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DUBAI: The rise of digital and social media has been prolific in the past couple of years — a phenomenon only accelerated by the pandemic. It is no surprise then that social media was one of the hot topics of discussion at the recent Step Conference 2022 in Dubai, UAE.

The two-day technology festival covered a variety of topics related to digital media, financial technology, future technologies, health and wellness, and the start-up ecosystem.

One of the trends in social media marketing is a shift in power from brands to content creators, which empowers creators, said Mashal Waqar, co-founder and chief operating officer of media start-up The Tempest.

During a panel titled Table Turn: Creators, Economy, and Brands, she said: There are “so many shifts, even in terms of what creators will say yes and no to, whether it’s brand deals, revenue or partnerships — there’s such a huge shift in dynamics.”

This shift in dynamic, a certain “reclaiming of power” by content creators, added Waqar, had changed the narrative.

Waqar was joined by Abed Agha, founder and CEO of Vinelab, and Michelle Arrazcaeta, brand strategy and collaborations lead at Polaroid.

The global trend of content creators having more power — especially branded content — is also true in the Middle East. Although typically the region may be slow to catch on to global trends, this isn’t the case anymore, Agha said.

He explained that social media platforms were “nice to have channels” but as the industry booms, social media now has its own budget in the media pie.

As society moves away from “hierarchies into networks that can monetize these modes of influence,” brands have new opportunities to participate in conversations, said Agha.

The power of content creators doesn’t just come from their autonomy but also their ability to connect and grow their network and audiences. “That’s the power that people have now and it is supplied by networks, (as well as) the power to connect with people on other networks and in other geographies,” said Arrazcaeta.

When brands are working with content creators, trust is of utmost importance. Brands need to trust creators with the content while keeping in mind that in order to gain the trust of creators and their audiences, they must stay true to themselves.

Arrazcaeta added that brands should be able to know themselves, their values and what they stand for, and connect with creators that share those same values. A successful example of a brand collaboration is one where there is mutual respect and alignment in values between the brand and content creator, she said.

Globally, there has been a massive growth in the volume of media consumption, said Lemya Soltani, managing partner of Next Broadcast Media, during a panel titled Growing and Scaling Content Channels.

She was joined by Waqar and Casey Fitzgerald, senior writer and host, Lovin Dubai.

In the US alone, public consumption had increased by 276 percent in the past seven years, said Soltani, which explained “the appetite for brands to run ads around that content” and monetize it through sponsorships or even producing their own content, such as in the case of podcasts.

However, the struggle, almost always, is bringing the numbers up and knowing the trick behind growing content channels.

The panelists discussed frequently asked questions such as how can podcasters attract more listeners, how can content creators on YouTube get more views and how can social influencers get more follows and engagement?

For Fitzgerald, it is about choosing the right platform for the right content.

“It’s all about understanding the platform you’re on, so when you jump in, you really need to understand the feed and the algorithm and then just be consistent,” she said.

Waqar added that often brands misunderstood the platform, which is why they might not see the results they had hoped for. For example, “I love TikTok — the access that you get is unparalleled and I think the one mistake that a lot of people make is they overthink it,” she said. “This is not a platform where you have to overthink — it’s literally just about creating and getting comfortable with being unfiltered.”

Step Conference 2022’s 10th event, which was held in partnership with Dubai Internet City, took place on Feb. 23 and 24.

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