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Brand it like PM Lee!

This morning I read an article that Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posted, on how investing in “the human touch” can greatly improve the communications for the Singaporean government.

The following paragraphs especially resonated with me:

“How, then, to combat such cynicism? Communication between the Government and its constituents simply needs to become more human. Where there are human reasons behind a decision, sometimes, it is better to just tell it like it is.”

It seems to me that the Singaporean government tends to adopt a paternalistic communication approach which can be interpreted as high-handed. That being said, I believe that most of our leaders have generally positive intentions for the future of Singapore, even if they make mistakes like the YOG massive overspending from the initial allocated budget of S$104 million to S$387 million. That’s approximately a 350% miscalculation LOL. 

I have my favorite politicians. They include politicians like PM Lee. I wrote about PM Lee here and here. Politicians like MP Patrick Tay do actively speak up for the rights of Singaporean PMEs. Politicians like MP Khaw Boon Wan has personally contributed in his own capacity to a Singapore-Japan 3-11 Tsunami Relief project that I helmed with my team before.

The one thing about the communications in the Singaporean government is this: Some politicians do not actively invest much in or effectively communicate their personal brands. This is not uncommon considering how busy some politicians are. They might therefore not see the need for spending time on maintaining their reputations. They might even think “hard work speaks for itself”.

However, the danger is that the public might not even know how hard some politicians work. Because this simply isn’t actively communicated to the public!

So today, I want to illuminate how PM Lee uses his social media channels to engage millions of Singaporeans. In particular, I will highlight how he uses these channels to communicate the “humanness” behind his massive role as the Prime Minister of Singapore.

I hope by writing this, other politicians can learn something from PM Lee’s excellent personal branding via social media, and start to communicate positive intentions and create trust via their social media channels too.

1.What is personal branding?

Personal branding can simply be thought of as “the things Singaporeans say about PM Lee Hsien Loong” at the Kopitiam. And if we define personal branding as such, PM Lee seems to be a true influencer. 😀

2. How much of a social media influencer is PM Lee?
3. Is PM Lee aware that he is communicating his personal brand across his social media channels?

The answer is yes.

In this interview, PM Lee muses:

“[Wanting to engage Singaporeans on social media] makes me a lot more conscious in pitching what I want to say, to ask myself how will I distil this down in a form which someone can digest on Facebook or Instagram?”

This shows that he has the Singaporean masses in mind whenever he posts something on his social media channels.

PM Lee also takes selfies because wants to endear himself to Singaporean millennials, many of who are already voting and will soon be voting.

Taking selfies is not uncommon for politicians: Ex-Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, who was unfortunately kicked out of the PM role by his own party after just one lacklustre and disappointing year, used to take a lot of selfies with younger folks too.

Clearly, the difference with “selfie taking” between the two Prime Ministers is that people tend to see our Singaporean PM as “endearing” and the ex-Finnish Prime Minister as “superficial”.

Don’t believe? Well, don’t trust my words, trust the numbers. Just look how the ex-Finnish PM’s party members voted him out of party chair and how he blatantly went back on pre-elections promises not to have education funding cuts.

It was a stupid move by Alexander Stubb to spam selfies during the election campaigns. Because BEFORE the elections, PM Stubb went to take photographs with students that said that he would never do education cuts IF elected. However, after he got elected, he just went ahead to cut education funding. So the angry students/student unions had physical evidence that he lied (because he held signs that wrote in black-and-white that he would never do education funding cuts) and he cannot backtrack on his words.

This shows that when you do personal branding, you got to be authentic. It is important for Prime Ministers to walk the talk too. Not just anyhow take selfies or make empty promises.

Or, if you want to make empty promises, LEAVE NO TRACE!

It also helps that PM Lee is a great photographer. 🙂 PM Lee’s social media feed is a joy to look at.


4. Functions and types of content across all three channels:

According to the book Brand it like Beckham, it is argued that the wildly successful David Beckham brands himself systematically according to two tiers: Public and Private.

  • Public content can be categorised according to (1) Profession, (2) Fashion and (3) Sponsorships.
  • Private content can be categorised into (4) Role as a Father; (5) Role as a Husband; (6) Role as a Son.

Well–PM Lee obviously doesn’t accept brand sponsorships. So instead of (3) Sponsorship, PM Lee does (3) “Travel/ Charity” as part of content. PM Lee “endorses” certain areas or causes and link these experiences back to Singaporeans/Singapore.

Let’s now go category by category to see the types of content PM Lee posts:

-PM Lee as Prime Minister of Singapore.

“Bonding” session with the Prime Minister of The Phillipines, Rody Duterte.

Joint-Speech with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. 

-Regarding Fashion…

PM Lee consistently dresses according to the occasion and context. If it’s a formal event, he’s always in suits and ties. If it’s a smart casual event, he doesn’t wear a tie. If it’s dinner with Barack and Michelle Obama, he’d dress formally as befitting of a white house reception. So with regards to fashion, it’s nothing out of the blue.

-Photos taken during PM Lee’s Travels.

Photo taking on a casual walk in Singapore.

Photos taken in Japan…that is LINKED to Singaporeans! Notice how this subtly (and I believe, genuinely) communicates that Singapore/Singaporeans is always on the mind of PM Lee? 🙂

How about PM’s Lee “Private” personal branding content?

-PM Lee as Husband:

-PM Lee as Son, when both Mr. and Mrs. Lee Kuan Yew are still alive:

Discussion: Why is it important to have a mix of public and private photographs?

-Having a good mix of both public and private photographs is to inspire and endear.

  • For public photographs: You see, when you are an influential leader, you want the masses to understand that you are doing things for the greater good of the Singaporean society. This is the purpose of your public photographs and accompanying captions. By posting public photographs, the public can understand and be educated on what you are doing, and be influenced and moved by your positive intentions and efforts towards making the country greater.
  • For private photographs: This is so that the public can see that you are exactly like them. Humane. Caring. Have a family. Loves the family. Is a filial and responsible son. And honestly, for PM Lee’s case, to also remind the Singaporean public the greatness of his parents.

How can politicians all over the world learn from PM Lee Hsien Loong’s social media branding?

  • Do a mixture of private and public tiered content. Don’t just post activities or trips with key leaders, combine such stories with personal stories of family too.
  • Be endearing, take some selfies with the community! However, don’t be like Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb when it comes to Selfies. Remember to deliver on your promises when it comes to the exact same community, not go back on them.
  • Actively promote community causes. When travelling, it is also possible to state in the caption how that place/ place’s history is related to Singapore/ Singaporeans.
  • Be consistent throughout social media portals. The same content goes on all three social media handles PM Lee has. There’s no one channel “exclusive” content, for example.

I hope you have enjoyed this piece! Let me know in the comments what you think.

(Feature photograph: MCI)

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