What Brands Storytellers Must Learn from Hollywood

170926 Click2View Podcast

Last week I talked about why brands must master storytelling and take their lead from Hollywood with Click2View‘s Simon Kearney for their inaugural podcast.

The podcast is available on iTunes here.

You can also play it below:



Social Media Tech and Philippine Politics

What to expect when you frequently criticize President Duterte’s government on Twitter

If you follow politics in the Philippines today, you will find a country deeply divided along political lines. Much of the conflict centers on how you feel about the extremely popular but controversial President Rodrigo Duterte. Regardless of where you stand in the political spectrum, one side accuses the other of manipulating social media using avatars, bots or “influencers” bought and paid for by funds furthering political agendas.

Now people who follow this blog know that I never write about politics (though my political views are no secret). I write this not to make a political statement but rather to share an observation from a digital media professional on the role that social media and technology play in modern politics.

I use Twitter to share media and, on occasion, air my sentiments towards developments in the Philippines, the country of my birth. Recently I tweeted the following:

Shortly thereafter, I noticed that my Twitter handle was added to a number of lists labeled “Duterte” by suspicious Twitter handles…


Why should I consider them suspicious? After all, wouldn’t Duterte interest many people in the Philippines and all over the world? But what caught my attention was the similarity between these accounts…

Big Cats.png

Now perhaps the Philippines political news followers’ proclivity for big cats is coincidental. Let’s assume for a moment the correlation between Duterte followers and CS Lewis fans is perfectly innocent…

I did notice that another similarity with these accounts: each had an unusually high number of tweets. For example, “rick” or @rickrick888 has tweeted over 415,000 times since his account was created in March 2009.


How unusual is that? In order to accomplish this feat, @rickrick888 would have to tweet 153.4 times a day. That’s well over the average. (There are about 500 million tweets a day made by 300 million active twitter accounts, or an average of only about 1.6 tweets per day.) That either means @rickrick888 has been tweeting 8.5 times every waking hour (assuming a human needs to sleep at least six hours a day) for the past seven and a half years…or that “rick” isn’t human at all.

The final clue is the tweets made by these accounts themselves. Let’s take a look at some of “Bobbit” or @bobbit2266’s tweets…


Notice how his tweets have been truncated? That indicates these tweets were not typed into Twitter but rather generated by another source, such as a Facebook page or other third party application using Twitter’s APIs. This is common in digital marketing and is often used by brands to automate social content distribution. (They were truncated because the original content exceeded Twitter’s 140-character cap.) That means either @bobbit2266 is really sloppy and doesn’t care about aesthetics…or that these tweets were not entered by a human but by software.

Of course the real question is: what is the motivation behind these accounts and their recent move to monitor my Twitter activity? Have I been put on some kind of “watch” list? Should I brace myself for a troll storm or cyber attack? Or maybe whoever is behind these accounts are simply interested in my dog, whose photos I frequently post.

Either way, this proves to me that there is some truth to the suspicion that social media machinations are actively at work in the Philippine political scene. For what end, who can really say?

5 tips for digital content

Presenting at Content 360 in Singapore

SingTel has spent the last three years refining and investing in its social media and digital content strategy. In the last year alone, SingTel has produced a wide variety of content, from educational infographics to award winning video campaigns like #Need4GSpeed and #HawkerHeroes.

For brands looking to venture into digital content designed for social media for the first time, the path forward might look daunting and pockmarked with risks. Here are five tips to guide you:

1. Aim for the heart, not the head

One of the first things we learned from working with the giant social media network Facebook was the useful sanity-check question: “Why will they care; why will they share?”

When a consumer decides to share a video or re-tweet an article, it is usually either because he found the content thoroughly upsetting (to which the reaction was “I have to share this!”) or he found the content so amusing (to which the reaction was “I have to share this!”).

#HawkerHeroes worked particularly well for SingTel not just because of the presence of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay but also because it delved into an issue close to Singaporeans’ hearts: local heritage and cuisine.

As tempted as it sometimes gets to fill marketing content with information, just remember that if this was only about appealing to rational minds, social media would be about the viral distribution of white papers.

2.Accept the fact that you are not Ellen DeGeneres

“Please make this viral” is a phrase social media marketers dread. Too often, making a material viral is seen as the only goal worth pursuing. But unlike Ms Degeneres, most mere mortals (or brands) will never be responsible for the next Most Retweeted Tweet in History.

Instead, understand where this piece of content fits into your overall campaign strategy. Is it meant to educate? Or call attention to an issue? More realistic metrics such as video views or clicks to a campaign site would then be more sensible goals.

3. Have a good budget for production, but set aside a budget for distribution first

Often all the resources are poured into production with an expectation that something so brilliantly creative or funny is sure to go viral. (See Tip #2.) But even the best creative work is wasted if no one finds out it exists. Especially in today’s extremely cluttered media environment where hundreds of hours of video are being uploaded to Youtube every second, the chances of your shiny new video being discovered organically gets smaller by the day.

Combining an influencer outreach programme, traditional PR and an initial burst of paid media can give your content that boost it needs to get an audience’s attention and get that Share snowball rolling.

#HawkerHeroes, SingTel’s most successful campaign from last year, may have looked like a random viral campaign. But it only came to life through a complex, multi-channel strategy whose execution was planned down to the minute-by-minute detail.

4. Get your consumers involved

The best content campaigns are the ones where the audience gets in on the action. Consumers can be valuable co-creators, as we have seen in a number of campaigns from Old Spice to Oreo.

SingTel’s own #Need4GSpeed enlisted consumers to provide their best applications of a high speed mobile connection which were then translated into comedy sketches by comedian Hossan Leong.

5. Keep it simple

One common mistake brands make is to make participating in a campaign too complex, which can be an obstacle to a social media campaign’s success.

I personally prefer apply the “60-second Rule”. Ask yourself, would responding to the content or participating in the discussion take more than 60 seconds? Years ago, brands relied heavily on mechanics like photo submissions and anticipated no more than 10% of the audience would actually participate while the rest simply watched. Today the hashtag offers a much simpler way to participate and lowers barrier to entry.

Content-led social media campaigns need not be so daunting. While there are always risks, they can be extremely rewarding for any brand with the right concept and adequate planning.

This article was originally published in Marketing Interactive and was based on my presentation made at Content 360 on 3 April 2014 in Singapore. Full presentation below:

Seizing Social Media Moments

Great content in the hands of an empowered team mean social media marketing success

SingTel’s #HawkerHeroes campaign celebrated Singapore’s food heritage with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay

Events unfold on social media in real time. That means your social media marketing team needs to have the know-how, the creativity and the authority to take advantage of events as they happen to create relevance and excitement around your brand.

Much has been said of how Oreo took advantage of the blackout at this year’s Super Bowl and became the most discussed ad campaign that night. Taking advantage of such opportunities is made possible only when you have a team that can develop an idea on the spur of the moment and have the willingness to run with it, despite the risks. In Singapore, one of the year’s most discussed events was when haze from brush fires in Sumatra caused unprecedented air pollution in the island state. A small number of brands jumped in with their take on events, including SingTel, who featured a hazy skyline on their Facebook cover photo.

SingTel reacts to social media moments every day, most of the time with helpful tips for customers or with an offer to help when they need support. Last April, SingTel’s social media team sent a special gift to a lucky cat, who had trouble adjusting to a new but smaller mioTV set-top box. The team sent the cat’s owner a brand new cat bed and a bag of goodies, together with a personalized hand-written note.

Big corporations like SingTel aren’t always associated with random acts of compassion and spontaneity. Thankfully social media allows such opportunities to be discovered regularly. And occasionally, companies also create these moments themselves.

In 2012, SingTel threw a free live concert by Korean pop band 2NE1. The event was promoted entirely via Twitter and hints to local fan clubs. Thousands of screaming fans turned up at the event in Clarke Quay, Singapore.

Earlier this year, SingTel invited customers to share how they intended to use the connection speeds of the newly-launched 4G mobile network via the Twitter hashtag #Need4GSpeed. These situations (e.g. “I want to watch my Korean dramas before my tears dry up”) were then converted into comedy skits by funnyman Hossan Leong and his team of actors. The campaign resulted in 23 videos uploaded within eight hours and #Need4GSpeed trending for two days straight.

In July, SingTel issued an invitation to celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, insisting that Singapore hawker cuisine deserved global recognition by challenging him to learn three popular local dishes. The campaign, centered around the hashtag #HawkerHeroes, set Singapore ablaze with discussion and speculation as to whether the Michelin-star chef could beat local hawkers. As the debate quickly became a matter of heritage and national pride, the story garnered coverage in local media and the #HawkerHeroes hashtag trended on Twitter for four consecutive days. The campaign reached its climax as Ramsay arrived in Singapore and thousands of fans were able to meet him and sample his cooking,

#HawkerHeroes was a rare example of great content around a celebrity and an enabled social media team are combined with an issue that audiences are passionate about. The result was one of the biggest campaigns of the year in Singapore.

View the entire presentation below. Presented at Spikes Asia 2013 in Singapore. 

What makes great Social?

A presentation for Social Media Week Singapore 2013

L-R: Rod Strother (Lenovo), Miguel Bernas (SingTel), Jenna Boller (Social@Ogilvy)
L-R: Rod Strother (Lenovo), Miguel Bernas (SingTel) and Jenna Boller (Social@Ogilvy)

As part of Social Media Week 2013, I made a brief presentation at Ogilvy Singapore on the elements of what I consider to be “great” social media marketing, followed by Q&A. While there are many, many variables that make for an effective social media marketing strategy, I distilled these factors down to three key points.

1. Supported at the top of the organization

Your social media strategy needs to be supported by senior management. A common mistake is that much of social media (e.g. the management of a company’s Facebook page or Twitter handle) is relegated to a small group within marketing or corporate communications — often by the team’s most junior members.

At SingTel, the decision to invest in social media both for marketing and customer operations is driven by the CEO himself. Across the organization, it is clearly understood that SingTel’s strength as a brand relies heavily on how it is perceived and discussed in social media. Senior management support also ensures that there is adequate funding for media campaigns and content and human resources to manage day-to-day operations, such as community management and customer support. The digital marketing team is also frequently cited by senior management for its contributions to the business.

If your social media is to be anything more than a sideshow, it needs to be embraced and championed by the company’s senior leadership. In order to gain this level of support, your social media strategy will need to be …

2. Built around clear business objectives


Your social media strategy needs to be plugged into the core of your business. This could be either through revenue (as with ecommerce-driven social media strategies like Dell) or through cost transformation. For example, SingTel sees social media as not only as a means for more open, direct interaction with customers but also as a cost-efficient channel for customer service. Today, nearly all marketing campaigns have social media elements. Social media is also one of SingTel’s fastest-growing customer support platforms, with entire teams dedicated to servicing customers through Facebook and Twitter.

Your social media strategy’s deliverables need to be clearly understood and measurable in terms of its contribution to the bottom line. This is essential because …

3. Social Media isn’t free

Many social media “purists” will argue that great social media doesn’t need paid advertising and that content and creativity alone should drive audience engagement. Personally, I find this point of view both narrow and naive. If social media is a credible part of your marketing mix, why shouldn’t it cost money?

Much of what will attract and keep audiences involved is content … and good content doesn’t come cheap. But the greatest content in the world is still ineffective if no one knows it exists. This is why many social media campaigns often require some paid media up front to get the interest ball rolling. This is essential especially when the social media activity is part of a larger campaign and you need to synchronize messages across multiple touch points within a specified period of time. You have to assume that not every piece of content will be a runaway “viral” success. That’s why paid media can offer your campaign a very effective boost.

In any case, if you have succeeded with points #1 and #2, securing adequate funding should not be an issue.

You can follow view the full presentation below. (Click on the links within to see examples of video content created for social media distribution.)

Read about SingTel’s latest social media-led marketing campaign here.

How video content can build brand affinity and educate customers

Highlights from the Digital Marketing Spotlight conference

I recently spoke at Campaign Asia‘s Digital Marketing Spotlight conference in Singapore. In my presentation, I shared how companies can convey brand values that are difficult to get across in a static medium like print.

Let’s take SingTel as an example. I opened with a video on a heart-warming project (led by SingTel in partnership with OgilvyOne and Newton Circus) dubbed Project Silverline, a programme that asks people to donate their old iPhones so that they can be loaded with software specially designed for the elderly, a demographic often left out of the burgeoning smartphone industry.

I also shared my favorite video from Home Without Walls , a series of videos featuring portraits of typical Singapore families.

In addition to tugging at heart strings, video content is also a powerful medium to educate consumers. SingTel recently used our made-for-Youtube series TGIS to explain the complex technologies behind high-speed fibre broadband internet, while presenting a very human face for a very large (and sometimes seen as impersonal) telecommunications provider. The team deliberately avoided using senior management-level company spokespersons so that viewers could get to know the real people who make their internet connections possible.

After my presentation, I joined a panel of industry experts to discuss the challenges of recruiting, training and nurturing digital talent.

(L-R): Miguel Bernas (SingTel), Enrique Pinilla (3M), Damien Cummings (Samsung) and Rosmalia Hardman (W Hotels)

The group discussed the scarcity of digital talent in Singapore, coupled with the challenges of competition from creative industries and the attractive “new media” companies emerging in Singapore. We also discussed the need to invest in constant training and the move by companies to establish centres-of-excellence that are designed to instill a more digitally-oriented company culture.

For more information on how SingTel is using video content like TGIS and Home Without Walls to reach its customers, check out this story published by news website and content aggregator, the Huffington Post.

You can also browse through my presentation “Harnessing the Power of Digital Across Platforms” by clicking on the link below.

When “Fans” go too far

As a rule of thumb, you should not delete fan comments on your Facebook page. But you should also know when to draw the line. 

On 18 September 2012, SingTel announced that it had secured the rights to broadcast the UEFA Champion League on its MioTV service through the SingTel Facebook page. Because the announcement went out just hours before the season’s first game, the announcement drew criticism from a number of fans.

As community managers, one should always expect an angry comment here and there. (That’s why you have a Facebook page in the first place: to have a two-way dialogue with customers.) But this time one “fan” in particular crossed the line. He began to hurl very crude and very personal abuses at one of the Customer Care staff members who manages our page. (I won’t repeat the language used but if you’re really curious, you can browse through the discussion thread here.) This prompted me to post this in response:

While a few fans appreciated the show of support towards a team member, others quickly transferred their anger towards me. (One even went as far as to post my LinkedIn profile to the thread and encourage others to attack me directly.)

Was crying foul the right thing to do? Did it succeed in quieting the displeasure from the community? It’s naive to think a single comment is capable of instantly reversing sentiment but sometimes, that isn’t the point. Sometimes the point is standing up for what your values are and what your brand represents. In this case, SingTel’s Facebook team takes pride in having an open forum where customers can criticize our services. This includes allowing people to express themselves as emphatically as they want, even allowing the use of swear words and stretching the rules outlined in the page’s House Rules. This policy is what allows us to identify how we can improve our services and, often, even troubleshoot issues through our Facebook customer service team, as many customers have experienced first hand.

But leniency must have its bounds. We are also a company that stands up in defense of our own. Sometimes you need to remind people that (as a trusted industry colleague very nicely put it), “Just because you ‘like’ a page doesn’t give someone the right to act like an a#*ehole.”

This exchange with our Facebook community has attracted some attention and the incident was covered in today’s edition of Singapore tabloid The New Paper (see below).

You can read the online version of the article in The New Paper here.

There is also an ongoing discussion in HWZ forums here. (Just try to ignore all the racist comments.) Join the discussion or simply comment on this blog.

IAB Executive Brand Breakfast

L-R: Loren Shuster (Country Director, Singapore & Emerging Markets, Google), Norman Tan (Deputy Director, Marketing Activation & Innovation, Singapore Tourism Board), Miguel Bernas (Director, Digital Marketing, SingTel), Damien Cummings (Regional Marketing Director, Digital & Social Media, Samsung Asia) and Vernon Vasu (Director, Corporate Marketing and Communications, Health Promotion Board)

I had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion organized by IAB Singapore for its Executive Brand Breakfast series. My fellow panelists were Norman Tan from the Singapore Tourism Board, Vernon Vasu from the Health Promotion Board and Damien Cummings from Samsung. The discussion was moderated by Loren Shuster from Google.

We discussed what we saw as the most important trends in digital media for 2012 and what were likely to be the major developments in 2013. We also shared how digital marketing in our respective organizations is organized and how we prefer to work with partners, whether agencies or media owners.

Marketing Management in the Digital Age

Miguel Bernas at the “Marketing Management in the Digital Age” panel at the Appies 2012

I was part of a panel discussion called “Marketing Management in the Digital Age” at the Asia Pacific Marketing Congress (Appies). My fellow panelists were Alvin Neo from Johnson & Johnson, Chiradeep Gupta from Unilever and Maria Nakpil from Hilton Worldwide. The panel was moderated by Emily van den Berg of R3. We discussed the issues facing companies as they reshape their organizations towards digital media.

Some of points I covered:

  • In the last 18 months, SingTel has made a major commitment to digital, forming a Digital Marketing team within its Consumer group to work across different Segment and Product teams. The team’s scope covers digital paid media, eCommerce and social media.
  • Social Media has proven an excellent channel for Customer Care. SingTel has a dedicated Customer Care team focused on its Facebook and YouTube channels.
  • Hiring digital talent is one of the biggest issues facing most organizations. Today’s creative, digital savvy young people are more inclined to work for new media companies like Google or Facebook rather than large corporations. But these are exactly the types of people that these large organizations need to take them into the digital age.
  • Most major brands are not structured to take full advantage of eCommerce, even though they may have their own websites dedicated to online sales. The most effective eCommerce sites, such as Amazon, have the capability to publish new content and offer new products to rapidly take advantage of market opportunities. In a retail context, for example, when Michael Jackson died, music and video retailers like HMV redid their store layout overnight to offer all their Michael Jackson content with the highest visibility. Can your eCommerce site react as quickly?
L-R: Chiradeep Gupta (Unilever), Alvin Neo (Johnson & Johnson), Maria Nakpil (Hilton) and Miguel Bernas (SingTel)

The Appies award and celebrate the most brilliant and inspirational thinking in marketing communications from across Asia Pacific. Only 10 of the best marketing campaigns, chosen from 100, are awarded the Appies Gold Medals.

Thanks to @jematronica for the photos!

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