How to leverage influencer marketing in the GCC

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By Clark Williams, COO,

In 2017 internet advertising revenues globally will surpass television for the first time, reaching $205 billion as compared with television’s $192 billion. Social network ad spending growth has grown more rapidly in the Middle East and Africa over the last five years than any other worldwide region ( So it is a fair say that digital advertising is no longer niche. The increase in the levels of investment in digital means that the numbers of advertising messages attempting to reach consumers across all of these channels has skyrocketed. The massive inflation of global advertising impressions over any digital device – up from 172 billion in 1996 to over 5 trillion today – have decimated click through rates from an average of 7% in 1996 to less than 0.1% today (Source: comScore).

Consumers have reached a point of saturation with digital advertising. Though click through rates in the GCC are higher compared to worldwide averages, the widespread increase in the number of people downloading ad blocking software (40% of millennials have it installed on their mobile phones) means that banner ads are reaching fewer consumers. The challenge now for marketers is how best get their messages across and build engagement.

The most effective means to do this is by grabbing the attention of consumers from recommendations they already trust; influencers.

Influencer marketing played a key digital marketing role in in 2016 and the collaboration between big brands and influencers is set to increase in 2017. The debate isn’t whether today’s consumers put more trust in recommendations and promotions from third party influencers than they do from branded content. It is how to leverage this important digital advertising medium more effectively.

Choose influencers that are real and relevant to your brand

Not all influencers are gaining followers equally, or more importantly, organically. With Instagram becoming one of the top alternatives to traditional banner ads, the temptation to buy followers and increase levels of engagement has never been greater. Since one can buy 50,000 followers for as little as $250 and bot automation can now generate likes, comments is English & Arabic, it is important to determine whether an influencer has earned their followers and engagement rates organically. Tell-tale signs are short-term spikes in follower counts or comments that systematically repeat the exact copy continuously in replicated patterns.

Choosing the most relevant influencer for your brand relies less on quantitative metrics, and more on brand personality match. While most marketers have now geared away from relying only on the sheer number of followers and towards higher engagement rates, more can and should be done. A 2% engagement rate may seem to be a good metric, but once you lift the curtains behind the numbers and into the compositions of the engagement, a lot can be learned regarding the general sentiment towards the influencer, and the brand.

Engagement versus follower count

Aside from choosing the right influencer to match your brand’s personality, the amount of engagement the content of an influencer receives is extremely important. Audience size is irrelevant if nobody is engaging with the content. Therefore the most important metric is engagement, since it takes into account all consumer interactions (i.e. likes, comments and shares) as well as the number of followers.

Engagement is an excellent gauge of how well the follower is performing vis-à-vis other influencers, regardless of their follower counts. Having a good engagement rate means that the influencer has meaningful interactions with their followers, which is the brand’s potential target audience when utilizing those influencers for a campaign. Followers that act on an influencer’s content are an audience that is much more likely to convert when a brand targets them for a campaign.

A new study in the United States (Markerly) revealed that as an influencer’s number of followers rises, the rate of engagement with followers begins to decrease. Users that had less than 1,000 followers generated comments about 0.5% of the time, compared with 0.04% for those with 10M+ followers, a difference of nearly 13X. In the GCC we also have also documented this same trend. The engagement rates of influencers drops from 1.93% for those with less than 100K followers to 1.00% for influences with 1-2M followers. The one difference is for those influencers of 2.0M and above who have a slightly higher engagement rate than their closest influencer category. Since higher engagement leads to higher conversion rates, this is something to keep in mind when leveraging influencers into a brand’s marketing strategy.

The above data is based on the Influencer Marketing Platform of, which has 1,905 Influencers and 670M followers across the GCC.

Creative content quality

Like content creation in traditional advertising, poor creative will not help with building awareness or driving sales. For influencer marketing, depending on the number of followers, everything you post will generate some engagement. But asking an influencer to repost a banner ad is a lazy attempt to drive engagement. Any content that adds value to a conversation will perform better than low quality content. Posts that get higher engagement are those that are relevant, create interest or novelty, and fit with the influencer’s personality. Marketing through influencers provides access to mass impressions through the influencers’ followers, but unlike banner advertising where the digital marketing medium has nothing to do with the creative, marketing through influencers must take into account the influencers for content creation. Influencer marketing works best when the consumer is not surprised that the influencer they are following is reposting, or creating, content across their social media channels about a certain brand.

The rise of micro influencers

While influencers with multi-million followers are great, micro influencers are a lot more in touch with their audience. They respond to more messages, care genuinely about the quality of content they post, and try to remain true to their personality. Some of the best influencer campaigns that have used dozens of micro influencers, instead of one influencer with a large following, have yielded tremendous reach with high conversions. This is best done when the influencer is given greater freedom over the content (they know their followers best) and the client’s branding police are not involved. Branding guidelines are where influencer marketing campaigns go to die.

Clark Williams is the Chief Operating Officer of, the Dubai-based online Influencer Marketing Platform with over 1,900 registered influencers and 670M followers.

The views expressed by the author are his own and do not necessarily represent those of Gulf Marketing Review.