Ministry of Finance pays for Instagram 'influencers' to promote Budget 2018

The Ministry of Finance has paid for over 50 social media influencers to promote the Budget process on Instagram in a bid to reach out to younger Singaporeans. PHOTOS: INSTAGRAM/@KAITINGHEARTS/@SHANELKIEHLS/@CHEOWSTER/@THEROYCELEE

SINGAPORE - What do pretty pictures and financial planning have in common?

Budget 2018, it seems.

In an effort to reach out to younger Singaporeans, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) has paid for over 50 social media "influencers" to post on Instagram to promote the Budget process.

At least 30 posts by these young social media users have popped up since December last year, asking viewers to visit the Budget website to learn more about the Budget, or to share their feedback with government feedback unit Reach on its website and at its physical "listening posts" this month.

Budget Day this year falls on Feb 19.

The influencers have anywhere from 1,300 to 35,000 followers on Instagram. Some post photos of themselves at the listening posts while others share photos of their daily lives with captions about how the Budget relates to them. The posts are tagged as sponsored posts.

For example, blogger and property agent Cheng Kai Ting, who has about 21,800 followers, wrote: "Before we penned down our signatures to seal our union for #KenTingWeds, there was a lot of planning done to make sure we worked within our budget and planned our finances well for our future together.

"Similarly, the Singapore government has to plan the #SGBudget ahead to help us Singaporeans and support our businesses in the next Financial Year, and our President will pen down her signature as assent for the enactment of the Supply Bill."

When contacted, an MOF spokesman told The Straits Times on Wednesday (Jan 17) that the campaign is estimated to reach 225,000 users on Instagram.

She did not want to say how much the ministry is spending on the campaign except that it was in accordance with market rates.

"Given the significance of the Budget to all Singaporeans, MOF taps a mix of communications channels and platforms" to gather feedback and raise awareness, she said, noting that many Singaporeans, especially younger ones, obtain information online.

"This is an effective way to engage with youth participants," she said, but did not elaborate on how the ministry tracks the campaign's outcome.

MOF ran a similar influencer campaign for Budget 2017, but on a smaller scale. This year, it worked with a marketing company called StarNgage.

StarNgage chief community officer Terrence Ngu said the ministry got in touch last November to discuss a campaign for Budget 2018. His agency had worked with MOF earlier last year on posts about the GST U-Save rebates.

The latest Budget campaign, which lasts for over a month, involves over 50 influencers, said Mr Ngu. They are expected to deliver one Instagram post each and share the campaign link on their profiles.

He said they receive token remuneration after completing the tasks, though he did not specify the amount.

The influencers they work with are considered personable individuals with an "above average" number of followers on social media, he said. The StarNgage website states that users must have at least 1,000 followers to qualify as preferred influencers.

Mr Ngu also said that the main performance indicator of the campaign will be awareness, measured by the potential reach of influencers - their follower count - and the likes and comments on their posts.

It is unclear yet if the strategy can achieve its aim of rousing interest among young Singaporeans about the Budget process. While the individual posts have garnered hundreds of "likes", there are far fewer comments left, usually fewer than 20.

But stay-at-home mother Shanel Lim, 26, who has about 11,500 followers, said she feels posts like hers can help engage the younger generation, "as nowadays not everyone reads the newspapers or watches the news on TV or online".

Dr Brian Lee, head of the communications programme at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, said the ministry's media strategy to reach younger people is a savvy one, though social media has its limitations.

"If it's about awareness, it will be effective. But it may not promote understanding or changes in attitude or behaviour," he said, adding that this may explain the low comment rate.

"But to generate awareness is a good start. Younger Singaporeans will have their way to search for pertinent information once they are aware of the issue," he said.

Some of the influencers told The Straits Times that StarNgage contacted them over the past few weeks to ask if they were interested in participating in the campaign. They were then sent information about the Budget by e-mail. They did not want to say how much they are paid for the posts.

Ms Chelsea Teng, 24, who works in the events industry and has about 5,700 followers, said she had taken more interest in the Budget after getting involved. "As I've always wanted to take the entrepreneurial route, it's interesting to read and learn from others' feedback online on how they feel businesses can compete and how to plan for future needs," she said.

Events emcee Royce Lee, 26, who has about 10,300 followers, said he took part in the Budget 2017 campaign as well. Some friends had told him they will give feedback while others just "liked" the post. "But that means they must have at least read my caption or seen my picture", he said.

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