Those who operate without a licence will have to pay a minimum fine of Dh5,000.
More than 500 licences have been issued to social media influencers, influencer agencies, and online media companies since the new Electronic Media Regulations were implemented in March, according to a top National Media Council (NMC) official.
Dr Rashid Al Nuaimi, NMC Executive Director of Media Affairs, said that the council has issued a circular to all government departments and companies in the private sector across the emirates, notifying them to work with only licensed influencers.
Earlier this year, under the new regulations, it became mandatory for all paid influencers to obtain an e-media licence from the council, as well as a trade licence if they are not under an agency. The e-media licence costs Dh15,000, which has to be renewed each year at the same price. The licence cost varies from emirate to emirate, though, most start at a price of Dh15,000. Those who operate without a licence will have to pay a minimum fine of Dh5,000.
Dr Nuaimi told Khaleej Times that there has been a "noticeable progress" in ensuring influencers are licensed.
"The Electronic Media Regulation will look after two things - the first are people who have websites for news and ones who sell music, books, movies and videos. The people in this category are registering very fast. Regarding the influencers, we have three different types of registration. The first one is an individual influencer, the second is an agency that handles a group of influencers and third is a media company that have influencers tied up exclusively with them," he said.
"All of these are coming to register at a growing rate and we can see that there has been progress."
Dr Nuaimi said that the circular they have issued to government departments and to the private sector will help ensure that influencers get a licence.
"Any influencer who wants to be a professional, wants to advertise well and earn a good income, will register with us," he said. "Brands are already notifying the influencers that they will not work with them if they don't have a licence."
Dr Nuaimi added that the regulations will help create a balanced, impartial and reliable media content in the UAE.
"The Electronic Media Regulations form an essential component of regulating the media sector, and have been enacted as a response to the rapid growth and spread of electronic media. The aim of the regulations is to enhance competitiveness, increase reliability and support the provision of balanced, responsible and impartial media content that respects the privacy of individuals and protects society's various segments from negative influences," he said.
"The National Media Council requires licensing of individuals who conduct commercial activities through their social media accounts, such as advertisements done on a paid basis. Accounts, blogs and personal pages are not subject to these new regulations, including the accounts of influencers on social media, provided they are not commercial in nature. Individuals and organisations that voluntarily promote work are not affected by the Electronic Media Regulations."
>Dh15,000: Is the cost of a social media licence for influencers
>Dh5,000: Is the minimum fine for influencers operating without licence
Know the law
The National Media Council requires licensing of individuals who conduct commercial activities through their social media accounts, such as advertisements done on a paid basis. Accounts, blogs and personal pages are not subject to these new regulations, including the accounts of influencers on social media, provided they are not commercial in nature. Individuals and organisations that voluntarily promote work are not affected by the Electronic Media Regulations.
Agencies vie to lure influencers
A growing number of Influencer agencies are trying to lure in influencers with "exclusive deals", including covering their required e-media licences.
There are mixed responses from influencers when it comes to agencies, as some are worried they'll charge a hefty commission from their earnings. Al though, the signing under an agency would still be more affordable to micro influencers as they can't afford to pay Dh15,000 for the licence and Dh15,000 for the trade licence each year.
An influencer who is signed under an agency or a media company is not required to get the e-media licence, as the company's licence will cover them. These agencies are also required to obtain the licence before they can sign any influencers.
Influencers who spoke to Khaleej Times said they are being inundated with emails from agencies since the e-media regulations were announced this year.
"I have been contacted by quite a few influencer management companies who have already had some discussions with the NMC, going by the emails I've received. Joining them saves me the licensing hassle. They will charge a commission on the campaigns that I bring in directly but the interesting part of this relationship is that they will be my representative at events, conferences, awards and the like," Sana Chikhalia, an influencer and blogger who has more than 60,000 followers on her Instagram account @SanaOnFood, said.
"Since the new law has come into effect, there are many of these umbrella companies approaching bloggers to be a part of their roster. This news will be well received by micro influencers who don't make anything close to the money required to afford the licences to stay above the law and can still continue to be a part of the blogging community. Having an independent trade and media licence gives me the freedom of not having to go through an agency. I suspect most of these companies will demand a hefty commission for their services meaning higher prices and it could mean I lose out on campaigns," she said.
However, Chikhalia added that a well-connected agency would be able to help influencers secure campaigns through their clientele, saving them the initial overheads of finding and negotiating a campaign with clients.
Another influencer and blogger who has more than 60,000 followers on Instagram, Lavina Israni, said that she has also been approached by several agencies.
"I have received several emails and phone calls from influencer agencies to get on board with them in an exclusive partnership. In return, they will cover me under their company's media licence and represent my profile in the industry.
"If you join a reputable agency, you can benefit from their relationships with brands and land up with some great marketing campaigns. They also agree to cover you legally and take care of the entire paperwork on your behalf.
"On the other hand, getting your own independent licence from the NMC gives you the freedom of choosing what brands you would like to work with, and entitles you to the entire 100 per cent of your earnings."
Depending on how many followers an influencer has, an agency can charge a commission of 20-35 per cent.
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Trust and influence
The move to bring online influencers within the media ambit could lead to responsible promotions and more transparency on these forums. Marketers and brands use these men and women push their products, but a licensing mechanism will keep them grounded to media realities with proper supervision. These regulations will help people sift fact from faction, and promotions from propaganda. It's a start, a progressive approach, which deserves our support. So trust only licensed social media influencers.