Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 August 2020

The world has changed. So, surely, influencers will have to evolve, too?

We explore the state of social media influence in 2020 ...

A video of a woman posing with a drill, before jumping back into her car and driving away, went viral on Twitter. 
A video of a woman posing with a drill, before jumping back into her car and driving away, went viral on Twitter. 

We're currently in the middle of immense upheaval.

Between the coronavirus pandemic, protests over the killing of George Floyd in police custody, the Australian bushfires, locust outbreaks in East Africa and sectarian clashes in India, the first six months of 2020 have welcomed a veritable tour de force of catastrophe.

Social media has played a huge role in this. It has sparked change and captured what's going on on the ground, both creating and connecting rallying cries that have reverberated around the world.

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Read more from our 'The State of Influence' series:

'Everyone wants to be an influencer': UAE social media stars on the realities of their day job

Fake followers and buying engagement: influencer trickery may be coming to an end

'Don’t underestimate the influencer': will the pandemic change the industry forever?

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It has brought out the very best examples of humanity.

But it's also brought out some of the worst.

In the past months, videos have surfaced in international media showing opportunists taking staged photos amongst Black Lives Matter protests or posing as they pretend to lend a hand.

Critique of these moments has, in an oddly circular way, made social media rail against social media. People are angry; accusing influencers and their ilk of capitalising on the groundswell for personal gain.

Sure, it's tough for everyone out there at the moment – influencers included – but empathy and common sense must be cautioned.

Dubai influencers we spoke to say organic followings are usually a slow and steady increase. Unsplash.
Dubai influencers we spoke to say organic followings are usually a slow and steady increase. Unsplash

The ability to utilise a gathering of thousands of people protesting against police brutality as a quirky Instagram backdrop isn't a skill we need in today's world, nor is posing with a drill alongside a man rebuilding a store, just long enough for a picture to be taken. Performative activism should not be synonymous with influencing.

Closer to home, in the UAE, restaurateurs say they are receiving large numbers of messages from "bloggers" wanting free food amid the pandemic, with some threatening retribution in the form of negative reviews when they are refused. Tone-deaf travel throwbacks have been posted and expensive goods hawked as people struggled to make ends meet, sponsored content appeared on #BlackoutTuesday – the list goes on.

It's not a new criticism, but it raises an important question: what happens next for the industry that has experienced such a huge boom in such a short space of time?

People have for years forecast the age of the influencer to be edging closer to extinction. So could 2020 be the asteroid that wipes them all out?

Influencers in Dubai will have to evolve to stay relevant, PRs in the city say. Unsplash.
Influencers in Dubai will have to evolve to stay relevant, PRs in the city say. Unsplash.

Well, probably not.

One opinion remains unanimous: the industry is set to stay. But those who survive the current landscape will be those who evolve.

After all, we need these people to entertain, to keep us sane and to help us make our daily lives a little easier – which is why the influencer industry came to exist in the first place.

Certainly, a good few influencers deserve kudos for how they've pivoted their content – in the UAE alone we've seen some coming to the aid of an ailing restaurant industry, others advocating for struggling small businesses and others offering free online workouts, useful for their followers staying at home.

But influencers are, by their very definition, people who wield clout. Their voices are the loudest, so they should be called out when that voice is misused – the same as any celebrity, politician or academic.

Because, remember, they are applauded and rewarded when they do get it right.

Updated: July 8, 2020 03:46 PM

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