You might know her as Rosie Phua from Singapore sitcom Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd, but aside from her comedic pursuits, Irene Ang has carved out a name for herself in the entertainment industry, from hosting to starting up her own artiste management agency, FLY Entertainment.
Transitioning from veteran actress to social media influencer is no mean feat, but Ang is showing no signs of slowing down. With followings on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Ang has grown her online following from the ground up thanks to her involvement in client campaigns and also for hosting Clicknetwork’s Food Porn web series.
In her established career, she has worked with a wide range of brands from government agencies to brands such as CPF, Mindef, Orbis and Grab to name a few.
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In this edition of "Now following", Marketing sits down with Ang on what it is like to be someone who is a talent, and someone who manages talent and how she started her journey on social media.
Marketing: When and how did you start out as an influencer?
I would like to see myself as an entertainer above all else as being an entertainer is something which is more broad. My forte you could say, only because I win awards for that, would be comedy... but I am actually quite a good drama actress you know, it’s just that people didn't explore that side of me.
Marketing: How did you carve a niche for yourself?
I do a lot of campaigns with government messaging because according to agencies, I am able to simplify complicated jargon because of my heartland "expertise" and lingo. What I am briefed to do is recreate a campaign's message into digestible words and local languages. I guess I didn't carve out my own niche, but rather it was the agencies which gave me my niche.
Usually, clients directly approach my artiste manager or my marketing team with their campaign ideas and my team advises accordingly. Clients will request a few different influencers for their campaign executions.
We would then involve these influencers depending on who is suitable and I will act like a "head influencer" and bring in my friends.
One benefit clients get when they hire me is getting both a 'creative director' and an influencer.
I can be a content creator, artiste or influencer.
Marketing: So how has the influencer landscape changed from when you first entered?
When I first entered it was dominated by bloggers and I thought that was the end for me because I wasn’t one. I am not a blogger who works to put up nice pictures online.
It was only after Pat Law [founder of GOODSTUPH] who opened my Twitter account, that I really started sharing my thoughts online to connect with my fans. That was how I started out in the social media space and apparently people liked how real I was, and how I was not mean.
I'm glad I don't have to blog anymore. Now I can use Facebook as and when I have the time. It is usually when I am feeling reflective during special occasions such as the end of the year, or if it is National Day and I am feeling patriotic that I post online.
Marketing: What is it like being someone who is a talent, also manages talent?
Directors who hire influencers who can't act, drive the veteran thespian actors crazy. Of course it is not fair, nothing is fair in life. But you can't change the world and we have to be the change we want to see.
Instead, what I am doing as a manager of talent is encouraging all the older, veteran actors/actresses to work on their existing fan base and find their niche.
Some who have done well are those such as Jaime Teo [former beauty queen and TV host], especially in the motherhood and fitness space. Her fans who grew up with her during her Channel 8 times are now becoming mothers as well and they also want to know how to juggle motherhood and fitness. She found her niche and is getting a lot of engagement.
The skills needed on social media can be taught. Especially for all the theatre and TV actors who are able to write. They are creative people, and should in fact write more because they have an edge.
Actors have a behind the scenes advantage, the insider's edge which other influencers do not have.
It can be something as simple as a script reading before a play starts. Instead of resisting, I think we should embrace, engage and enjoy social media. That's the message I have been trying to tell all the older artistes.
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Marketing: Was it hard for you to go from traditional media to social media?
A key challenge for experienced actors such as myself was crossing over to become a social media influencer, and this was the case for many of my peers. In the past, there was some sort of a distance. That was what kept us “idol-like” and mysterious, which helped earn us a following.
But everything has changed in the past few years. People now want to know the real you.
In the beginning for me, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter was something which felt really guarded. Especially for Twitter - I did not share as many personal views.
However, over time I realised that didn't work because when I shared my emotions or views about certain issues and situations, whether it was Amos Yee or the elections, I realised those posts got the most response.
Marketing: How has that changed in terms of client expectations?
In the last three or four years, I found that I was being engaged for more skits and campaigns, especially government campaigns, and not just for event hosting or acting.
Clients not only want me as an entertainer or host, they also want me as an influencer to bring people down to events. Some have also required me to post on Instagram to alert my followers that I would be at a certain place.
In order for me to be more effective as a host and artiste, I quickly realised I needed to grow my following as an influencer.
This can be tiring for older actors who are so used to taking a script, memorising and performing on stage or on screen. I needed the numbers, not just the online follower count.
The effort paid off, after doing that for one or two years, marketing agencies and ad agencies started referring to me as someone who is not a top influencer, but rather, a “centre of influence”.
Marketing: Can you elaborate more on what being “a centre of influence” means?
What this means is that I am an “influencer's influencer” because those who follow me are those who are in the influencer community. They are my friends in real life as well. For example, if another influencer likes what I post online, they repost it – and the numbers would go ballistic.
This might be because they respect me as an artiste, or as a “veteran”. My views matter to them so they do share their response to my views or they repost my stuff online.
Marketing: Do you handle your own social media platforms?
Yes. People are often surprised that I handle all my posts myself because not a lot of celebrities do that. Usually there is a department or a team for a celebrity's social media management and for the different platforms.
Now everything is about being genuine. For me, it can be obvious when the post is not done by me because my voice is quite distinct.
Firstly, the English written will be bad (laughter), there will always be spelling and grammar mistakes, and the hashtags are super local and quite nonsensical such as "#dontsayibojio" or "#nowyouknowhor" and "iknowright". It is very localised because that is who I am.
If I suddenly started using words with three syllables or more people would know the copy isn't written by me.
They would also question if it was done by a marketing team. This is what my audience likes – they want me as me, and not cookie cutter statements. That is why different influencers can create different followings.
Marketing: What are some client personalities you enjoy and dislike working with?
I don’t like working with clients who only hire me because I am 'Irene', but then tell me not to be myself.
For example, I would not be able to speak Singlish or behave like an “ah lian”. It is like asking Kumar [local comedian] not to drag or not to be "dirty" at all. If anyone wants me to be overly serious, it is not me at all.
Difficult clients also require me to send ten thousand drafts for them to approve because they are not happy with the language, when all they want at the end is for me to use their draft. If that was the case, it should have been said from day one, that the content is something they want me to post and put in my own words, with the right tone.
But most of the time we are able to manage client expectations. I am also thankful I have the managers or the agency for buffer. The agencies are fantastic, the ones I work with will tell the clients straight on that if they want to hire "Irene", they have to accept the tone and style I take. Requiring drafts is good but I think it should be approached like copy writing, and kept to let's say three drafts.
Requiring for an influencer to post on too many social channels is also another issue. If it is about campaign messaging I don't mind because anybody can be a target audience. But if it is about a particular product it will be strange to use my Twitter, to for example, market a skincare product. This works well on Instagram and possibly Facebook, but clients want content on every platform.
Some don't provide enough time, and have so many layers of approval that by the time it reaches me, there is so little time to get the post up. This is especially difficult for celebrity influencers.
We are not full time influencers who sit at home and wait for jobs. We have a company to run, meetings to go and shoots going on.
It is also important to give a clear brief, which is sometimes difficult because the decision makers themselves are not familiar with influencer marketing.
The “old school” marketers are not familiar with how to use social media, and the juniors are usually the ones running the campaigns.
While the juniors may understand, things change when they go to their management.
I once went to a meeting where the top decision maker was 50-year old man who asked why money is being spent on social media influencers. He also didn’t know the difference between social media influencers and Facebook (the platform). It is two different things, you buy ads on social media platforms, but social media influencers are people who you hire to spread your message for you. This guy was the decision maker, and everything we proposed had to go through him!
Key marketing decision makers are not social media savvy, but they are still decision makers.
I understand the need for older marketers to be gatekeeper of older brand, and not let 20-something year olds run a 100-year old brand. But I think it is a very tiring process to re-educate the older generation marketers on the use of social media which is becoming more and more important in today's marketing. That can drive me crazy because the approval for one draft can sometimes take 10 days.
But like I said, I am very fortunate that I work with agencies which succeed in educating clients. The good ones come to me and just tell me to give three different versions of my post and three photos. From there they streamline the ones they want, and then they manage the client.
Marketing: How can celeb-influencers such as yourself carve a niche in the industry?
One benefit for us celebrity hosts is being able to show what happens behind the scenes. You can take your audience behind the scenes to VIP areas where they can't access so they can see from a "first hand" view, what is going on.
For example, when I hosted a big event such as the countdown for IMC Live at the Stadium, which starred Alicia Keys [the international singer], my following went up a few hundred for Instagram because I was posting live updates. So fans of Alicia Keys following the hashtag will also follow me to find out what was happening.
But having behind the scene access also comes with its bad points. Sometimes the client or director would not allow you to post until the movie or video is out. I would take all these nice videos and pictures and collages. But by the time the show comes out three months later I would have forgotten about it.
But if it is immediate, it’s great! That's why I love Instagram Stories. It allows me to post my feelings or behind the scenes right away and your audience gets excited because they get first hand news.
Marketing: How would you describe your followers?
They are mostly Singaporean or Malaysians. I had always thought my followers were 40 and above – that was what I told my clients – but a recent study led me to realise I was mistaken. My marketing team found my followers to between the ages of 25 to 35 years old. Which surprised me because how would they know me right if I am so old?
What probably led to a spike in my following, in that age group, was being a host on Clicknetwork's Food Porn?
I suddenly had a lot of fans, and I must thank Clicknetwork for putting my Facebook fan page on the videos. This helped divert my personal page following to my public one and it went up by a few thousand.
Having an online programme does help bolster my following, especially a successful programme, not the kind that has 300 people watching. Our average is at about a 100,000 to a few hundred thousand for Food Porn.
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Which social media platform gives you the most engagement?
If it is my personal page the connection is linked to more personal topics. For me it is issues relating to Singapore, food, things people might be “buay song” [unhappy] with, that generally Singaporeans feel.
On Instagram, I find the most interaction with travels, with food and quirks about being Singaporean. For me, they see me as a Singapore “icon” of sorts, so when I talk about Singaporean things, my audience gets very excited – and I don't know why. For example, one post about teochew porridge can spark debate and comments.
Some are unintentional. The more grounded the post is for my case, the more interactive it can become.
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