Late last night while I was flipping through my Zite stream I came across an article on Social Media Explorer titled, “Who Wins in the Battle of Influencer vs. Advocate Marketing“, in which author Jeff Ernst sheds some light on a subject I cannot seem to escape here in the Middle East. To me, the answer to this question is easy. Advocate marketing. As it’s plain to see for many marketers the same cannot be said for businesses, brands and companies looking to gain brand awareness and share of mind in their respected industry.

Before coming to Dubai I did a stretch in Kuwait where I worked at a small media agency where I conceptualized, pitched and directed a social media management business unit. When you arrive in Kuwait and begin to explore the city/country you’ll begin to notice everyone glued to their phones where odds are they are on Instagram. In case you didn’t know, Kuwait has the highest per-capita monthly active users of Instagram in the world. How? If nothing else the people of Kuwait are resourceful opportunists and a wave of Instagram and Whatsapp businesses have taken over. Along with this influx of micro-business comes the industry of influencer marketing.

When I looked into one such agency specializing in this lucrative market I was blown away at the amount of money being made. Don’t ask me how or why these influencers are so popular but for better or worse they are amassing a million plus follower-ships that yield up to 900 Kuwaiti Dinar per post. For my American friends that’s almost $3000. For my UAE friends that’s almost 11,000 AED. Check out a list here.  It’s worth noting that many of these social media celebrities’ followers dropped on average of 7% after the great Instagram purge of December 2014. That says a lot.

Once the wow factor wore off I asked myself, “Don’t these brands and businesses see that people aren’t fooled by these ‘endorsements’?” People know these social celebs are getting paid to post and promote. Think a little about a few statistics from Ernst’s article:

  • 92% of people trust peers and advocates…not influencers.
  • People are 4-10x more likely to act on the recommendation of a trusted peer or advocate…again, not influencers.
  • An empowered brand advocate creates a ripple effect that reaches out to 8! – not an exclamation point, but factorial – 8x7x6 etc. = 40,000+

We all have that friend that we goto for the newest music, technology, restaurants, fashion trends etc. These are the advocates and the authority figures that really move numbers and facilitate adoption.  Digital analyst and anthropologist, Brian Solis, talks about the 6 Pillars of Social Commerce on his blog and in his book, “What’s the Future of Business”, and how things like establishing trust, authority, like, consistency greatly impact consumers view of your business or brand, not celebrities. If brands want to break out and cross the chasm to the reach the late majority population they need to focus on the right marketing practices that turn customers into advocates.

I think the hard work ahead of us as marketers in the Middle East have is convincing clients or decision makers in our company that there is no permanent, easy way gain share of mind (or wallet) and that the riches go to those that employ smart, resilient and elastic people willing to put in time. Only time will tell if influencer marketing will fizzle out or if it will live on.

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