Earlier this year, research revealed that influencers' so-called influence is actually spiraling down. But it seems as though companies are unfazed by this piece of information as brands are set to spend up to $15 billion on influencer marketing by 2022. 

Companies approach influencers (aka people with a huge following on social media) to promote their products or services. In return, influencers charge a fee for a certain number of posts. The concept of influencer marketing exists pretty heavily in the Arab world, as revealed in the fourth edition of the Social Media Influencers' Survey conducted by YouGov and BPG Group. In it, 1,000 Emirati and Saudi residents aged 18 to 35 were surveyed to better understand consumers' attitudes towards social media influencers. 

According to the survey, about 85 percent of millennials in Saudi Arabia and the UAE follow at least one social media influencer. But that doesn't mean influencers are gaining popularity. It's actually the opposite. Among those surveyed, 79 percent said they have unfollowed an online star for flooding their timelines with promotional content. 

Source: BPG Group

One in three respondents said they would most definitely unfollow an influencer if "they post too many ads" while around half said they "may" unfollow them. Almost four in five respondents have actually unfollowed an influencer for those very same reasons. 

Despite this, the survey revealed that influencers who post relevant content continue to be popular among users. However, users are more aware than people think. 

Taghreed Oraibi, a BPG Group business director, explained that there is a lot being done to ensure influencer content doesn't swamp timelines and to make sure consumers aren't misled. 

"Brands and agencies alike are following international and local regulations and guidelines in a step to support authorities regulate influencer marketing and increase content transparency to protect consumers," she said

"Disclosure statements and hashtags are being used more than ever, hence consumers are more aware of the nature of an influencer's content."

This comes as 73 percent of consumers said they can actually tell if the content on these influencers' social media pages is "paid for" or authentic. Also, 59 percent said they don't actually trust influencers' reviews or recommendations if they have been paid to promote it. 

Having said that, social media influencers who have gained the trust of their followers still have the power to leave an impact on online users. That influence has translated into purchases on many occasions. Despite this, the majority of those surveyed said they trust reviews from their friends/family much more than they do from influencers.

According to the survey, 73 percent have said they purchased, or tried, something mentioned by an influencer; another 73 percent also said they discover new trends by following them  be it a restaurant, a promo code, a travel destination, what have you.

So the influence isn't all down the drain ... at least not yet.

Top influencer categories and platforms

Influencers span literally almost any industry — from entertainment and lifestyle to food and travel. Among those surveyed, here are the most popular categories in terms of followers: 

  • Entertainment (94 percent)
  • Food (92 percent)
  • Travel (91 percent)
  • Tech (90 percent)
  • Lifestyle (89 percent)
  • Interiors (80 percent)
  • Automotive (78 percent)
  • Gaming (75 percent) 

In terms of platforms, it really depends on the category being followed. For content focused on travel, interiors, arts, culture, entertainment, and automotive, Facebook is the preferred platform for users. 

Instagram is for people who are looking for content in fashion, beauty, food, and lifestyle. Categories such as tech and gaming are more popular on YouTube.

The rise of "influencers" in the Arab world

In the Arab world, countless humans aspire to become influencers in their own right, though the majority of them are not "influential" per se. The spike in the number of influencer wannabes forced the UAE to make the process a bit more challenging for people. Last year, the Gulf nation rolled out a licensing program, demanding influencers apply for a license and follow the rules and regulations occupying that space. Anyone who wishes to become an influencer must apply for a trade license first and then for an e-media license which costs 15,000 dirhams ($4,000) annually. 

Even with the new rules, more than 1,000 people have actually applied and have been granted a license to operate as a social media influencer in the country. 

You may be wondering why would someone go through all that trouble for popularity, right? Well, we all know it's more about the money than anything else.

According to data released by Gulf News, influencers in the UAE get paid an average price of $1,000 to $5,000 per post. Some of us (A LOT of us) don't even get paid that much for a full-time job. According to the data, that is what 94 percent of influencers charge. As for the remaining 6 percent, the price tag amounts to $10,000 per post. In some cases (76 percent), influencers agree to freebies (products or experiences) instead of actual cash payments. According to that same report, 67 percent of UAE-based influencers said they really want to make "impact and drive real change in consumer behavior and attitude" and that it wasn't just about online popularity. As much as I'd like to believe that, it's quite hard to wrap my head around a statement that isn't reflected on many posts shared by "social media influencers."