Over the past few years, the GCC has witnessed a sharp rise in the number of local bloggers right from art and fashion to lifestyle and gastronomy. What started out as a pure passion for many eventually turned into a part-time or full-time business, with several bloggers even starting their own lines of merchandise, aping western blogs.
As the popularity of regional bloggers and blogging in general rose, marketers and brand strategists tapped into the potential presented by this opportunity by handing out their merchandise, including services, to local bloggers to try and review.
Despite social media accounts showing a stream of products being sent across to popular bloggers in the region, several bloggers claim to decline merchandise based on their tastes. Dubai based 24-year old Syrian American blogger and founder of myfashdiary.com, Tala Samman, tells BQ magazine: “I decline over 50 percent of what I get offered. I started this blog talking about things I bought and paid for, purely because I loved them. This still stands with what I blog about now.”
The frequency of course varies on a variety of factors like seasonality and new product launches. “I usually get new season key pieces from brands and new brands send a few of their best pieces across.
This is not really limited to fashion brands, it includes restaurants as well who invite me over to sample menus, especially around peak festive trade periods,” Ashwathy Shyamkumar, brand manager at Jawad Group, Bahrain and part-time fashion blogger explains to BQ.
Lebanese-born Dalia Nsouli, based in Qatar, has gathered quite the social media following since she joined Instagram in 2012 and now gets gifts and merchandise from designers wanting her to wear their clothes, shoes and accessories on a monthly basis, or consistently.
She tells BQ: “Some bloggers actually approach brands requesting freebies in exchange for social media exposure. I don’t do that. The niche I choose to focus on is local designers from around the world, but especially the Middle East.”
Making a choice
How do retailers decide on which bloggers are worthy of promoting their products? Nsouli feels that in her case – it is not really about popularity as several Instagram accounts have more followers than she does. “Designers tell me that they admire my style and trust that I can relay their brands’ messages well by wearing their designs.
They like the way I mix and match items and how I can wear the same piece in both a casual and fancy way. They like the versatility of my style,” says Nsouli who believes that brands are attracted to niche styles, and something slightly more different than what Instagram is flooded with.
The brands that base it around popularity are the ones that do it all wrong. Most brands will base it on the style of the blogger, in comparison to their brand and the market they are targeting. Each blogger has his or her own following, that is what differentiates them from each other.
Shyamkumar adds, “Popularity as criteria mostly applies to cosmetic brands where they send products for bloggers to use, where we actually try and test them ourselves. These brands know they are already well-established and usually they send samples or products they have developed as a way to market the range.” Apart from popularity, it could be a designer collaboration, seasonal capsule collections available for a limited time and of course, new season key pieces, according to her.
Where’s the money?
A large number of local bloggers like Samman have taken to blogging as a full-time profession and they do earn from it.
Bloggers usually have a rate card which displays the rates they charge for social media posts and reviews, pictures and videos and other similar bundles (sets of posts, for example) including event appearances, hosting services and being a brand spokesperson/ambassador.
Rate cards vary depending on the product the brand wants to reviewed and of course, the brand in question.
“I wouldn’t charge Chanel or Hermes for example, just because of the bargaining power of such power houses; however, they gift you with merchandise if you collaborate with them. I do charge for advertorial campaigns, event appearances and hosting events, but not necessarily always in a monetary sense.
Often it is through freebies or discounts at that store. I also don’t charge for posting the merchandise designers’ gift me since they already gave me the products for free. So it really all depends on the situation and the brand you are dealing with,” Nsouli reveals.
Bloggers can easily benefit from multinational brands looking to promote their labels off blogs and their associated social media platforms. Small time bloggers can also benefit from signing up with Google AdSense and get smaller revenues from ads places by Google on their websites.
Samman however clarifies a common misconception about bloggers only posting when they are paid. “That is not true for me at least. When a brand approaches you and needs your time and extra coverage – they are going to pay for it.
Just like editorials – if a magazine wants to talk about something that works with their content, they will write about it but if a brand wants to advertise on their pages, they are never going to get it for free,” she explains.
According to regional bloggers in the GCC, well-established brands, usually high street ones, are very willing and able to interact with them on a monetary level. “They will ask you for your rate card at the very first meeting or email,” says Nsouli.
“Luxury brands will almost never pay bloggers because you need them more than they need you. But you do get paid in merchandise and gifts from them. Emerging brands will offer to pay but will obviously be less able to pay the same amount as high street brands,” she adds. Shyamkumar agrees with Nsouli: “Some local brands, especially in smaller regions in the Middle East, do not pay and expect free reviews from bloggers.”
The benefits of tying up with retailers are endless including the constant stream of freebies and merchandise to wear. “I always have new outfits to post about and this is what keeps my followers interested as they are essentially following me for styling tips.
I also benefit because I essentially get new and trendy products for free, especially from emerging designers who need this exposure and a big chunk of the products I get are unique and not high street. This keeps your blog fresh and helps it standout,” explains Nsouli.
Shyamkumar further enlightens, “I blog about products and services that I genuinely love and would reuse or revisit myself. This helps me establish a good relationship with my readers and it creates trust, where they know I wouldn’t simply recommend something that I honestly don’t enjoy.
I think building that relationship with my readers to get more traffic is very beneficial for me because by doing so, I am creating awareness about my personal blog as well as getting more readers to rely on my site for style tips and recommendations.”
For brands that do approach such bloggers, it is ultimately all about sales and increasing your profitability. However, this goes hand in hand with popularity. To increase your sales and profitability, you need to increase demand and desirability for your product and you do that by increasing your popularity and hence collaborate with bloggers and throw events and invite social influencers to.
“Brands which are not interested in popularity or increased sales are not active on Instagram,” says Nsouli from her three-year Instagram experience.
Instagram is the ultimate electronic word-of-mouth platform and allows designers and businesses to advertise in a natural and not such a put-on way. Most importantly, such posts make their products appealing, and labelled as ‘must-have’ by having them seen on such social influencers, according to Nsouli.
“Most retail brands usually send items for a shout out on Instagram to alert customers about new additions in store. This needn’t have a full-fledged blog post as such, while restaurants or salons/spas offer services that need to be reviewed about in detail – sharing personal experience with readers so we can alert them what to expect. Obviously, they expect a good review, which encourages readers to head over to experience the same,” explains Shyamkumar.
She says: “With well established brands, their motive is to encourage their customers through bloggers to get a first look at seasonal pieces that in turn, encourages feet into stores. With local designers and upcoming talent, they focus mainly on creating a name – getting their brand out there to make it known to the masses about a new brand and what they are all about.”
Exposure is definitely a main purpose. Nsouli says, “By wearing and posting their designs on my page, they automatically have access to a database of over 20,000 people. By wearing a certain designer, my followers will also be interested in that designer and his/her work. This may have a tangible impact on the designer’s business and ultimately see a surge in queries or orders for the product I posted about.”
Besides profits, brands can rejoice in the increased social awareness while fuelling the business opportunity presented by this hobby. “It’s also a platform for a brand to share their products with a targeted group of women,” says Samman.
To catch up with the West, this region still has a long way to go, despite having so much hidden talent in their midst. With time, more brands are relying on social media for advertising because it is more effective in influencing consumers when compared to the regular magazine spread or other ‘old-fashioned’ forms of advertising.
“Having your clothes and designs on popular people make that product automatically desired and labelled as a must-have. Almost instantly you can notice that when a social media ‘star’ is ‘spotted’ wearing a certain item, it will almost certainly be sold out online and in store within that day. This only increases the desire of wanting something which is so hard to have and continues to fuel the media buzz created by the blogger,” concludes Nsouli.