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DPM Lawrence Wong and brand Singapore: What's the role of social?

DPM Lawrence Wong and brand Singapore: What's the role of social?

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Last week, it was announced that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will relinquish his office on 15 May 2024 and that Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong will succeed him on the same day. 

"I am honoured to be asked to undertake this new responsibility as the Prime Minister of Singapore," said Wong in a LinkedIn post after the appointment.  "I accept this responsibility with humility and a deep sense of duty. I pledge to give you my all in this undertaking," he wrote, adding that together, we can build a future that shines brightly for all Singaporeans. 

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This is a monumental change for Singapore particularly because Prime Minister Lee has been the face and voice of the country for 20 years now. He has been key in Singapore's nation branding which is described by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) as a country’s strategy to convey a particular image of itself beyond its borders to achieve certain beneficial goals. 

Branding a country is not a simple task and what is communicated – consciously or unconsciously – is as important as the target audiences’ broader perceptions of a country, according to WIPO. As such, with what is imminent for DPM Wong at the moment is how to best craft his reputation and public image, according to Shufen Goh, principal and co-founder of R3. 

When a politician’s credibility is so closely tied to their public image, every choice he makes, whether it’s a speech, a post or a video, will be closely scrutinised.

To do so, Wong has been active on social media platforms to reach the country and the world where they are - online. "The act of using social media seems to indicate an openness and transparency of communication that previous generations of politicians were not expected to embrace," explained Goh. "Unlike Prime Minister Lee who had to pioneer the use of social media while in office, Wong is considered a digital native so the expectation is that he will be savvier in engaging citizens across the digital spectrum, with less tolerance for any missteps," she said.

Wong currently uses social media to connect more personally with his audience, engaging with viral trends and encouraging engagement through stunts such as TikTok duets. For example, when he announced the Budget this year, he used a mix of educational and entertaining online content. He walked in slow motion to the Parliament House to deliver the budget, set to a trending sound and shared that on all his social channels, from TikTok to YouTube and LinkedIn.

"It seemed like a step in the right direction to be able to engage audiences so thoroughly with one piece of content. What’s interesting is he doesn’t adjust his content very much despite reaching very different audiences on each platform – perhaps a calculated choice to come across as more authentic," added Goh.

He uses a soft-power approach to bring awareness and legibility to government initiatives, while maintaining a personable, approachable persona. 

Saying that, in his branding on social media, Wong cannot just box his posts to just focus on trends on the more popular channels such as TikTok and Instagram. Which is why he is also now leveraging LinkedIn to disseminate key information. 

"Politicians’ shift to LinkedIn ensures they do not over-index on a young audience, promoting awareness from professionals and business communities on the platform," explained Goh. 

Adding to her point, Paul Soon, CEO of MullenLowe Singapore and Shanghai noted that using a variety of social platforms is the "surest" way to reach a larger audience and establish a greater influence on the narrative the politicians want to shape regardless of the topic.

"Even MNC CEOs want to know more about Singapore's leaders as human beings instead of just more marketing messages. LinkedIn has broader impact beyond the intended use. It’s a great way to mix business with pleasure," he said. 

The rise of LinkedIn 

True enough, accordin to Pei Lin Cho, managing director of APRW, in the last two years, we are seeing an increased use of LinkedIn by politicians and those in the C-suite levels.

"Many of them are starting to spend time on LinkedIn to share professional news and knowledge. It is also a platform that is able to bring together older workers and those who are starting to join the workforce as it is the preferred platform for job searches," said Cho.  She added that many have also separated their social media lives into 'personal' verses 'professional'.

"For politicians, it means posting about policies and work issues on LinkedIn, and keeping personal posts to Facebook, Instagram and/or TikTok," she said. 

True enough, according to Althea Wong, group chief executive officer at Gushcloud International, the agency has seen an increased usage of LinkedIn amongst professionals and even younger audiences.

Specifically in Singapore, where X is not actively used; we see LinkedIn taking over the role of X as the platform where opinions matter.

She continued by saying that LinkedIn is where audiences can discuss a wide array of topics in a professional manner.

"Hence, politicians take to Linkedin because being a politician is a professional job. In Singapore, where politicians are also paid by the ministries to head up policy making and roll out policies, it allows the politician to share more of their professional work scope to the people to allow people to understand the background of the work and the policies done at the ministry level," she said. 

Speaking to business directly

Singapore is also a very attractive place for organisations to set up hubs or offices. Organisations and their executives are on LinkedIn and so it is a great place for leaders to be accessible if anyone is keen and wants to learn more about Singapore, said Valerie Madon, chief creative officer, APAC, of McCann Worldgroup.

"I once read in our late Prime Minister's book that he ran Singapore not just as a country but as a business or a corporation," she said.  "As a country we’ve managed to stay relevant and continue to progress like an entrepreneurial business through this approach rather than stagnate as just an island for people to live in. If Singapore is a corporation, I can see why it’s ‘executives’ would be on Linkedin," she explained. 

Madon added that looking at the content on his social profiles, Wong strikes a good balance of professionalism and humanity and that is reflective of the Singaporean culture.

"We take our effectiveness seriously in everything we do, hence why the country works so well. But we also have a unique sense of personality that’s gentle, charming and never over-the-top," she said. 

Photo courtesy of Prime Minister's Office Singapore

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