We’re Liking: A Look at the UAE’s Instagram Influencers


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The “Insta-fame” age is alive and well in the UAE – of the 400 million or so global users active on Instagram each month, experts say about 25 million of them are based in the Middle East and North Africa, with two million managed right here in the UAE. 

The popularity can be attributed in part to the surge in smartphone ownership in the region, with research showing that up to 80 percent of UAE residents now own one.

“With the high smartphone penetration in the Middle East, these devices have caused a shift in communication, from words to images – with 80 million photos posted on Instagram every day, if something is happening it will likely be captured on Instagram,” says Instagram’s brand development lead, Amy Cole, who was in Dubai earlier this month for the company’s 12th Worldwide ­InstaMeet – the bringing together of like-minded people to explore and share photography with followers under a unified hashtag (#worldsultimateinstameet). 

So what is the attraction? The Dubai-based social-media expert Ema Linaker says the photo-­sharing site “is simple and intuitive to use”, and it’s capturing the most sought-after audience on the planet right now – the 18-to-24-year-old “millennials” earning between Dh184,000 and Dh273,000 per year.

“You literally take a photo and capture that moment,” Linaker says. “You can become involved in the creative output of that moment through the filters and features and be in charge of your own personal visual story.”

Linaker, who is the regional director, social, at the advertising company Leo Burnett (Mena), says Instagram is the ideal platform for getting noticed. “For brands in fashion, beauty, luxury, it is extremely compelling. 

“Instagram has certainly been the catalyst for several people in the UAE becoming media powerhouses in their own right, because they use it to share their beautiful, exotic and interesting visual stories,” she says, adding that the account uptake trebled last year across the Mena region, with notable increases in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. “This is due to the fact that here you don’t need to speak Arabic to follow local Instagrammers – pictures tell the story.” 

Instagram has exploded in popularity, and with this came the rise of “social-media ­influencers” – those who provide value to a brand and are deemed to have the power, thanks to their popularity, to sway or affect opinion – who have successfully used the app as a launching pad to “Insta-fame”. 

With Instagram clocking up five years in the social-media “app-mosphere” this month, what better time than now to look at some of the popular UAE-based accounts? The most notable can be found across interest areas including fashion and beauty, food, travel and lifestyle, photography, health and well-being. Here’s a snapshot of some of the most popular ­accounts: 

Fashion/beauty

A definite favourite in the region across all categories is Huda Kattan’s account (@hudabeauty), which has 7.4 million followers. ­Kattan, who was born in the United States to Iraqi parents, and now lives in Dubai, leads the fashion/beauty category. The 32-year-old, who grew up obsessing over beauty and fashion, has developed such a following that she’s often referred to as a “beauty mogul”. Aside from her millions of Instagram followers, Kattan’s beauty blog is one of the most popular in the Middle East, and one of the top 20 beauty blogs globally. Her account consists of beauty shots and how-to videos, with the most popular posts attracting 100,000-plus “likes”.

Another account with a following in this category by Roa’a Al Sabban, a TV personality, actress and presenter, who has been in the UAE for more than eight years. Her account (@roaa_alsabban) has 854,000 followers, and her posts can draw up to 15,000-plus likes.

Other top fashion/beauty accounts include Alanoud Badr (@fozaza), the founder and ­fashion designer for the Dubai-based brand LadyFozaza, who has 426,000 followers and upwards of 1,000 likes per post; the model-turned-fashion and beauty blogger Laura Badura (@laurabadura – 293,000 followers and 5,000-plus likes per post); and the Dubai-based style blogger and fashion consultant Latifa Al Shamsi (@­latifalshamsi), who has 162,000 followers and gets as many as 1,000 likes per post.

Another who should be mentioned in this category, but who is more Middle Eastern than UAE specific, is the make-up queen/TV personality/brand ambassador Joelle ­Mardinian (@joellembc1), whose account has garnered 3.1 million followers.

Travel and lifestyle

Taim Al Falasi is behind one of the region’s most influential accounts (@taimalfalasi) in this category. The Emirati social-­media sensation has 1.5 million followers. Famous for hosting the online radio programme TaimShow, Al Falasi has established a career as an internet filmmaker, vlogger and celebrity interviewer. Her brand has collected 225,000 YouTube subscribers and 80,000 Twitter followers in three years. Her Instagram feed consists mainly of travel photos, video blogs and culture/event-related images, with her posts attracting upwards of 30,000 likes each.

Others who have developed a considerable following in this category include @dubai (1 million followers), which is populated with photographs of Dubai’s famous landmarks; and that of TV host and entertainer ­Sherif Fayed (@sheriffayed), who has 337,000 followers. 

Tjaša Dzafic’s account (@­tjasha) is another that has amassed quite a following (62,100 followers). “Instagram was one of the first apps I downloaded from the Apple store back in 2010,” says ­Dzafic, who’s originally from ­Slovenia, but now lives with her husband in Dubai. “Considering the fact it is one of the most popular mobile apps right now, I made a good decision.”

Dzafic, who studied photography and is interested in composition and minimalistic style, worked hard to generate a genuine following. “I started with a small account – a gallery of my daily moments; it quickly started to attract more followers. ­Instagram is my only digital medium and attracts followers on its own.”

From a purely travel standpoint, Michelle Karam’s account (@traveljunkiediary) is one of the standouts in this category. ­Karam, whose follower numbers – currently at 39,400 – are growing daily, launched her travel blogging business, Travel ­Junkie ­Diary, two years ago. In doing so, the married mother-of-one, created a platform for people to share “personal travel encounters, inspiring experiences and life-changing moments”. 

“Instagram plays a major role [in my business strategy] – my followers and I engage on a daily basis, and I get to know where they are from, what they are looking for, and in many ways, how they grow,” says Karam. “If it wasn’t for Instagram, I would not be connected to them and them to me.”

For Karam, it took her almost two years to develop her following. “While Instagram is instant, the result is not – people need to trust you, fall in love with you – respect is earned, not given,” she says.

Food

In the culinary category @secretsquirrelfood is one of the most influential with 113,000 followers. The foodie ­Karen McLean, an Australian who lives and works in Dubai, is the brains behind this account, which is focused on promoting healthy foods and clean eating, and gets thousands of likes per post.

McLean set up her first account in 2013, when she landed in the UAE. “I had no friends and no job, so I spent every day in the kitchen cooking,” the former accountant, now full-time social-media influencer, says. “I decided to open an Instagram account so that I had somewhere to share my ­photos.” 

While it took time for the account to resonate, she says her followers seem to love her effort and attention to detail. “I think colourful, vibrant photos work best on Instagram, along with photos that bring out your personality and evoke emotion,” McLean says.

Other popular foodie accounts include the Dubai-based food photographer Sukaina Rajabali (@sukainarajabali; 88,100 followers) and Hessa Al Khalifa (@hk_alkhalifa; 90,000 followers). Al Khalifa is a food writer and photographer and the founder of www.hkfinds.com – a food blog about the Emirati influencer’s food findings and ­recommendations. 

Another attracting attention is the self-taught Emirati chef ­Bader ­Najeeb (@chef.b), who first donned a chef’s apron at 13. With the help of his mum and YouTube, he had two TV shows by the time he was 18, and currently has 41,800 followers. Najeeb’s profile attracted attention the second-time around, after his first foray into ­Instagram failed for, he says, a variety of reasons. “I had my own business ... it was a home business and it wasn’t really successful, my pictures were not wow, I didn’t have specific prices, I didn’t know how to promote it – I had to close it down, [because] it wasn’t ­making any progress.”

But he started again and focused on himself as the brand, which led to being noticed. “People look out for personality more; when they know a person it is more like one-on-one,” the 19-year-old from Dubai says. “I try to post a picture every day. Now, I make sure the one picture looks really good – it has to be ­perfect.”

Photographers

While most Instagram account holders consider themselves “photographers”, there are a number of talented locally based photographers, both amateur and professional, who have developed popular followings. ­Musaab ­Almuassbi (@_mj66; 103,000 followers); Junell ­Hackette Cornejo (@shackette; 61,000 followers); Ali bin ­Thalith (@ali_bin_thalith; 47,500 followers); and Yakub Islamov (@yakubanto; 39,000 followers) are among the top accounts.

The Dubai-based photographer Ibrahim Albeshari’s account (@ialbeshari), which has almost 26,000 followers and attracts as many as 1,000 likes per post, also falls into this category. His focus on travel photography sees him rate highly in the travel-and-lifestyle category, too.

“I like to keep it simple and not bore people by writing a lot,” says the 36-year-old, who rates China as his favourite destination to photograph. “My strategy is to always post my best – I post three times a week so people have time to look and share my work.”

Although photography is a hobby, Albeshari says he tries to keep his posts interesting, and mostly of travel locations he knows people like. “I have tried other apps and photography websites, but Instagram is always my first choice.”

Health/well-being

Megan Joy (@shadesofjoy.co) has one of the most popular accounts in this category, with 60,500 followers. Joy, a 22-year-old self-taught yogi/personal trainer from Dubai, populates her account with demonstrations of her go-to ­poses. 

Another account attracting the attention of the “fit-stagram” set is @ingerindubai (50,200 followers), which is run by Inger Houghton, a Dubai-based nutritionist and personal trainer who doesn’t take herself too seriously, and posts quirky videos of herself. Others include @healthyhoffy (22,700 followers), managed by Tarryn Hoffman, the global education director at the World ­Calisthenics Organization; Carly Rothman’s @leanlivinggirl (21,300 followers), which is all about a guilt-free lifestyle, and includes elements of food, fitness and travel; and @polefitdubai (16,600 followers), which is focused on pole fitness.

Other

There are a selection of general accounts making waves, too. One of the leading accounts is that of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai (@faz3), which has 2.7 million followers. One of his most recent posts of him zip-lining high above ­Downtown Dubai attracted more than 100,000 likes.

Khalifa Al Maamari’s account (@dxb_klof; two million followers) continues to generate considerable interest. It has been popular since the 21-year-old Emirati student, who became a hero for saving the life of a young woman in the US, became so sick with a mystery illness that he was put on life-support. Al Maamari became known for his charismatic character and sense of humour after several videos of him were posted to Instagram throughout his recovery period. 

Other popular general accounts include that of the 22-year-old Dubai-based comedic social-­media influencer Abdulaziz Al Jasmi’s (@bin_baz), who has amassed 2 million followers thanks to his humorous videos and pictures, which appeal with the Arab millennial crowd. 

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s official account (@hhshkmohd) is also extremely popular, with 1.1 million followers, as is the official account of Shaikha M R Al ­Maktoum (@sh_mrm), which has attracted 597,000 followers.

[By Melinda Healy] [Read More] [From Thenational.ae] [Image From Tumblr.com]

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