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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Social media influencers: what are they and how do they stay on the right side of the law?

The new regulations create a clear distinction between earning big money from posts - and accepting a free meal

The National media council says it wants to professionalise the industry and ensure standards, in the same way the advertising industry and other sectors are monitored . Beawiharta / Reuters
The National media council says it wants to professionalise the industry and ensure standards, in the same way the advertising industry and other sectors are monitored . Beawiharta / Reuters

New rules announced by the UAE's media regulator on Tuesday will mean social media 'influencers' need a licence to operate - if they are paid for promoting goods and brands.

The National Media Council said it is working to professionalise the industry and ensure standards, in the same way the advertising industry and other sectors are monitored.

"The new code of practice provides balanced and responsible media content that respects the privacy of individuals, and protects the public – especially children – from negative or harmful material", the council said.

The move has been met with a wave of interest - not least because some influencers have become household names, commanding tens of thousands of dollars per post.

Here's what else you need to know:

What are social media influencers?

People likely to have more Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat followers than you. In fact, some have hundreds of thousands or millions.

Whether they began by reviewing restaurants, unboxing rare sneakers or sharing make-up tips, some have gone on to successfully turn their entertaining niche into a fully-fledged brand or business.

The Rich Kids of Dubai, Supercar Blondie and Mo Vlogs are among the Dubai-based accounts followed by hundreds of thousands.

Are influencers paid to promote brands?

In some cases yes. Retailers and manufacturers want to get their brands out there, whether in traditional advertising in newspapers or magazines or on the Instagram accounts you follow every day.

A strong endorsement from a trusted influencer can boost sales in the way a film star holding the latest perfume or handbag can.

Who is paid and how much is less clear - and subject to much speculation.

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Editorial: Regulating social media influencing will promote transparency

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A Forbes article last year found top fitness instructors and yogis were earning between $3,000 and $25,000 per post.

For YouTubers with millions of followers, there are reports of fees of $300,000 for a video partnership.

But for every one of those there are thousands of small-time restaurant reviewers and make-up artists who accept no money for their reviews.

Have influencers needed a licence to operate?

Not until now, although established businesses tend to ensure they are on the right side of the law. In addition, anyone selling goods via instagram should have a trade licence, like those issued in free zones.

A licence can be applied for through the National Media Council website.

I review brands and goods and I'm sent free stuff regularly to keep. Do I need a licence?

No - bloggers and reviewers will not need to seek a licence, unless money or very high value goods change hands.

Accepting restaurant meals, sneakers, make-up and other products would not require you to get a licence.

The media council said it is not seeking to control that side of the industry.

Exceptions would include a very high value item that could be sold, such as a car.

Guidelines

The National Media Council also a list that it has urged social media users to follow.

It urges users to:

  • Show respect for the UAE leadership in posts
  • Refrain from spreading false information
  • Avoid infringing on others' privacy
  • Abstain from promoting the consumption of drugs and alcohol, gambling, smoking and witchcraft
  • Abstain from publishing any information that is detrimental to the national currency or economy