The Kids Are Alright: the Mutual Benefits of Mentoring

Teaching creators at the Creators x Singapore Media Festival Ignite event about how to work with clients / potential sponsors.


Sulu: “She’s supposed to have Transwarp drive.”
Scotty: “Aye. And if my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a wagon.”
Kirk: “Come, come, Mr. Scott. Young minds, fresh ideas. Be tolerant.”

That bit of dialog, from the motion picture Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), depicts how an older generation is typically cynical of the ideas of a younger generation simply because…they’re new. Personally, I could never understand the stereotype that the older one gets, the more intolerant one becomes of the younger generation. I believe that one of the reasons why I have managed to constantly adapt to different industries and reinvent my career over more than two decades is because I find there is always something new to learn. And more often than not, those lessons come from people much younger than myself.

Most people will credit a mentor for being the guiding hand in their careers but for me (although I have my own mentors, too) much of the guidance I recall comes from people that I managed. Most of what I know about influencer marketing, I learned from a young lady who introduced me to toy designers in Japan and content publishers in Thailand while working at Nokia. Most of what I know about search marketing, I learned from a young man in his 20s whom we had just hired when I worked at Even today, I continue to learn about transmedia disciplines, storytelling workshops and content creation from my (much younger) social media team at Mediacorp. Among the many highlights of my time as part of the digital transformation team at Mediacorp is the chance to work with and learn from students, young entrepreneurs and content creators.

Through the Mediapreneur program, I work on and mentor local technology startups. In many ways, the opportunity to regularly interact with young minds with fresh ideas, attitudes unencumbered by corporate politics and bullshit, have been a welcome respite from the doldrums of working within a large corporate organization. The hope that many of the technologies, solutions and approaches they develop will soon be a part of Mediacorp’s media ecosystem.

Our Mediapreneur startups and mentors gather at the Mediacorp Campus.

This year, I was also part of Mediacorp’s partnership with Nanyang Technological University’s Peak program, where their best students are put into groups of five and given a real business problem to tackle. Two teams I was assigned to mentor where tasked to provide recommendations on how to best utilize Mediacorp’s radio / digital audio assets in order to stay relevant to the 18-35 year-old audience.

NTU Peak
The NTU Peak students meet members of Mediacorp’s radio team to hear their ideas on how to make our digital audio strategy relevant to Millennials.

Listening to these students talk about their attitudes towards “radio” — more accurately described as digital streaming audio — was a genuine eye-opener to myself as well as our own radio teams.

More recently, I have been working with the content creators in, Mediacorp’s own creator network. Part of the Singapore Media Festival, Bloomr hosted Creators x SMF Ignite, a workshop where YouTube and Instagram creators from Southeast Asia learn from seasoned content marketers, advertising and media practitioners about how to develop media strategies and campaigns for advertisers.

Industry veterans and YouTube & Instagram creators meet at the Creators x SMF Ignite event.

The two-day event culminated in an activity where groups respond to campaign briefs that are judged by veterans from advertising agencies, Mediacorp’s own Brand Studio and myself.

While I admit there is satisfaction in the knowledge that I am able to impart some wisdom from my own career, I continue to find the interaction with younger colleagues both educational and rewarding. The learning never stops and, as a wise man once said, you must always be ready to “unlearn what you gave learned.”


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?

Promote the Most Important Brand Of All: Your Own


For my parents’ generation, career advice was relatively straightforward: get a high-paying job with a large, stable company and you’re pretty much set up for life. Even today, this is still considered conventional wisdom, especially in Asia where large conglomerates dominate several industries. I once had one of those “stable” jobs, a marketing management position with a multinational company called Nokia, at the height of its dominance as the world’s largest mobile handset manufacturer. We all know what’s happened to Nokia since then.

The truth is, there is no such thing as a stable job anymore. Last year the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported the average employee tenure for technology companies is three years, or less than two years in advanced markets like the UK. (The same report quoted that the average employee tenure at tech giant Google was only 1.1 years.) Whatever we once believed as the covenant between employee-employer is now a thing of the past. There is every likelihood that a marketer, either by choice or by circumstance, will be moving from one employer to another every few years. Yet the average marketer still neglects to look after the most important brand of all: his own personal brand.

Author Reid Hoffman goes one step further, arguing that one should manage his career as if it were a start-up (The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, available on Amazon). A simpler way to start is to ask yourself: What can we learn about how the world’s biggest brands are managed and how can they be applied to your career as a marketer?

Great brands are unique

What is your personal brand’s unique selling proposition? Identify what it is in your field that you specialize in. It’s not enough on your CV or LinkedIn profile to say that you manage ad agencies and are responsible for CRM. Instead specify how you specialize in transforming traditional marketing organizations into digital marketing organizations. Talk about how you have a track record for gleaning new marketing strategies from analyzing available data. Share how you have taken many US brands and made them relevant across multiple Asian cultures.

Recount your past successes and, in all likelihood, recurring themes will emerge. Stick with those themes and elaborate on them through blog posts, drawing on examples from your career or from your observations in the industry. Volunteer to speak on these topics at conferences or media interviews. A powerful brand’s uniqueness echoes across all forms of media. Your personal brand should be no different.

Great brands are authentic

The world’s most powerful brands are true to themselves, credible, consistent and never claim to be more than they are. A major Singapore company was recently caught paying bloggers to praise its services and malign the competitors’. Whenever a brand stoops to such inauthentic behavior, being found out is inevitable.

In a competitive job market, many fall to the temptation to overstate one’s qualifications or claim understanding of topics on which one actually has limited experience. This is unnecessary. Your own career offers a wealth of lessons and experiences to draw from. Authors are constantly advised, “Write what you know.” The same consideration must be taken in defining your own personal brand.

Great brands stand for something

Power brands have values and are not afraid to express them, even if it means alienating existing customers. Much has been written about Starbucks’ stance on diversity and marriage equality, which caused some conservative Americans to call for a boycott of the brand. CEO Howard Schultz admits publicly, “Not every decision is an economic decision.” The move may have been unpopular in some sectors but it also forged stronger bonds with a core set of loyal brand advocates.

Brand loyalty is built when a customer decides that a brand shares similar values. Similarly, as a brand, you should never shy away from having an opinion on something you feel strongly about. Too many Marketing blogs and social media posts are full of politically correct, often-repeated, safe content. They are also dull and indistinguishable. If you want your personal brand to stand out, take a stand on issues and passionately defend them.

Great brands form alliances

Apple Pay x MasterCard, Spotify x Uber, Adidas x Yohji Yamamoto, LEGO x Star Wars…great brands aren’t afraid to collaborate with other brands. Such associations can bridge a brand towards a different audience, others can nudge the brand away from its roots towards new areas.

In building your own personal brand, make sure to form relationships with others with similar domain expertise. If there is someone whose career you admire, reach out and meet over coffee. If you are in similar fields there should be no shortage of things to talk about. There’s no limit to what opportunities may result. This is where social networks liked LinkedIn can also be a powerful tool.

Now more than ever, your career needs to stand for much more than simply which company you currently work for. Identify your career’s strengths and start putting together a strategy for how to grow your own personal brand.

A version of this article was published in Marketing magazine’s January-February 2016 issue.

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:

The day we tweeted some firemen and they tweeted back

Fire damage

We had a very busy day yesterday. A fire in one of SingTel’s facilities yesterday afternoon disrupted mobile and broadband services in some parts of Singapore. Thankfully no one was injured. Our dedicated engineers worked through the night to restore service.

For me I will also remember it as the day we tweeted some Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) firemen and they tweeted back!

SCDF Firemen

For up-to-date information on SingTel services follow @singtelsupport.

“Viral This” and other Social Media Mistakes your Senior Management is most likely making

Yesterday, I received an email chain from a colleague in another department. In it he was seeking my counsel, as is often the case, on how to increase visibility for a new service. In the email trail was a message from a senior executive: “Tell Miguel to Viral This.”

(While I won’t name the executive, I should emphasize that this person is a highly capable and well respected member of the management team. But a social media strategist she is not.)

Although the company I work for has made great strides in the world of digital marketing and social media in particular, the path to enlightenment is a marathon and not a sprint. This is a new age and most executives still struggle to understand how social media works and how it impacts a company’s sales and marketing strategies.

Here is a list of common mistakes the members of your company’s senior management are most likely making today:

1. They treat social media like a free bulletin board

Most senior executives look at your company Facebook page and its thousands of followers, and think, “Oh wow! Free media!!!” The difference between social media and other interruptive media like television or print is that your messages are too easily switched off. A consumer can “Unlike” your page or “Unfollow” your Twitter handle with a simple tap or mouse click. So unless your content is truly compelling, it will be ignored.

In addition, only a tiny fraction of your followers will even see your post organically, unless you bolster its reach with paid media. (This has been especially true of the last several months as companies like Facebook seek to increase their ad revenues.)

Read about how brands like SingTel use Content

The good news is that while consumers will avoid crap advertising, they will welcome and even seek out good content. Every video, image or article you post must pass the crucial “Why will they care; why will they share?” test. If your content is entertaining, able to elicit a laugh or other strong emotional response, not only will the audience sit through it, they will also share it with their network of friends.

2. They haven’t defined what they want to achieve from social media

Unless they have been living in a cave, “We have to be on Facebook!” is a decision many top executives will have made by now. But what happens after the page is created is often not properly thought through.

Is the objective of the page to drive sales? Or improve customer experience? Or to gather feedback? Or change the perception of your brand? Or, as is the case in service industries like telecommunications, offer customers an alternative Customer Support channel? Very importantly, how will the success of your social media channel be measured?

These are important questions to answer before investing in your social media presence. And you can’t provide a good answer unless you’ve thoroughly understood the question.

3. They don’t empower the social media team

Too often, the management of a brand’s social media channels are relegated to a relatively small part of the Marketing or Corporate Communications team. In many cases, the management of such platforms are outsourced entirely to an external agency.

If a social media strategy is to be successful, it needs to have backing at the very top of the organization, ensuring that its objectives are tied to the company’s business objectives. Senior management, in turn, has to empower the social media team to make day-to-day content decisions or take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

There has been much praise for Oreo’s “Dunk in the Dark” Super Bowl tweet, for example, because of the speed and agility displayed by that brand’s social media team during the biggest live TV event of the year. Similarly, SingTel’s partnership with Singaporean comic Hossan Leong to promote 4G is also considered a good case study for real time marketing. Today’s media environment moves in real time and success comes from having a team empowered to make quick decisions.

“Captain’s Blog, Stardate…”

4. They don’t use social media themselves

Despite the many opportunities of social media, many senior executives are hesitant to embrace it. Some even fear it outright. This is a behavior I personally find puzzling.

How can you leverage something if you don’t understand it? And how are you going to understand it if you don’t use it yourself?

Social media is actually a great platform to interact with customers, prospective customers and even fellow employees. Virgin’s Richard Branson, AirAsia’s Tony Fernandes and even Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong are among many high profile leaders who very openly (and very personally) interact with customers and the public through social media.

Likewise, many CEOs use social media as a means to discuss their management styles and personal philosophies, through Twitter or personal blogs. Importantly, such platforms are a great way to share a a company’s brand values or take a stand on relevant issues.

A 2012 study by TBWA revealed consumers would be more likely to purchase from a company and think more highly of a brand that supports a good cause. No wonder then that CEOs like Starbucks’ Howard Schultz are willing to take very public stands even on divisive issues like same-sex marriage.

Social Media is still very much the brave, new frontier for brands and companies. Companies daring enough are reaping the benefits, others are still stumbling to learn how. But all in all the learning curve could be smoother if senior executives had a larger appetite for risk and a curiosity to experiment.

Read What Makes Great Social?

Conveying a Brand Persona through Video


Presenting in Singapore on 23 May 2013
Presenting in Singapore on 23 May 2013

At the Content Marketing Conference held in Singapore and Hong Kong, I gave a presentation on how SingTel uses video to express a warmer, more approachable brand persona through videos designed for social media distribution.

We have found video is an excellent medium to either educate consumers or even sway public opinion, especially as telecommunications technologies are becoming increasingly complex. The following video is an example of how SingTel educates consumers about maintaining and growing its mobile network:


Most of all,  videos are excellent for showing a lighter, more human side to SingTel. The following video summarizes how SingTel got consumers talking about 4G by partnering with comedian Hossan Leong and using Twitter and Youtube:


You can view the entire presentation below, which includes links to all the videos presented.


Read about how social media matters to brands like SingTel.

Social Media matters to brands

Social Media panel at Music Matters 2013 (L-R): Thomas Crampton (Social@Ogilvy), James Rothwell (Google), Ole Obermann (Sony Music), Miguel Bernas (SingTel), Robin Seow (HP)
Social Media panel at Music Matters 2013 (L-R): Thomas Crampton (Social@Ogilvy), James Rothwell (Google), Ole Obermann (Sony Music), Miguel Bernas (SingTel), Robin Seow (HP)

Yesterday, I had the privilege of joining a distinguished panel of media experts and marketers to discuss social media at Music Matters.

Joining me on the panel were James Rothwell (Head of Google+ Marketing, Google Asia Pacific), Ole Obermann (Executive Vice President of Digital Partner Development and Sales, Sony Music Entertainment) and Robin Seow (Vice President, Marketing, Printing and Personal Systems Group, HP Asia, Pacific and Japan). The discussion was moderated by Thomas Crampton (Asia Pacific Director, Social@Ogilvy). Each panelist discussed how their respective companies use social media in their marketing and community-building activities.

Miguel BernasSocial Media has become extremely important for SingTel, especially in the last two years. In that time, the company has grown from having a minimal Facebook presence to a state where social media is harnessed for every major campaign or product launch and is a vital source for customer feedback.

SingTel’s social media channels (official Facebook page and @SingTelSupport Twitter handle) are among the company’s fastest growing Customer Support channels.  SingTel has a dedicated Customer Support team active 14 hours a day (0900-2300), seven days a week, assisting hundreds of  consumers weekly.

(On a personal note, I always confidently recommend tweeting @SingTelSupport to friends because I know it’s the most reliable way to get a quick response.)
Interacting with SingTel via social media channels can not only provide prompt service but also a pleasant surprise or two. A few months ago, a customer’s tweet about her pet cat Dawn led to a special treat from the SingTel social media team. The incident was documented by local blogger Miss Hallelujah.

Read about how SingTel’s Twitter presence brings service to customers with a human touch.

Recently, SingTel partnered with comedian Hossan Leong and Twitter to get consumers talking about 4G/LTE. Consumers shared their ideas on how they would use the high-speed 4G connection and SingTel turned these ideas into improv comedy skits which were then published online via Youtube. The campaign resulted in 23 videos uploaded in just eight hours. Read more about the campaign here.)

Many brands talk about how they use social media to “listen” to their consumers. Customer feedback gathered from social media is so important to SingTel that it has a direct impact even on the company’s network infrastructure.  During a massive mobile network upgrade programme that began in 2012, SingTel provided a feedback form on its Facebook page so that customers could directly offer information on where the upgrades were needed most. The thousands of feedback forms provided by consumers were collated on a weekly basis and allowed SingTel to re-prioritize its upgrade schedule based on customer feedback.

Read about What makes great Social.

Since SingTel realized that the upgrade programme would take months, the company decided to be as transparent as possible in sharing information. Progress on the upgrades were provided via a dedicated page on the wesbite, complete with progress reports, upgrade timetables and even pre- and post-upgrade Speedtest comparisons.

Social media can be a powerful ally as long as a brand makes the decision to harness its power. The path isn’t without risks but the rewards can be many for those who are daring enough.

Could this be the coolest music video ever made?

Before returning to earth after his 5-month mission to the International Space Station, Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded and released this stunning rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. A song about a man in outer space sung by a man in outer space. What an amazing time we live in.

His video took his recording (yes, that’s his real singing voice), edited with the help of his sons Evan and Kyle back on earth,  and combined with video images shot by Hadfield while aboard the ISS.

This video connects with me on so many levels because it brings together some of my life’s passions: new media, science (and science fiction) and, of course, rock n’ roll. It’s the crowning achievement in a series of videos by Hadfield about life aboard the ISS shared with the world through social media (which at one point included a Twitter exchange and live interview with William Shatner).

Commander Hadfield’s career as an astronaut and as a test pilot for the RCAF may have taken him farther, faster, further than most men in history, but for me he will always be remembered for this perfect moment captured in 5:31 minutes of film.

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