Why Instagram Live spells the death of phony Gulf ‘influencers’

Selena Gomez was in December named the most popular celebrity on Instagram, and currently has more than 109 million followers. But some so-called influencers do not have genuine followers. (Reuters)
Updated 14 February 2017
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Why Instagram Live spells the death of phony Gulf ‘influencers’

One recent afternoon in Dubai, Anthony Permal received notification that a social media influencer he follows on Instagram was broadcasting on the company’s new Live Stories platform.
Permal, the head of digital marketing at an international pharmaceutical company, opened his smartphone and tuned in. The influencer has a six-figure following and attracts an average of 3,000-4,000 likes per static image, yet their live stream was being viewed by no more than 10 people.
“It made me think,” Permal told Arab News. “Where is the audience? Just how much influence does this person have?”
With influencers demanding anything from $130 up to $50,000 per post, there is a growing cynicism from companies regarding return on investment. Yet the recent roll-out of Instagram’s new Live platform across the Middle East has inadvertently handed local PR companies a key tool for better understanding the level of clout that influencers’ accounts have.
As Tony Lewis, founder of Dubai-based PR agency Total Communications argues: “It requires a far greater level of commitment to tune into a live video and intelligently engage than it does to double-tap a photo.”
“We are living in this age of digital hypnotism,” added Lewis. “Everyone has a smartphone and they are connected to it 24 hours a day, but how much attention do they actually give to what they are liking on Instagram or Facebook? Is it genuine? Does seeing someone’s product post really impact your own decisions?”
A study by BPG Cohn & Wolfe would suggest it does. A survey of 1,008 United Arab Emirates (UAE) residents found that 63 percent of people feel their purchasing decisions are directly impacted by influencers, while 71 percent will be more interested in buying a brand if it is endorsed by someone they follow on social media.
According to influencers.ae, there are approximately 1,385 influencers across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) who are followed by a combined 549 million users. The majority operate in niche markets, such as food, fashion, travel and automotive. The most-followed account in the region is Huda Kattan, a Dubai-based beauty blogger who posts from @HudaBeauty to 17.3 million followers and has launched her own make-up range internationally. Harrods, among others, stocks her supplies.
Yet for every Kattan there are a variety of impersonators and imposters, resulting in a sea of skepticism regarding whether the five- and six-figure follower bases of some influencer accounts are real users or paid-for bots.
“We know that a lot of influencers do buy followers and are fake,” said Taghreed Oraibi, who led the BPG Cohn & Wolfe study. “But we are finding Instagram Live very useful for separating the real from the fake. If you have a few hundred-thousand followers and only a handful of people watch your live broadcast, then that is a very big sign.”
Without regulation, the fees demanded from brands for endorsement deals vary wildly across the region, some industry executives say. Influencers in the UAE and Kuwait command far greater sums than their Omani or Jordanian counterparts, who often ask only to be invited to the next event.
Permal, who will speak about social media transparency at next week’s inaugural Influencer Marketing Summit in Dubai, said most brands pay between $130-$250 for a post or two, but has heard stories of influencers charging upward of $27,000.
One of Lewis’ clients paid an influencer $31,000 to promote an event, but with no evidence that any of her million-plus followers attended, the client was left feeling it was a waste of money.
“Proper measurement is needed to justify the spend,” Lewis said. “Ultimately, it is all about return on investment and we as an industry need to do a lot more research and thinking before pouring money over people just because they have a lot of ‘followers’.”
Since the launch of Instagram Stories last year, there are more than 150 million people using the platform every day, with the Live function operating as an extension. The Twitter equivalent, Periscope, has been available in the region since 2015, while Snapchat opened its first Middle East office in Dubai earlier this month. The prolificacy of smartphones should bode well for such developments, but whether live-video applications can help uncover hyped-up influencers remains a challenge.
“People will always find a way,” said Permal, adding it is the responsibility of brands and PR companies to utilize tools such as Followerwonk or BuzzSumo.com to carry out audit checks on influencers before engaging.
Meanwhile, the dark side of the industry is already adapting. Fake Instagram Live viewers are now available for purchase online, with the top result in a Google search, coolsouk.com, promising 20,000 live video views for $120. Registered to a UAE mobile phone, the company said all six of its packages were currently out of stock.


Iran BBC reprisals trigger media ouctry

BBC Persian presenter Rana Rahimpour says journalists are unable to visit Iran for family funerals. (Facebook)
Updated 19 March 2019
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Iran BBC reprisals trigger media ouctry

  • Iran this week faced a media industry outcry over its alleged systematic targeting of BBC Persian Service
  • Britain’s National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said that it would continue to campaign to stop the harassment of the BBC Persian journalists

LONDON: Iran this week faced a media industry outcry over its alleged systematic targeting of BBC Persian Service journalists including the “sexual defamation” of female staff.
It follows a move by the European Parliament to back a resolution criticizing the treatment of BBC Persian service journalists by Iranian authorities.
Writing in The Guardian, veteran UK media commentator Roy Greenslade said that “too little attention has been paid to an insidious long-run campaign of persecution by the Iranian authorities against the staff of the BBC Persian service.”
“As they stand, the facts are shocking,” said Greenslade. “Unable to get their hands on BBC Persian’s London-based staff, Iran’s police intimidate their relatives inside Iran. They freeze their assets, which has the effect of preventing them buying and selling property. They arrest them arbitrarily, interrogating them for hours at a time and often detaining them for days in prison.”
Britain’s National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said that it would continue to campaign to stop the harassment of the BBC Persian journalists. “We are pleased the European Parliament and the UN Human Rights Council have supported our calls for Iran to stop targeting BBC journalists in London and their families in Iran,” Sarah Kavanagh, NUJ senior campaigns and communications officer, told Arab News.
“We will continue campaigning until the authorities stop the harassment and persecution.”
Press Gazette, the UK media industry trade publication, also reported on the story on Monday and quoted MEP Jude Kirton-Darling who drew attention to smear campaigns aimed at some female Persian Service staff who have had their faces superimposed on pornographic images. “I would particularly like to raise awareness about the sexualized defamation campaigns being waged against brave female journalists at BBC Persian and I would call on the EU to no longer be silent about this attack on European women, European journalists.
“We have a duty and a responsibility to defend free journalism.”
Last week the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Professor Javaid Rehman, presented his first report to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
He told the Council that he “deplores” the harassment of BBC Persian staff. He also raised concerns about attacks on BBC Persian journalists in Iranian state media, with fake and defamatory news being published to undermine their reputations.
The BBC took the unprecedented step of directly appealing to the UN in 2017, in what was the first time the broadcaster has ever engaged with the body about the treatment of its journalists.
BBC Persian presenter Rana Rahimpour told the council about her own experience and how her father was subjected to a travel ban to prevent him from visiting her after her first child was born.
International counsel for the BBC World Service, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jennifer Robinson, have filed a further complaint to the UN over the reprisals BBC Persian journalists have faced.
They said, “Reprisals against BBC Persian journalists and their families for engaging with the UN is not just an attack on freedom of expression, but an attack on the integrity of the UN system. Such reprisals must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.”
Simon Spanswick, CEO of Association for International Broadcasting, said his organization “deplores any and all attempts to interfere with the work” of legitimate media companies.
“The case of BBC Persian staff and their families is one of a growing number of cases where broadcasting organizations and those that work for them are being intimidated,” he said.
“The case has been raised by the BBC at the UN through a complaint — the first it has ever made to the UN. The UN Special Rapporteur on Iran has included the case in his report to the UN Human Rights Council. We look forward to seeing the response of the Iranian government on this case which is, in effect, a jurisprudence dragnet.”
Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and North Africa program coordinator at the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said there was a “wider story” of intimidation of journalists by Tehran, especially dual-national Iranian media workers.
Many Iranian journalists had been “portrayed as tools of foreign intervention and included in conspiracy theories,” Mansour said.