Islamic Religious Council of Singapore's @halalSG Twitter account on a mobile screen. Photo: SALAAM GATEWAY

Halal Industry

‘Method to our madness’: Singapore halal authority’s Twitter account chooses humour over hardline messaging

Halal is a serious matter for many Muslims. So serious, in fact, that one national halal authority decided funny was the way to go for its official Twitter account.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, better known by its Malay acronym MUIS, is a statutory government agency that overlooks all matters Islamic for the country’s Muslims. MUIS’s remit includes the administration of zakat, waqf, mosque development and management, issuance of fatawa, and halal certification. Its @halalSG Twitter account is one channel it uses to disseminate information and respond to public enquiries about halal.

But where almost all official national halal authorities take to Twitter with serious messaging, @halalSG ran in the opposite direction, sometimes adopting the persona of a cat (yes, cat) and dishing out heaps of humour in the process. MUIS says this is how it reaches and engages the younger generation on social media. 

Salaam Gateway quizzed MUIS about its strategy.

Salaam Gateway: Is the @halalSG twitter account managed in-house by MUIS?

MUIS: Yup! The account is managed by a team of (halal) cats who roam (and rule) the corridors of the Singapore Islamic Hub. 

How many people are behind the account?

It’s hard to say. Cats can't count. We don't have fingers.

The account has a distinct personality for a halal authority – it’s casual, sometimes funny, and doesn’t appear to take a hardline approach to informing consumers about halal. Is this a deliberate strategy or has this come about some other way, for example by the personality of a twitter admin?

Definitely, our purr-sonality does shape our tweets, which never come out by accident! There is a certain method to our madness - we always consider whether our tweets are necessary, effective, excessive, and - yes you guessed it - funny. Truthfully, it's still a work in progress and we're still experimenting as we go, so we can't really say that we've got this twitter thing down. However, we do think that the current approach is a good strategy.

We like that we're able to get our content out to a wide audience, and we’re a little purr-oud that more people are retweeting our tweets due to the wee bit of humour that we inject in them.

We feel that knowledge is important, and we’re always trying to find creative and interactive ways to disseminate info in a language that is simple and clear. We believe that messages that are passed down this way will stay longer with our audience, as opposed to just giving out robotic straightforward replies.

How does @halalSG make sure the information about compliance that it needs to disseminate is done appropriately and properly?

We always make sure that we address the query that is being raised, no matter how silly some might think it is. Whether we reply with a joke, harmless banter or a mildly snarky remark, we will always make sure that we follow up with a reply in a subsequent tweet, or put it up as part of a thread. We also strive to put up beneficial content every now and then, aiming to get information on halal and halal certification to reach as many people as we possibly can.

Would you say the account has been successful at ensuring public confidence in MUIS’s halal work, especially with regards certification of products and premises?

We would like to think that more people are more aware of the work that we do now. People do tweet us queries on things that they'd like to understand more, like on certain policies that we have, or on some Halal issues that they're not quite sure of.

And whether a makan place (Editor’s note: ‘makan’ is Malay for ‘eat’) has submitted any application. We also regularly receive complaints when twitter users find something that they feel is not quite right, like the misuse of a halal logo, or when they want to verify if a viral message is true. So the fact that we’re the go-to cats is a sign that people trust us. 

Have you had complaints about the tone of the messages, for example, perhaps as flippant or not suitably serious to match the subject matter?

Complaints are inevitable, hooman! All we can do is put in effort - tons of 'em.

We see humour as a vessel to carry our message. Just because we're using a laidback tone doesn't mean that we're not taking it seriously.

This is the age of social media, where brands have been built on Twitter personalities. Gone are the days where a simple yes or no would suffice. People are looking for something more, something that they can relate to.

Though we'd say that the platform plays a part too - this approach is rather reserved for twitter, and are more catered to its audience/users which is mostly made up of the younger gen. We reckon it won't really work on other platforms like Facebook, for example. 

The account has a relatively small number of followers – 68.8k. Can you give us a breakdown of the demographics of the followers? Are they all in Singapore? What are the age demographics?

Interestingly enough, around 40 percent of our followers are actually from Malaysia and Indonesia! The rest of the percentage comes from Singapore of course. We don't have an exact data for the breakdown of followers according to age demographics, but we'd say that at least a good 80 percent are under 35.

For an official halal authority, we're pretty happy with that number. We even have quite a number of non-Muslim followers who don't require halal food, but are following us for the informative tweets (and cat memes).

What is the strangest question or request that the account has received?

Nothing is too strange for us cats! If you have any questions on halal, just tweet it :)

That face you make when you get multiple queries about the Halal status of Heineken beer…

— halalSG (@halalSG) September 24, 2018

Do you have anything else you'd like to add?

We are very thankful with all the love that we've received thus far, and look forward to your continuous support! We're not purrfect, so please send in your feedback on ways that we can do better. You can be sure that we do look into it, and will see how it can be adapted to make our work better.

In the meantime, keep tweeting to us! :)


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