Is This the End of Social Media Influencers?

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With the advent of social media came the opportunity for creative types to leverage their personal brands into multi-million dollar empires à la Chiara Ferragni of The Blonde Salad. What started out as an internet phenomenon has become a full-fledged industry – in fact, the data-analyst agency L2 predicts that it will hit $2 billion by 2019. But until now, there have been no regulations or oversight of social media influencers, which has allowed accounts to flourish unchecked.

Why is it important to regulate social media influencer accounts? The first bullet point can be found in the terminology itself: influencer. Influencers have thousands – sometimes millions – of followers and represent personal brands that center on recommending products or styles to their legions of fans. They exist to sell you what they’re wearing, reading, eating, and more. The problem with unregulated influence is that these individuals can market directly to consumers without notifying consumers that they’re being marketed to.

There is also zero quality control when it comes to product recommendations, which means followers can be easily duped into buying items that do not work, like weight-loss pills that are actually placebos. In more extreme cases, social media influencers might sell fake products from their accounts, as in the case of Australian influencer Steph Claire Smith and business Borrow My Balmain, which sold fake designer products that Smith peddled to her followers before being called out by Diet Prada. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated event, hence the desperate need for regulation.

Aspiring insta-thots, BEWARE! Australian account @borrowmybalmain has been purchasing fake @Dior from @ebay and renting it out as the real thing for profit. Have local Aussie influencers @chloemaggs and @stephclairesmith been duped or have they willingly participated in their endor$ement? We’re thinking the latter. Just look at that janky ass embroidered sun with googly eyes 👀!…not so exemplary of the skilled petit mains of the world’s most storied couture house. BTW @vogueaustralia, you should probably take your post of Chloe in the knockoff down! #dior #christiandior #borrowmybalmain #vogue #vogueaustralia #blogger #influencer #chloemaggs #stephclairesmith #couture #embroidery #knockoff #copycat #dietprada #petitmain #mariagraziachiuri #borrowmybalmaingate

A post shared by Diet Prada ™ (@diet_prada) on

So far, social media influencers have skirted most marketing rules, but that changed in 2017. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – a US government entity that works to halt deceptive and anti-competitive business practices that affect consumers – sent out over 90 letters to social media influencers demanding that they adhere to established practices. That means, every sponsored post must be clearly marked as an #ad above the fold, and the influencer must disclose the nature of the brand sponsorship to their followers. However, the FTC has little reach in the Middle East, even if some of the accounts based in the region have many international followers, like @HudaBeauty.

That’s where the UAE’s new media rules come in. In early March 2018, the National Media Council announced that social media influencers who profit from promoting brands and businesses will need to adhere to new regulations and secure new media licenses. Similar to the licenses required by magazines and newspapers, the new media license is intended to legitimize earnings and ensure that the business practices of social media influencers are transparent and above board. The intent is not to stifle creativity or control content, but rather provide some consumer protection that ensures best practices.

The social media influencer and fashion/style blogging sector in the UAE has expanded rapidly in only a few short years, with hundreds of accounts emerging that boasts tens of thousands and, occasionally, millions of followers. With such rapid and expedient growth, all parties involved in the “social contract” of social media – the influencer, the brand, and the consumer – have been operating without legal or governmental protection. For influencers, that means earning money for campaigns without having to disclose that information to their followers.

For brands, that means unfettered marketing access at a fraction of the cost. In an eye-opening report in Business of Fashion, the benefit to the brand is made clear: “According to Tribe Dynamics, 90 percent of brands have increased their earned media budget (which includes influencer marketing) in the past five years. Whereas the cost of placing an advertisement on a page of British Vogue starts at £28,000, an influencer with over one million followers — with a measurable ROI and a more engaged fan base — charges around $15,000 per Instagram post.”

While social media was the new frontier for a while, the fact that many have successfully parlayed their presence into careers – thereby forming an industry – means it must be regulated. Not every social media account is legit, not every follower count is real, and not every product endorsement is verified. Ahmad Bashour of ITP Live, one of the region’s largest social influencer agencies, sees only good things from the new regulations. “This is great news for the influencer marketing industry here in the UAE,” he told The National. “Brands, agencies, platforms, and professional influencers will only benefit from this positive step.”

If you are a social media influencer in the UAE, you can apply for your media license here.

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