Singtel in hot water after social brief to slime competitors surfaces

StarHub and M1 have declared intentions to take matters to the Information Development Authority after a brief for a social media campaign for Singtel surfaced. Part of the first phase of the brief invited influencers to slime the former's networks.

The brief was posted on influencers network GushCloud's platform, and was to promote Singtel's Youth Plan.

In the brief, Gushcloud’s influencers were asked to “share with readers/followers on their blog+social media accounts on how you have had enough of your mobile plan not meeting your current needs and how you have thoughts to sign up for a new plan.” The brief also states one of its key messages in the first phase of the campaign being to “complain/lament about competitor’s (M1/Starhub) services/network connections and pinpoint [sic] with existing plan..” The brief was circulated from this blog:

When reached by Marketing to confirm the matter, a Singtel spokesperson did not deny the authenticity of the brief, but said that it was not responsible for it.

“Singtel wishes to clarify that we did not issue the brief. Singtel uses different digital agencies for its campaigns. GushCloud was one of the agencies we had used in June 2014.”

“It is Singtel’s policy to focus on the strengths and differentiators when marketing our products and services. It is not our practice to run negative campaigns against any individual or organization. This is not the way we manage our marketing promotions. We will remind our agencies to strictly adhere to this policy when running campaigns for Singtel," she said.

Meanwhile, rival telcos StarHub and M1 are up in arms over the matter, and both have threatened to take the matter up to the IDA.

Jeannie Ong, chief marketing officer, StarHub said: “We are aware of the allegations that an operator may have run social media campaigns to falsely discredit and disparage StarHub’s services and network. We are deeply disturbed by the tactics employed and the possible damage to our brand. We will be engaging with both IDA and the relevant operator on this issue.”

“Such practices are unethical, and we intend to seek clarification with the relevant operator on this matter. We will also request IDA to look into this pursuant to the Telecom Competition Code, and will explore further action if necessary,” said Chua Hian Hou assistant general manager, corporate communications, M1.

Industry players say that this signals the need for more transparency in the digital space, as well as in client-agency relationships.

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It also reflects the volatility of the blogger space, said Freda Kwok, principal consultant at digital consultancy QED.

"This incident reflects the issue of volatility when working with bloggers, influencers and their agencies. While there are multiple codes of practice in place in Singapore, ranging from the Internet specifically to advertising in general, not all bloggers nor blogger networks/agencies are familiar or aware of the guidelines, resulting in professional and legal lapses. The industry is also susceptible to possible erratic behaviour by the individual, as bloggers and influencers ultimately represent and account to themselves," said Kwok.

Kwok recommends three tips for working with bloggers:

  1. Treat paid bloggers and influencers as you would any other professional marketing platforms - bounded by clear guidelines and adherence to ethical practices
  2. Be upfront when working with paid bloggers and influencers - build credibility by being transparent with advertorials
  3. Harness the potential of engaging genuine brand advocates - this group is often overlooked but is a critical source of legitimate support of your brand