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The ethics of influencer marketing

As influencer marketing gains traction as a communication platform, the need to regulate it has become essential. THE discussions have reached their third year. Every media platform has its controversies, but none come close to the polarising levels of that two-word animal that is influencer marketing. Before continuing, it is important to understand what influencer marketing is. Many people have their own definition, but for the purposes of this article, let's elaborate. A person whose opinion is valued on any topic and who has the ability to use his opinions to sway those of his audience is an influencer of that topic. The topic could be film, music, food, fashion, politics or any other. The audience can be anyone from family, friends, social circle, colleagues or a wider demographic. Influencer marketing is when the said influencer is paid in cash or kind to influence a target audience on a topic. Now, for what influencer marketing is NOT. Many people conflate influencer marketing with being a blogger, an Instagram personality or a social media user with significant followers. None are correct if the audiences catered to by these people are not influenced to change their behaviour or opinion. For example, a person may have a blog about jazz music which has 10,000 hits a week; however, if their review of a new jazz album does not result in even one of those readers buying it, he is not an influencer. Similarly, someone may have an Instagram account on shoes with barely 500 followers; however, if 50 of those 500 followers buy a new pair because of his review, that person is an influencer. Another fallacy is that influencer marketing is the same as celebrity endorsements; this is incorrect because celebrity endorsements rely on the person being well-known in a particular field. Influencers, however, are regular people who have day jobs and don't hold glamorous roles outside their social media presence. A better way to explain influencers is to divide them into three categories. Macro-influencers; they have a following of at least 10,000 people on a popular social media platform and their opinions generate engagement. Micro-influencers; they have a following of less than 10,000 people, but their opinions generate a decent amount of engagement. Non-fluencers; they think they are influential due to the number of followers they have, but have limited engagement and don't usually influence people's opinions, although they think they do. In the UAE, influencer marketing began as a loosely-managed community of bloggers specialising in food. Over time, they harnessed the power of Instagram to exponentially reach audiences that could enjoy bite-sized (no pun intended) reviews in the shape of captions to photographs of food and venues. (The same tactic was embraced by fashion, lifestyle, travel, entertainment and media bloggers). Pretty soon, there were more food bloggers than restaurants and everyone with a camera and a passport was a 'travel expert'.