5 Ways the Rules of Friendship Apply to the Rules of Branding (A QBO x Penbrothers Workshop)

A few days ago, I was invited to speak in QLITAN, an event by QBO at Penbrothers. While I’ve been giving talks for a while, this talk, in particular, made me nervous. I usually talk about the online media to high school and college students. The audience for this event were entrepreneurs and CEO’s. They probably knew about marketing and businesses more than I did. And I was asked to talk about branding, something I had no formal training on. But I accepted the invitation with a promise to only talk about what I knew well. And If there’s one thing I can confidently talk about, it’s WhenInManila.com.

I joined When in Manila way back in 2014. I was a teenager, just into my first few months of college. That time, we only had thousands of Facebook followers.

Now, we get millions of views a month on the website alone. This screenshot with six million views was only for the timespan of a month.

(This doesn’t even include the views we get on our social media accounts, where we have 2.6 million followers on Facebook, 263K followers on 
Instagram, and 109.4 K followers on Twitter.)

It’s been such a joy to witness WhenInManila.com grow firsthand and also to have grown up with When in Manila. For my talk, I simply wanted to share an insider’s perspective on what lessons we’ve learned from our own successes and failures.

Our “Success”

When I go around and ask people why they go to our website or follow us on social media, they tell me that our articles and posts sound like they’re written by friends they can trust. They’re not ads. They’re not press releases. They’re by “real people.” And what I’m constantly learning is that the way we brand WIM is very similar the way we want to be known as friends—whether or not we were conscious of it in the first place. Simply put, we want to be good friends to our readers.

But what are the qualities of a good friend, anyway?

I listed down what I think are the five most important qualities of a good friend—and how we apply those five qualities to When in Manila’s brand.

The 5 Qualities of a Good Friend

1.) A good friend adds value to your life.

Every post should inform, entertain, or do both.

Don’t be the kind of brand that only posts to promote your product or services. That’s like being a friend who only calls or messages you when they need something from you.

When we post about brands and events we attended, this is something we keep in mind. What kind of post-event article or product feature will inform or entertain our readers?

This is something I struggled so hard to grasp when I was starting out. A lot of it depends on personal preference, but here are some examples of headlines that might illustrate what I mean when I say every post should add value to the life of the reader.

Product Launches

Let’s say we’re asked to write about a new product from a cosmetics company. Before I joined WIM, I probably would have written, “Benefit Launches New Eyebrow Pencil.” But now, I imagine myself as the reader. Why would I click on that? Out of all the articles I see on my timeline, would I care as much when I see that a cosmetic brand has yet again released a new kind of eyebrow product? But if the article is entitled, “8 Steps to Achieve Flawless Eyebrows According to Benefit’s National Brow Artist,” then I’d probably click on that article. It promises to teach me something new.

Event Coverage

“The Global Digital Marketing Summit Held at Makati Last Weekend” versus “10 New Things I Learned from The Global Digital Marketing Summit”

Profiling Personalities

“Francis Kong: Writer, Speaker, Entrepreneur” versus “Redefining Excellence, Success, and Productivity: 8 New Things I Learned from Francis Kong”<

2.) A good friend doesn’t secretly bring you into a networking scam.

Tell stories about experiences, not things.

It’s frustrating to have friends who say they miss you and want to catch up. And when you finally meet up with them, touched that they’ve missed you, they say, “Open-minded ka ba?”

Brands who connect with you online only to advertise their products are like that friend. They crave for your presence only for the money they can milk from you. And the moment you’re in that coffee shop being bombarded with networking BS, you’ll probably feel bored and cheated.

But covering brands, products, and services aren’t inherently a bad thing. There’s just a better way of doing it sometimes. Again, we can take a look at these headlines:

Product Launches

“Salon ABC Now Offers Keratin Treatment” versus “I tried the Keratin Treatment at Salon ABC. Here’s what happened!”

Seasonal Promos

“Cow and Chicken Launches Valentines Promo” versus “This Restaurant Offers Free Valentines Meal 
to a Third Wheel”

Brand Ambassadors

“Juan dela Cruz, CEO of Company ABC, Uses Our Premium Plan!” versus “Why Juan dela Cruz, CEO of Company ABC, Doesn’t Work on Sundays”

3.) A good friend is always there for you.

Post regularly across different platforms.

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest
Email Newsletters
  • Facebook Groups

This item probably deserves a blog post (or even a series of blog posts) to discuss. There are endless issues and case studies involving different social media platforms–and how best to maximize them.

But the general rule is to always be there. Eventually, spending time with you will be a habit.

4.) A good friend isn’t plastic.

Humanize the people behind the brand.

One of the things I hate the most about WIM? The comments section can get really toxic. People are meaner when they don’t see the faces behind a body of work. It’s easier to be mean to WhenInManila.com that it is to be mean to When in Manila Rebecca. At WIM, we try to put a face behind the byline by responding to comments not with “When in Manila,” but with “When in Manila Rebecca/Koji/Nicole/Sky/Anj/Mae/Sam” et cetera.

I think this helps build a sense of community and engagement with the readers. And sometimes, strangers online end up defending you against really mean comments.

But how can non-media companies apply this rule? Here are some ideas:

  • Narrate the backstory from the founders. What problem were the founders trying to solve? What were the ups and downs of starting up the business?
  • On Instagram, Evernote lets its interns take over their Instagram Stories to show a typical day of interning at Evernote.
  • Cover internal events like parties and celebrations to showcase the internal company culture.
  • Post simple YouTube challenges done by the employees.

5.) A good friend isn’t too complicated.

Simple tweaks in the format can make a huge difference.

  • Invest in long-form, evergreen content. Shorter doesn’t always mean better. (But space out long-form content with relevant and engaging visuals).
  • Add an image to your Facebook and Twitter posts
  • Infographics and listicles are shareable formats

The last thing I shared with the audience is one of my favorite quotes:

I think this quote is relevant to branding. There’s just so much to consider when putting up a brand or a business, but almost everything I know now wasn’t learned from a textbook. They were learned while I made stupid mistakes. (Or through my mentors’ mistakes).

“Branding” often intimidates me, because it sounds like everything has to be perfect and set in stone. But brands undergo changes, too. That’s not always a bad thing. The changes and mistakes just eventually become part of the brand’s story–so start before you feel ready. And remember that progress is better than perfection.

Thank you to the audience members who were so engaging. I loved the Q&A and networking portion. It was also comforting to speak in front of an audience who was generally older than me but still looked interested enough to hear me out. Everyone was so friendly and encouraging.

Thank you so much to Bryan Hosingco of Penbrothers for connecting me with the awesome team behind QBO. It’s such a joy to be part of the Penbrothers community. (Penbrothers is like the gift that keeps on giving. I keep on meeting new people and learning new things because of Penbrothers).

Thank you to Alea from QBO for sending me photos of the event.

I hate Metro Manila traffic and would usually prefer hibernating from home, but I’d gladly brave Metro Manila traffic to attend other events by Penbrothers and QBO.

I wrote about my talk on my personal blog, which you can read here.


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