiting for a bus. You can wait for years for a new launch (post-2008 in any case) and then all of a sudden you have two of the world’s largest news portals announcing expansion plans. First we had Buzzfeed, and now we have the Huffington Post. The local site Doha News broke the story earlier this month. According to the piece, the site will be partnered by the former director general of the Al Jazeera Media Network Wadah Khanfar and his media firm Integral Media Strategies.

The site will be in Arabic and will launch early next year. HuffPost Arabi, as it will be known, will be based in London. HuffPo founder and editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington is quoted by Doha News as saying the site would “bring more Arab voices into the conversation and deepen the world’s understanding of life in the Arab world, from its problems to its accomplishments to its untapped potential.”

The site will include a combination of aggregation, blog posts from a wide variety of sources and original reporting from HuffPo reporters and Khanfar’s team.

Launched in 2005, the original Huffington Post redefined online media by working with bloggers to aggregate news. The site was the first online news portal to win a Pulitzer and was sold in 2011 for 315 million dollars to AOL. Besides English, the Huffington Post is published in French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, German, Portuguese and Korean.

However, how will the Arabic be received? Firstly, Khanfar was one of the driving forces behind the success of Al Jazeera. However, with him at the helm HuffPost Arabi is likely to be persona non grata in many of the Gulf states due Al Jazeera’s implied support for Islamist groups and perceived interference in the internal politics of governments across the region.

In addition, much of the dialogue that the Huffington Post is looking to encourage in the region can already be found online on social media. With its base in London, five thousand kilometers from the Gulf, how will the HuffPost Arabi be able to distinguish itself in a crowded media landscape that is government controlled? I can’t wait to find out.

How to get on Etihad’s The Residence for free thanks to Kickstarter

The past week has witnessed its fair share of oohs and aahs at the region’s largest tourism show in Dubai. One of the biggest jaw-droppers was the announcement by Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad of a new travel experience. Named the Residence and akin to a flat in the sky for those traveling on select routes on Etihad’s A380s, the 120 plus square feet of space offers travelers a dining space and living room, their own en-suite shower and bedroom. With perks that include chairs fitted out with the same leather as a Ferrari, a personal butler on call, a personal vanity unit, wardrobe and swiveling TV monitor for viewing from either the seat or the bed. All of this will cost you approximately US$20,000 one way when flying from from Abu Dhabi to London.

And just to prove the point, why don’t you let Etihad’s Guest Ambassador, Dannii Minogue take you on a tour of The Residence.

One budding travel reviewer has turned to Kickstarter to help him raise the money needed to purchase a Residence ticket (I don’t know if you’d purchase a ticket for a flat in the sky). The very young-looking Ben Schlappig is the editor of the One Mile At A Time blog on the Boarding Area website, and his pitch goes like this:

Etihad Airways new A380 features a concept that I believe will revolutionize commercial air travel. Help me review the product!

I’ve been flying frequently since a very young age, and travel and aviation are my greatest passions. Over time that passion for travel and flying grew to finding the cheapest way to travel in luxury. And over the years I’ve reviewed most of the world’s best first class products.

With only one “Residence” per flight, this may very well be the first A380 premium cabin product for which you can’t redeem miles. This may change over time, but with only one “cabin” per flight it’s highly unlikely.

As a result, it may be a long time before we get an independent review of Etihad’s A380 Residences.

What I propose is flying the Residences product within the first week it’s in service, so I can report on all aspects of the experience. Chances are it would otherwise be a long time before we get an unbiased review of Etihad’s new product.

While the thought of paying for someone else to fly in the lap of luxury to write a review may leave some in horror Ben has already raised US$11,000. With 22 days to go, can he raise the additional US$14,000 he needs for his trip? If he does, I’m going to start my own travel blog and try never to pay for a flight myself again.

If you have excess cash which you have no idea what to do with and now want to donate to this cause, go here and splash some cash for Ben.

PS On another note, while I love her to bits (I still remember her in Australian soap Neighbours) does Dannii Minogue scream luxury? She may let loose during the YouTube video to the chagrin of many of those who have left comments but I would have hoped Etihad would have splashed the cash to bring in someone who would be easier to associate with top-tier luxury. What are your thoughts?