Stars of social media, who's hot, who's not

Witty posts have the power to win fans, while a badly thought-out one can offend, as home-grown stars have found out

In the selfie-obsessed, snap-happy world of the Internet, celebrities have long harnessed the power of social media to reach fans.

It does not take a cynic to know that Instagram photos, tweets or Facebook posts, however off-the- cuff and casual they seem, are usually carefully curated to show off the best side of the subjects.

Sometimes, the posts even endorse certain brands - but fans usually do not mind.

Well, up to a certain extent.

While celebrities' social media posts are under the direct control of themselves and their team of publicists, the Internet has a way of tripping up even the most calculated moves.

Some people are afraid to look ugly or wacky and hold back a bit. They want to seem very pretty and poised all the time, but I'm not afraid to show who I really am on social media.


Earlier this month, the reputation of Singapore actress Rebecca Lim took a hit because of an illconceived publicity stunt for insurance company NTUC Income - for which she has issued a belated apology.

On Feb 12, she declared on her Instagram account @limrebecca that she was "retiring" and asked followers to "be happy for me" to widespread confusion and consternation.

When the 29-year-old later clarified to the media that the post was, in fact, a "collaboration with NTUC Income", members of the public were livid, calling her a liar and her act distasteful.

But fans were mad at her not because she was endorsing a brand - celebrities, after all, do it all the time. Rather, they were furious that the post was blatantly out to deceive the public.

As Mr Wesley Gunter, founder and public relations director of Right Hook Communications, puts it, "authenticity is the name of the game" when it comes to how celebrities make use of their social media accounts.

Soft product endorsements require a "suspension of disbelief", but tricking people is a different kettle of fish altogether, he adds.

He says: "Celebrities can definitely have product endorsements, but be open about it."

Two weeks on from the incident, Lim has kept a low profile, shying away from press events.

It was only three days ago, when she finally updated her social media accounts, that she posted this message on Instagram and Facebook: "Recently, I've been reminded that being an artiste comes with great responsibilities.

"I know I have upset many of you, including those dearest to me. Please accept my humblest apologies. I've taken to heart many lessons and hope that you will be patient with me as I continue to learn and grow."

Her experience shows how tricky it can be for celebrities to appear genuine via their social media accounts - the platform most fans believe is the easiest and most direct way to get access to their idols.

Associate Professor Lau Geok Theng of National University Of Singapore's Business School says that ideally, celebrity social media accounts should display "accessibility, spontaneity and informality".

Singer-actress Nadiah M. Din, 25, agrees it is important to "just be myself" and "get silly" on her social media accounts.

She says: "Some people are afraid to look ugly or wacky and hold back a bit. They want to seem very pretty and poised all the time, but I'm not afraid to show who I really am on social media. If you see my Instagram videos, they're really crazy."

Sounds easy enough for her, but keeping to the golden rule of "accessibility, spontaneity and informality" can be a cause for stress for celebrities such as actor Chen Tianwen.

The 52-year-old star of movies such as Ilo Ilo (2013) and Mr Unbelievable (2015) says he gets a "headache" whenever he wants to post something on his Facebook page or Instagram account.

"I find it quite challenging to keep my social media accounts entertaining for my followers. I don't want to just post random photos for the sake of it. I try to make the captions funny or thoughtful.

"Otherwise, fans will get bored, right? But I'm not a creative person," he concedes with a chuckle.

Singer-actor Nat Ho, 31, acknowledges his position as a public figure and always thinks twice before every social media post. He has Facebook, Instagram, Weibo and Snapchat accounts.

He says: "I wouldn't post my sex tape, not that there is one. But basically, it's important to have common sense and not post anything too controversial.

"It is easy for followers to take offence at even the smallest things, if they really want to."

For example, in one of his Instagram posts, he had shared a candid picture that he took of two women donning face masks in a Taiwan subway train. He then jokingly wrote in the caption that the faces behind the masks could be those of aliens.

He recalls that the post received a lot of flak: "I was just being silly, but people said I was being really rude and threatened to unfollow me."

Some prominent home-grown celebrities, such as singer Kit Chan and television actress Rui En, choose to opt out of the social media game completely, if at all possible.

Chan, 43, started a Weibo account only because it was a requirement for all contestants of the China singing contest I Am A Singer, in which she participated last year.

Her updates come only once every few months and, even then, are often handled by her publicist. The posts by her publicist are indicated clearly with a name tagline. Weibo is her only social media account and she does not plan to set up a Facebook page or Instagram account, repelled by the online trolls they tend to draw.

She says: "I am astounded by the power of social media, but I won't let it rule my world. It is like a double-edged sword that both strokes and kills the ego.

"I see people feeling sad because of what others say about them online. I feel that our value should not be determined by external factors like these."

Rui En does not manage any social media accounts as she prefers to keep her work separate from her personal life.

The 35-year-old did not respond to The Sunday Times' queries by press time, but in an interview published by 8 Days magazine in January last year, she was quoted as saying: "I have no desire to share my life with the world. I already am a piece of public property. Everyone wants a piece of me. I'm not going to put my personal life on the line."

Most Singapore stars who use social media, however, view the medium as an effective tool to connect with their fans.

YouTuber-turned-actor Noah Yap, 23, best known for playing goofy recruit I.P. Man in Jack Neo's Ah Boys To Men movies, says that he updates his accounts regularly so that his fans do not forget about him. That is more crucial now as he is doing national service.

He says: "I'm in the army now, so social media is a good way for people to know I'm not dead. People can see from my posts that I'm still active and around, so that when I'm done with the army in May, they wouldn't have forgotten me and I can get back into acting."

As earnest and enthusiastic as most home-grown stars appear to be on social media, however, their game, nonetheless, appears to be wanting when compared with those of celebrities in the West.

Some long-time celebrity users of social media from Europe and North America are experts when it comes to writing witty captions for their pictures, even daring to take down trolls with sarcasm if necessary.

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is especially lauded for her tweets, where she shares secrets about her book and movie franchise, replies to fans' burning questions and demolishes haters swiftly.

In response to someone who tweeted that the main reason behind American tennis star Serena Williams' success is "ironic because she is built like a man", Rowling posted a picture of Williams in a sexy bodycon dress and wrote: "Yeah, my husband looks just like this in a dress. You're an idiot."

Other social media users, such as Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds, 39, are known for their dry wit. He recently tweeted about his baby daughter's artwork: "My daughter's only six months old and already drawing. I'd hang it on the fridge, but, honestly, it's absolute garbage."

Perhaps, Singaporean celebrities prefer to play on the safer side.

We await the day when they really and truly let loose online.

• Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

The good...

Rebecca Lim (right).

ZOE TAY, actress, 48

Instagram @zoetay10: 70,700 followers

The fiercely private actress chooses to flood her Instagram account with pictures related to work, but they are not just regurgitations of official promotional material. She sometimes gives fans a bit of extra goss, such as a video of herself casually chatting about a phone app with Hong Kong star Damian Lau on the set of The Dream Makers 2.

Then, there are her nostalgic photo posts, such as one of veteran actor Wang Yuqing which she dug up from more than 25 years ago to mark their long friendship. Bonus: her charming and - dare we say it - cheery weakness for cutesy frames.

Most recently, she shared a picture of herself with Rebecca Lim to show her support for the younger actress, together with a caption in Chinese encouraging Lim to ride through the storm. Two weeks ago, Lim was slammed online for posting a fake post about retiring.

While most other stars preferred not to comment and get embroiled in the mess, at least we know whose side the Ah Jie of Caldecott stands on.

MICHELLE CHONG, director and actress, 38

Instagram @immichellechong: 81,600 followers

Facebook page: 190,338 likes

Unlike many Singapore celebrities, most of Chong's social media posts are not of herself, but of food. Which begs the question: How does she stay so slim?

Genetic advantages aside, she injects plenty of personality into her posts. Many of the feasts she has, for example, are apparently cooked by her father. We also learn that she loves chilli padi so much that she takes it out in Ziploc bags so she can add it to her meals when she eats out.

When the posts are not of food, she shares hilarious behind-the-scenes video clips of herself playing characters from parody TV show The Noose, including Chinese karaoke girl Lulu, who will star in her own film, Lulu The Movie, later this year.

KUMAR, comedian, 47

Twitter @AmazingKumar: 11,900 followers

Straight-talking Kumar is probably one of the few Singaporean celebrities who is truly comfortable with shooting his mouth off on social media.

His Twitter feed is filled with rib-tickling one-liners, such as his response last year to the news that a number of John Little and Marks & Spencer department stores were set to close: "Just change name to Mustafa lah."

If he were to make a movie, he would make it "an action one called Indian Jones & The Tamil of Doom" and he thinks that "the top civil servant in charge of population growth should be called the Sperm Sec".

NADIAH M. DIN, singer and actress, 25

Instagram @nadiahmdin: 88,900 followers

Twitter @NadiahMdin: 15,000 followers

This is a class act from a digital maverick, striking a good balance between envy-inducing glam shots and silly and candid videos from a girl next door.

On Instagram, witness Nadiah and her modelesque French fiance lounging in the sand, which is just one of many magazine-shoot- worthy pre-wedding pictures she released, or flailing her arms and dancing on a hotel-room bed to trashy techno, which is clearly what one needs to do on holiday. Like.

TAUFIK BATISAH, singer, 34

Instagram @taufikbatisah: 353,000 followers

Facebook page: 227,255 likes

Twitter @TaufikBatisah: 116,000 followers

Taufik has always been known to be fiercely private, but ever since he tied the knot with his production manager wife Sheena Akbal in April last year, he has unleashed more of his personal life on social media.

On Instagram, he has posted pictures of his wife (who debuted bleached blonde hair on his account a month ago) and goofy videos of the two of them lip-syncing to songs in the car, such as Adele's Hello and Do You Want To Build A Snowman from the Disney film Frozen (2013).

Keep them coming, Taufik, and drive safely.

FANN WONG, actress, 45

Instagram @fannaiaiwong: 248,000 followers

Facebook page: 997,202 likes

Some will find Wong and her actor husband Christopher Lee's mushy declarations of love for each other in every television and print interview they do a little too saccharine, but at least they are consistent online.

While Lee gushes intermittently about his wife and adorable son Zed on his Instagram account, Fann is the more active user, sharing snippets of family life almost every other day. Like any parent, she shows off her son in cute outfits, but is also unafraid to express her concerns about her boy falling ill and growing up a little too quickly. Cue the awws.

ZHENG GEPING, actor, 51

Instagram @zhenggeping: 61,300 followers

Singapore's No. 1 hunkle has worked hard for that body and has no qualms showing it off. His busy Instagram account often features pictures of him working out in the gym or climbing mountains in tight tank-tops.

But the macho man also regularly shows off his softer side, sharing sweet photos of him hanging out with his actress wife Hong Huifang, as well as with their teenage son and daughter.

...and the blah

JEANETTE AW, actress, 36

Instagram @jeanetteaw_xuan: 261,000 followers

Is she really human or is she just one very pretty mannequin? Going by her social media posts, she never has a single hair out of place or any pores on her face. She has certainly mastered the art of the head side-tilt, though.

Some credit should be given to her for taking the time to respond to her fans' questions in the comments section whenever she can. She also remembers to credit her fan club Jeanius for sending her flowers and gifts. Perhaps that is why even though she appears blander than oatmeal at times, she has nabbed the Social Media Award two years in a row in 2014 and last year at the annual Star Awards.

XU BIN, actor, 27

Instagram @xubin_: 177,000 followers

Facebook page: 77,423 likes

All we really know about China-born actor Xu from his Instagram posts is that he has beautiful, flawless skin. Oh, and lovely straight teeth.

It does not help that his captions are eye-wateringly unprofound: One picture of him posing next to a lake comes with the words, "Some people say I've changed, but I have to say, I've found myself." Erm, what?

Perhaps the actor, who is marketed as one of Mediacorp's 8 Dukes, is still a little scarred from the time when he riled cat lovers online after he said in a magazine interview last year that he would try to persuade his future girlfriend to give her cat away as he prefers dogs.


SHAUN CHEN, actor, 37

Instagram @shaunchenhongyu: 63,900 followers

Facebook page: 116,742 likes

Chen is very good at taking selfies. So good, in fact, that they all look almost identical: All handsome, but with very little context of where he is or what he is up to.

Going by the captions, all we know is that it is a selfie at "supper time" or a selfie asking fans to "have a good weekend".

Still, he has improved his social media game ever so slightly after he announced he had secretly gotten remarried and is also a first-time father to a baby girl late last year.

Finally, there is a picture of him pushing a pram with the heartfelt caption: "I miss shopping with them."

So, he does have feelings after all.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2016, with the headline 'Playing the social media game'. Subscribe