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That is the question.

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There have been a lot of buzz and conversations generated online on the notion of influencing or ‘Influencer’ lately. Rebecca Lim, a mediacorp artiste was slammed for intentionally deceiving the public on her very own version of ‘retiring’. She was found to have collaborated with NTUC income as a digital ‘one off’ ambassador for their marketing campaign. The usual trolls followed soon after her initial post.

On her facebook post, she said ‘ Hi Everyone. I’ve decided to do something that will change my life. I have been thinking about it for a while now as I know it has to be done. I’m retiring. I know you may have questions for me and I will answer them real soon. Meanwhile, be happy for me.

Isn’t it all about semantics, nuances or the creative choice of words, which copywriters and writers are paid handsomely for their good English standards?

If you study the content carefully, she was interpreted as leading people to believe that she’s retiring from acting and leaving Mediacorp for good. And perhaps the impact would not be that great if not for her huge popularity in Singapore. We all love and adore Rebecca, right?

People felt cheated. Some questioned the use of celebrities in such context. Some asked about the fine line being an ambassador versus a campaign influencer.

What if she edits and writes it this way?

‘Hi Everyone. I’ve decided to do something that will change my life. I have been thinking about it for a while now as I know it has to be done. I’m seriously thinking of my retirement. I know you may have questions for me and I will answer them real soon. Meanwhile, be happy for me.

Would that make a difference? ‘I’m seriously thinking of my retirement’ would fit more defensively into the dual message which NTUC Income is trying to convey. Here’s a link to the campaign that will give you a better context.

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Online sensation and paid media

But of course every advertiser wants to SENSATIONALISE content. Or, I am just imagining.

Who wouldn’t want to create an online phenomenon, or a viral discussion in today’s highly fast paced, cluttered and dynamic internet environment? Perhaps it is the immense pressure and expectations exerted on social media marketers to create campaigns that are much ‘talked about’, ‘award winning’ and the commonly used term ‘viral’.  Think Old Spice ‘The man your man could smell like’, ‘Gangnam style’ or even our local ‘Un Un Un Un Un Believable’ Music video.

Why then hire an Influencer? You might asked? In this case, wouldn’t Rebecca be classified as a celebrity? Why is she tainted with the ‘influencer’ tag and be slammed left, right & center by the online community?

I believe Rebecca was paid like any other influencers; to post a carefully crafted message on her social media platforms. This is probably part of their Integrated marketing campaign which relied on her to create some ‘Online Buzz’ about Retirement before the official marketing platforms are released.

For Rebecca, it was simply an advertorial job which she was tasked to post on a certain date and time. Perhaps even the copy was given to her wholesale without much contemplation from her talent manager or herself. Little did she know that her post would have stirred so much controversies online.

On ad Masking and authenticity

Let’s go back to the topic of ad masking and authenticity.

This was a major hot topic a year ago when the influencer marketing industry was said to be at its near doldrums. The Giants fought over matters relating to authenticity, ethics and best practices. Many bystanders stood by, pinpointed, watched and gossiped over meals and kopi sessions. Some took the opportunities to curate dramatic blog articles, providing commentaries and updates on the internet saga.

It was history in the making as the digital influencer giants fought to kill each other.

One year on; the industry has become more mature as the various players have learnt from their lessons and proceeded on with their own pursuits.

Yet, we are still seeing a lack of understanding towards the influencer marketing industry.

People cannot understand why bloggers are paid to review products or services. Chefs are saying that bloggers are akin to cheaters and lacks credibility. Journalists lament the erosion of editorial standards as more bloggers and social news sites gain traction and interest amongst the younger audience. Celebrities worry about their popularity and fame as more youtubers gain recognition through their own merits and hard work.

All these trends signal to one thing.

That change is constant and no one is guaranteed a positive status quo in the highly vibrant internet world.

The internet has changed the advertising landscape tremendously.

The traditional way of advertising ‘television commercial’, “print advertisement’, ‘Outdoor billboard’, ‘Catalogues’ all spell a cliché and dated way of marketing. The buzz words, which excites the CMOs in today’s internet world would be ‘Influencer Marketing’, ‘Viral Marketing’, ‘Youtube Videos’, ‘Facebook Marketing’, and the list goes on.   Essentially, these platforms represent the future of advertising as it is evident that people are spending a lot more time on social networking sites and their mobile phones.

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Source: Mothership

Still a warped perception towards blogging

Yet, some businesses and individuals are non-chalant and ignorant over the power of digital and influencer platforms.

In an interview with local news and commentary site Six-Six, Chef Jimmy Chok went on record to categorically declare his ill feelings for food bloggers who act like they know what it means to cook and eat.

And of course, it triggered a lot of anger and emotions amongst the blogger community. Especially food ones.

I have personally met and befriended many bloggers through my professional work as the co-founder of The Influencer Network. True enough, there are a few bloggers who gave blogging a bad name, mostly for their lousy attitude and poor ethical standards. You know who they are. I would say a majority of them are serious about their craft and hope to make a difference by spreading meaningful messages that could impact the world.

Whatever the calling is, this craft of blogging is a profession of its own and needs to be respected wholeheartedly.

To run a blog is no simple business. Many people think it’s a simple job.

A friend of mine who used to be a blogger ( now a high ranking professional) recently rebutted Jimmy Chok on his facebook and exclaimed that the value provided by bloggers far outweighs the cost of food that is provided free of charge.

Here’s what he said:

Just as you are running a restaurant business, bloggers have to sustain their channels. Bloggers have to pay for monthly hosting fees and web maintenance costs too.

To write one blog review for you, they have to

  1. A) Dedicate 2 – 3 hours of their time to sample your food (They receive 100 over emails a day. What makes yours so special?)

  2. B) Manage food photography on the spot (to make sure your dish looks good no matter how bad the lighting or presentation)

  3. C) Take note of the name of the dish, price and how it taste.

  4. D) Organise and enhance the food photos to make it look good.

  5. E) Device headlines and write out the review article

  6. F) Do backend coding to make sure the paragraphing and alignment comes out alright.

  7. G) Draft and publish social posting to entice fans to click and read the review.

And you think food bloggers go through so much just to eat a free meal of less than S$100? He laments.

I believe the above points are true value-added tasks undertaken from bloggers at any paid or sponsored events.  Bloggers are not bimbotic looking individuals who are just in for freebies and sponsored stuff. In fact, on the contrary, a lot of them are smart and look the part!


Monetary incentive for blogging

This is why I am advocating that bloggers be paid for their service, much like how any marketers will pay for an ad space on a local newspaper, which by any standard is way more expensive then online spaces.

Fair enough, the reach of a newspaper is not any lower than bloggers by any standard. Whatever audited means there is to prove circulation and readership, an advertisement placed in a newspaper is also subjected to many factors, like position, colour, size of advertisement before awareness could be truly felt. The spot advertisement of a television commercial is also subjected to the length of the spot buy, position of the spot advertisement, and also creative message that determines ad retention and recall.

Why are we so harsh towards the notion of Influencer Marketing then?

To put it simply, it is a paid form of word of mouth advertising. And why would we argue that its credibility and authenticity be questioned whenever there is a sponsored or paid engagement.

Haven’t we heard about Product Placements on television for the longest time? Sponsored stories on printed newspapers nuanced as editorials to make it look more credible. Radio’s ‘Open Talks’ to discuss key subject matter conveniently weaved into DJs’ conversations. All these we have learnt in our Advertising & Promotions module.

I guess, we are all living in a world where money speaks. If there’s advertisers who are willing to pay, media players bend the rules for economic reasons.

I am not saying that Influencers are unethical in their work. What I am hinting is that it’s time we cut bloggers some slack and recognize their good work. A lot of bloggers truly sacrifice their time ( often at the expense of their personal time) to attend events and bring the latest news and updates to their readers. The latest promotions and trends are communicated through their social portals so that their friends, readers or wider community could benefit from them instantaneously. Our daily online entertainment is also made more interesting with a buzz of curated articles commenting about fashion, food, lifestyle, travel, politics and what have you. These are real value generated by bloggers to keep our economy and social eco-system running.


Time to recognise Bloggers

And So, It’s time we stop the hatred or negativity for the term ‘Influencer’ or ‘Blogger’ and start recognising that this is something we cannot change. Much like how we cannot change the fact that social media is now entrenched in our lives, this by-product of technology, ‘Blogging’ or ‘Influencing’ if you call, is here to stay.

There will be more commoners, like you and me, joining the force & realm of influencing in whichever capacity. Trust me.

So SAY HI to more blogging, citizen journalism, youtube programmes, bite-sized news reporting, e-commerce, social commerce, just-for laugh productions, APPS, and the list goes on.

If nothing above rings a bell or interest you, it is not too late to change your mindset now. If you insist its not for you, may the force be with you.

Written by Dennis Toh

Dennis Toh is the co-owner of The Influencer Network, an academic of Curtin Singapore University, and owner of Feet Haven Reflexology and Wa! Entertainment


Additional readings:

Attached below are questions made to me on the Rebecca’s saga by a local newspaper; and my replies. For those who are interested to know my views:

Local actress Rebecca Lim and NTUC were also under fire over the weekend for their collaborative post about retirement, where fans initially thought she was announcing her retirement from acting. Obviously not all social media strategies work and so this leads me to the questions I have:

I noticed on your website that your clients are mainly consumer brands but your company has worked with NTUC Young before. In your own observations, do you see the government agencies increasingly jumping on the bandwagon of engaging social media influencers? Why is this so?

Yes, I’ve noticed that a lot of government agencies have evolved in the way public communications is being done. This is inevitable as the realm of marketing and public relations is also changing exponentially, especially with the increased usage of social media platforms and mobile phones. With consumers becoming more savvy and demanding, government campaigns can no longer be a ‘top-down’ approach but one that has ingredients that encourage user-generated content and a two-way communication. Engaging influencers will be considered as part of a larger scheme digital engagement. Influencers with huge following are tapped on not just for their numbers, but also the relevance of the influencers’ persona and style to the campaign message, execution or tone of voice. Social Influencers have a huge voice and it makes key messages catapult easily into a wider reach within a fast period of time. Hence, using of social media influencers have become a popular digital tactic used by most marketers.

Are there certain messages that work better/more suitable for social media?

I would say no. Social Media is just any other media platform and the onus is really on the digital strategist to curate the messages that suit its audience. However, it is safe to say that messages relating to daily lives, like lifestyle, food, travel and events are easier to communicate as compared to more complex topics and issues like engineering or law.

· In your own line of work, what kind of impact (both good and bad) have you observed from engaging social media influencers?

The concept works the same in using celebrities or personalities to endorse certain brands or products. Whenever there is a product endorsement, the celebrity lends his or her persona to the brand, and there’s a transfer of personality traits from the celebrity to the brand/products. Customers who aspire to exude those traits or characteristics will gravitate towards the brand. Essentially, when using social influencers, the digital brand gets ‘viraled’ ( if theres such a word) unto a whole new level as the social influencers repackage the messages and content into a form that is lot more personable and digestible online. The bad that could associate with social media influencers is its propensity for it to go awfully bad. Much like the case of Rebecca; the intent was good; but it went the wrong way as sometimes you can’t stop people or critics from saying anything they want online. · What do you make of the social media strategies used by government agencies? Are they generally effective?

I would say yes for some. For example the youtube video produced by GOV.SG ( or not ) on Medishield was well produced and received. It touched the hearts of most Singaporeans with its strong storyline and brilliant acting from the key actors like Li Ying Zhu. HPB engaged Dee Kosh and Sylvia for its latest ‘Sugary truth’ video and I thought it wasn’t that effective or engaging. Perhaps users are used to their wacky stunts and antics but when cast on more serious matters, their persona fell flat instead.

· How can government agencies ensure that their strategies on social media is money well spent?

It has to be holistic and covers all aspects of the Integrated Marketing Communications tools. Amidst the backdrop of the other tools, Social Media must be used to achieve earned media, aka word of mouth or viral steroids where people actively champion or talk about your brand, as a form of free publicity. If brands can orchestrate such digital movements online, and that the outcomes are mostly positive, I believe the strategies would have had worked, and money is well spent.

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