From Indian housewives turning master chefs and travel enthusiasts to Emirati vloggers finding their niche in tech, travel, gaming or mundane domestic affairs, social media has opened a world of enormous possibilities and revenue in the UAE as elsewhere. Content or content creator is the king/queen and it has led to the evolution of a generation that has found unimaginable success and money in non-traditional careers.
Discerning the enormous power that content creators wield and the dedicated army of followers they breed, Dubai hosted the second edition of the 1 Billion Followers Summit on January 10-11 at the twin Emirates Towers and the emirate’s newest architectural wonder Museum of the Future. Touted the world’s biggest expo for content creators, the summit gathered over 100 speakers, 300-plus companies, 200 CEOs from the creative field, and more than 3000 content creators followed by 1.6 billion people. Representatives from all the social media giants were also in attendance.
The two-day paid summit organised by Dubai’s New Media Academy was an opportunity to learn from inspirational talks, hands-on workshops, and enlightening panel discussions by well-known content creators; connect with industry leaders, fellow creators, and innovators; and find one’s next collaborator or business partner. If Hala Ajil, YouTube Manager for WANA region expatiated on how to find one’s groove on the platform and Mindvalley founder Vishen Lakhiani pointed out it is perfectly okay to venture into the digital realm late in life and turn 3 million views into $10 million, Indian YouTuber Dhruv Rathee engaged audience in a dynamic workshop to master ChatGPT for boosting productivity in work, education, and daily life. The Senegalese-Italian Tiktoker Khaby Lame, British-Nigerian podcaster Steven Bartlett, Egyptian-American satirist and TV host Bassem Youssef were some of the most recognisable faces who weighed the consequences of their choice to be in the digital media. Keeping a healthy mind, when to leave one’s job and how to create viral videos were recurrent topics that experts and new entrants to the creative economy deliberated on.
The summit is set to drive home the notion that Dubai is the best place for content creators. The Golden Visa scheme, the UAE’s new long-term visas rolled out for investors and professionals that offer them exclusive benefits, are set to attract more talent to the emirate with ample sunshine, minimal taxes, and a safe and secure environment.
In an interview to Khaleej Times, mobile journalism (mojo) exponent Yusuf Omar of the digital media platform Seen TV, noted: “I believe that the UAE understands the value of influencers, perhaps, more than any other country in the world. The 1 Billion Summit is a testament to that. They’re trying to incubate this next generation of Arabic-speaking talent and funnel that into things that are already booming, such as their tourism, making this a global destination that it already is. This place is way ahead of the curve.”
For Arjun Sehgal, digital creator of the insta handle Food Talk Dubai (64.3k followers), “the summit helped us enhance our work ethics with new ideas and skills. It was a great opportunity to meet as well as attend seminars of distinguished speakers and content creators from all over the world.”
Leading the way in the digital realm are the Ruler of Dubai and the Crown Prince who are active on all social media platforms. Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, who goes by the name faz3 on Instagram, is the most followed royal in the world with 16.2 million followers.
An Emirati influencer popular amongst Indian audience is Khalid al Ameri, whose infectious goodwill and positivity are relayed through his culturally relevant videos, travelogues and humorous domestic situations. The Stanford University graduate who quit a full-time government job has successfully smashed stereotypes about Arabs and West Asia through his videos. .
Sindhu Biju, popular vlogger and Programme Director of Radio Asia 94.7 FM, stumbled into content creation when she lost her fulltime job as a Radio Jockey in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I realised I could utilise my strength as a news gatherer and presenter and began reaching out to my followers with news updates about rules and regulations in the UAE regarding the pandemic, quarantine, vaccination, as well as provide interviews with officials. The fact that people had faith in the accuracy of the information I provided was beneficial to me.” Ms. Biju, who has verified accounts on various social media platforms and has an influencer licence, provides information on everything that is of interest to the Indian expat community – from visa changes to restaurants and locations they could visit on a weekend.
Last year, Proxyrack, which provides proxies and residential VPN services, named UAE the social media capital of the world with “an almost perfect score of 9.55 out of 10” where people have an average of 8.2 social media platforms and spent 7.29 hours on the Internet daily. The report noted that though the Gulf nation has the most expensive internet at just over $100, it had the highest percentage of population connected to the web and Facebook.
Being part of the UAE’s rapidly growing digital content industry and influencer marketing can be exciting and lucrative provided one plays by the rules. The UAE through its National Media Council regulates media content and its strict laws and decrees ensure that media outlets and individuals abide by the country’s values and cultural standards. There are clearcut guidelines on anti-discrimination, data protection, intellectual property, respecting the privacy of others, and so on. Influencers who promote paid advertisements must obtain a licence for an annual fee, which varies from emirate to emirate. Influencer incomes are subject to 5% VAT, and operating without permits can mean hefty fines and account closure.
A dusty port town in 1971 that had a phenomenal transformation as a glitzy paradise and cosmopolitan hub for trade and tourism, Dubai is today the perfect instagrammable city and a centre for influencer culture. A city that can market its cooler months as the “World’s Coolest Winter” can also act as a magnet aiding influencer relocation to the desert haven. And summits like 1 Billion Followers accentuate the emirate’s push to be ahead in the race.
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