The Real Reasons You Should Speak at Conferences

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(HINT: It’s not just for the people in the audience.)

“Should brands be publishers?” panel discussion at Content Marketing Summit Asia #CMSAsia2017, Singapore

An industry colleague once told me he wouldn’t accept an invitation to speak at a conference unless the the audience was at least 200 people. While I respect why some prefer to have a sizable gathering present to make the time investment worthwhile, I think it overlooks other more important factors. Whether there are a hundred, two hundred or a thousand people in the room, here are five more important considerations for why working the conference circuit benefits your career:

You get to know the conference organizers

Knowing the people behind these conferences (more precisely, that they come to know you) helps to build your profile in the industry. The organizers are also usually industry associations, whose officers are prominent industry leaders and whose relationships you may need, or media organizations focused on your industry.

The conference industry is a relatively small one, in which conference producers will move around from one company to another. If you do a good job and the response to your presentation or panel discussion is positive, the organizers are more likely to invite you to future conferences. It’s also not unusual for the same people to stay in touch and keep you top-of-mind, even as they (or you) move from one organization to the next.

Conferences linked to media, such as trade publications, will give you the chance to develop good relations with journalists or independent writers who cover your industry. They are also more likely to contact you for comments on stories they are working on, even if the story isn’t about the company you work for.

You get to meet other speakers

If you’re invited to speak at a conference, don’t just show up 10 minutes before and then leave as soon as your part is over. Spend as much time as you possibly can because this is a great opportunity to meet the other guest speakers, all of whom are likely to be industry leaders in their own right.

Introduce yourself, exchange business cards and chat with them during the breaks. During their presentations, make notes about some of the things they say and refer to them later when you are onstage. You’ll discover who are the people in the industry who feel the same as you do about issues. (You’ll also be able to size up who are the ones who offer real opinions, with whom you’ll want to learn from and form lasting relationships, and those who are simply corporate marionettes.)

You may be surprised to find how many other industry spokespersons are in careers linked to yours, who are invited to the same types of conferences as you. These could develop into some of your more valuable industry relationships (or friendships).

You need the practice

The best public speakers are the ones who make it look easy. These are the guys who look like they just came up with those brilliant insights while they were onstage, thanks to their vast experience and industry knowledge. The truth is, the key to good public speaking is practice.

I learned this from watching stand-up comedians. Comics are the best public speakers in the world because they pull off each routine like every single joke is fresh and spontaneous. But of course, all of those gags have been practiced and road-tested over and over. I discovered this when I watched an act at the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village in New York City several years ago. I saw the same comedian on The Tonight Show deliver exactly the same act as he had performed live 48 hours earlier. Yep, even the “spontaneous” jokes.

You have great industry knowledge but there is a craft to articulating your thoughts correctly. (You don’t really think President Barack Obama settled on “Yes we can!” right off the bat without trying it out on audiences a few times, do you?) Think of your best presentations like a stand-up comic’s favorite routine. You need to stick with the key words and phrases that work on a live audience. Speaking at conferences allows you to refine your presentation until it’s perfect. And you need not be afraid that someone will accuse you of repeating yourself since you are very unlikely to have the same audience at two different events. So you can keep showing the same funny videos and dropping the same timely, witty remarks. (Yep, even the “spontaneous” jokes.)

CMSAsia2017 2

You will have content you can re-purpose 

Assuming you didn’t just compile other people’s work and actually prepared original content for the conference, this is how you get the most mileage from your efforts.

When organizing an event, I always remind my teams to think beyond just the people in attendance but the many more who will consume the content produced from the event after. In the same way, that PowerPoint presentation you spent hours on must have a lifespan long after the conference ends.

In addition to being the source material for future events, your presentation can be reworked for your blog, offered as a written piece to trade journals, used as an outline for an audio podcast, etc. At the very least, any photos or videos of you can be used for social media like LinkedIn. This is the age of Transmedia storytelling, after all.

You can stand out

Sadly, in a typical conference speakers repeat the same things and spout the same cliches over and over. Everyone talks about how need to “fail fast” and “innovate or die.” How often have we heard that humans now have the same attention spans as goldfish? (That’s bullshit, by the way.) Or listened to the speakers who obviously just grabbed the standard Sales deck or presentation from the Corporate Communications team back at headquarters and presented without adding anything to it? (I also think there should be a rule that every speaker can only talk about his own company 20-percent of the time maximum. But I digress.)

If you are being asked to speak in front of a group of people, you’d better have something fucking original to say!

This is your chance to present your own ideas, challenge traditional wisdom and show off your breakthrough work, even if you might spark a little controversy. Be memorable. Speak your mind. No one remembers the guy who played it so safe that he disappeared into the crowd. Each conference represents a chance to stand out and be remembered as the industry leader you are.

 

If you want to see me speak, catch me at Millennial 20/20 on 26 October, Mumbrella 360 on 9 November and the World Marketing Summit on 4 December. 

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Culture’s vital role in digital transformation

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Mediacorp

It’s no secret that the traditional media industry faces challenges. Today consumers are experiencing an unprecedented era of choice, not just in variety, but also how and when they choose to consume content. Traditional media companies are under extreme pressure to digitally transform and national broadcasters like Mediacorp are not exempt from this grim reality.

Often when it comes to digital transformation, much of the emphasis is on organizational restructuring, new processes or technology upgrades. But from experience, the role of culture is always underestimated. Without a deliberate plan to change company culture, any new initiatives will simply fall to the wayside as legacy and old habits inevitably creep in.

Recently I spoke at the Singapore Management Festival, hosted by the Singapore Institute of Management, and shared my experiences with Mediacorp’s digital transformation journey.

Media: a disrupted industry

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals, among many things, the erosion of trust in media, with traditional media reflecting the sharpest decline. The shift is a reflection of influence flipping: from a traditional model where what is deemed fit for public consumption is decided by a minority such as the government or other institutions to a system where anyone can be a publisher. What good are state controls when a blogger or YouTube creator can enjoy a larger audience than a newspaper columnist or a television news program?

The changes are also impacting media companies where it hurts most: their traditional revenue models. Consumers are increasingly rejecting classic forms of advertising, from the 30-second TV commercial to the ubiquitous online banner ad. This is evident whenever a consumer pays for a Netflix subscription or installs an ad blocker on their smartphone.

In order to counteract these shifting behaviors, media companies must reinvent their approaches to content creation and distribution. Mediacorp is making inroads into these new spaces, such as its foray into OTT video streaming through Toggle, the development of its own creator network Bloomr.sg and even embracing Transmedia storytelling with popular programs like Tanglin.

Innovating means embracing risk-taking

It’s not unusual these days for large, incumbent corporations to borrow language from Silicon Valley. One of the most often invoked phrases is the need for companies to “fail fast.”  Too often, this is pure lip service.

Announcing that you are encouraging employees to take risks means nothing if employees continue to fear the consequences of failure. I once worked for a company where one of its senior executives would frequently encourage risk-taking by publicly announcing, “Don’t worry, if you fail nobody will kill you.” During one such townhall, a colleague leaned over to me and whispered, “Yesterday I was in a meeting with him and he told all of us, ‘You’d better be right because if you’re wrong, I will f**king kill you.’”

Trust is a two-way street. If you want to build an innovation culture where employees are emboldened to take chances, a company must demonstrate that it trusts its employees.

Twitter rotation curation

Full control of the corporate Twitter handle @Mediacorp is given to a different employee each week

One way Mediacorp has demonstrated trust towards staff is with its Twitter rotation curation. Since July, Mediacorp has been giving full control of its official corporate Twitter handle to a single employee for a week. During that week the employee can, quite literally, post anything he or she wants. No mandated content calendar or schedule. No screening or approval process. For seven days, the employee has the reputation of the whole company in his hands.

 

Celebrate individuality

Often companies will focus on more outward manifestations of promoting creativity and individuality: casual dress codes, recreational facilities, etc. While Mediacorp has embraced those things in its own way (including an open seating concept within the Mediacorp Campus building), we turned as well to social media as an instrument for driving cultural change.  

In many companies, especially in Singapore, the typical employee’s attitude towards social media goes something like this: “I’d better keep things low key or I might attract the attention of HR.” A colleague once told me when I asked why she wasn’t more active in LinkedIn, she explained, “My boss might think I’m looking for another job.”

SIM event

Presenting at the Singapore Management Festival with my partner-in-crime, Nadeem Ashraf (right)

Earlier this year, Mediacorp began encouraging its staff to be more active in social media by sharing their stories. Since April, over 60 individuals have been featured in the corporate Instagram account, each with a personal story in a style inspired by the Humans of New York series. These stories are meant to celebrate the different backgrounds, personalities and inspirations behind the people of Mediacorp.

Also read: the importance of skills & capability training and celebrating champions

During the presentation at SIM, another speaker referred to the Human Resources department as a bottleneck or obstacle towards cultural change. My experience at Mediacorp has actually been the opposite. In contrast HR (demonstrated by my co-presenter, Nadeem Ashraf), together with colleagues from the corporate communications team, have very much been our “partners-in-crime” for all of the initiatives referred to here. Far from being hurdles, these pushes for cultural change have only been possible through the triumvirate of HR, Brand & Communications and the Digital team.

Mediacorp’s digital transformation journey is still very much in its early years but I take great pride in the accomplishments we have made so far.

Listen: brand storytelling, content marketing and transmedia storytelling in Click2View’s podcast

What Brands Storytellers Must Learn from Hollywood

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170926 Click2View Podcast

Last week I talked about why brands must master storytelling and take their lead from Hollywood with Click2View‘s Simon Kearney for their inaugural podcast.

The podcast is available on iTunes here.

You can also play it below:

 

What Brands must consider when selecting an influencer

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loot-crate

With the rapid growth in social media and content marketing, there is greater interest than ever among brands to embark on “influencer” campaigns. Recently, I participated in a panel discussion at Content 360 in Singapore where this topic was discussed.

Here are a few things for brands to consider before working with influencers:

  1. Look beyond the numbers

Very often influencers are shortlisted by brands purely because of their follower numbers. But the value of an influencer isn’t strictly a numbers game. Take a look at who I follow on Instagram: There’s @PatLaw, a personal friend and founder of social media agency Goodstuph, by many measures a prominent figure in the Singapore media & marketing scene. She has over 7,000 followers. And then there’s @dreamerthepeskywestie with nearly 15,000 followers. Dreamer is a dog.

Brands should look into the demographic makeup of an influencer’s audience as well as their geographic origins. A Singapore-based brand might find an influencer with over 20,000 followers exciting, without realizing that half of her followers might be from other countries. Unfortunately, platforms like Instagram don’t always natively offer such analytics capabilities. Consider using an analytics tool such as that offered by a company like Popular Chips.*

  1. Influencers are also brands

One way to evaluate an influencer is to think of them as a brand in their own right. In which case, the influencer is evaluated in the same way a brand manager considers a partnership with another brand. Does your brand benefit from being associated with that brand? Does that brand’s reputation bring benefits or risks to your brand? Does that brand have sway over an audience that you consider valuable yet currently has  no interest in your brand?

GujiThe strongest brand partnerships are when two brands bring distinct audiences together. For example, when LEGO partnered with Star Wars, this bridged generations of both parents and children. Now parents (who were probably kids themselves when Star Wars first opened in 1977) can relive their childhood with their children, forming a stronger bond than ever through LEGO. That’s the kind of value an influencer should be able to lend your brand.

That’s not to say you need to spend millions of dollars in a partnership of the LEGO-Star Wars scale. Recently Caltex partnered with Mediacorp’s Channel 8 by simply having their mascot Caltex Boy appear next to Channel 8’s family-friendly mascot Guji-Guji in a Facebook post.

  1. Define the influencer’s role in the marketing funnel

Wowed by numbers, many marketers simply look at influencers as a way to get cheap reach. This kind of thinking is naïve and just plain sloppy. A good marketer knows his budget needs to cover the whole marketing funnel, from awareness to consideration to conversion, and knows the role each channel plays within.

Is your influencer marketing really just about expanding your reach into new markets? The value could also come from giving your brand more credibility within an audience that would not have thought of you otherwise. (In other words, impacting the consideration part of the funnel.) Example: by partnering with Youtube influencers like Pewdiepie and Mr Sunday Movies, “comic-con in a box” geek swag company Loot Crate built instant credibility with the video game / scifi / fantasy / comic book crowd.

Knowing which part of the funnel your influencer plays will be crucial in measuring results. For example, tracking clicks from an influencer’s post may not give you a dramatic increase in transactions (especially in comparison to other channels like paid search). But with the right tracking you could discover that a follower of your influencer is 20% more likely to convert because of this new brand association.

Watch comedian Hossan Leong take over Singtel’s Twitter account in 2013 influencer campaign

  1. Values matter

Lastly, if values matter to brands then your choice of influencer should also be about values. Your brand should stand for something…how does that sit with what the influencer stands for? Do the influencer’s values complement or reinforce your own brand’s values? Or does she contradict them?

Arguably the most high-profile example of an influencer campaign gone wrong is Pepsi’s brief but damaging romp with reality TV star Kendall Jenner. Pepsi was clearly trying to align itself with the new, emerging political awareness in the US among young people. Instead, they came across as simply capitalizing on the movement to sell more soda pop. While one could argue that Pepsi got many things wrong with the execution of this campaign, its choice of influencer in this case could have made a big difference. What values does Kendall Jenner represent? Does her reputation include speaking out on political issues? How would it have helped Pepsi’s credibility if they had instead selected an influencer who was a known political activist?

This is also why I’m not a fan of buying “influence” through influencer networks. While a brand partnership requires meticulous research and evaluation, an influencer network acts on your brand’s behalf with the precision of a grenade thrown into a crowded market on a Sunday. How do you know that every single “influencer” in this network offers the right amount of synergy with your brand? Critically, how many of them have the potential to damage your brand by sheer association?

Working with influencers should be treated with the respect and gravity of any other brand alliance. The exercise can be very tricky but also vastly rewarding. Marketers should consider the risk as an opportunity to stretch your brand beyond its current constraints, potentially delivering value well beyond what a regular paid media campaign can deliver.

*Full disclosure: Popular Chips is a Singapore-based startup and part of Mediacorp’s Mediapreneur incubator programme.

When Obama and the PM appear on your UGC social media campaign

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4 small victories people working in Social Media Marketing will appreciate

Working in Social Media can be thankless, especially when you work for brands that sometimes attract negativism or trolls. But every now and then, the digital marketing gods throw you a bone or two, making everything worthwhile.

160804 #ThisIsUs screen grabMediacorp is currently running a campaign to celebrate Singapore’s National Day. Instead of attempting to interpret national identity, as many brands do at this time of the year, Mediacorp decided to let ordinary Singaporeans define what makes up their Singapore, using user-generated-content (UGC) and the hashtag #ThisIsUs. The campaign is running across the network’s television, radio and online properties, with the participation of on-air personalities and artistes. UGC content is posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and then aggregated on the campaign page thisisus.sg.

It’s been quite a challenge for the team. Much time has been spent either on location shooting video content (workdays and weekends), huddled around conference calls with the agency or in the campaign “command center” surrounded by monitors displaying dashboards from campaign management and listening tools.

But there have been some rewards as well. And for anyone who puts together campaigns like this for a living, here’s a list of familiar triumphs that keep social media marketers motivated.

160801 Steve Chia UGC

Channel NewsAsia presenter Steve Chia shares family moments for #ThisIsUs

  1. When your colleagues get on board. In large organizations, people can easily operate in silos, oblivious to what other departments are doing. It also sometimes feels like your own colleagues are the most jaded and reluctant to embrace your campaign. So when you start to see contributions coming from within the company, it feels like a pat on the back.  It’s especially gratifying when that participation includes a willingness to share photos of their own families.
  2. When senior management gets behind you. Mid-campaign, the team got a shock — I mean, pleasant surprise — when Mediacorp CEO Shaun Seow dropped into the command center at lunch time to ask how things were going. Later, highlights of the campaign-in-progress as well as photos of the command center  were shared with the staff during a town hall session. A simple gesture but it can mean a lot to a team when they know their work matters and that senior leadership has taken a genuine interest in their activities.160804 #ThisIsUs screen grab2
  3. When you see real diversity in the contributions from users. Playing with UGC is a roll of the dice. Even the most innocuous campaigns unexpectedly incur the public’s ire. And on the flip-side, a campaign that is met by indifference can be equally devastating to a marketing team. But when you get a great mix of content in photos, videos or even animated gifs, when you see such a rich variety of images of kids, elderly people, families, social gatherings, beloved pets, everyday street scenes, landmarks, etc that’s when it starts to feel like magic.
  4. When really famous people show up in the content. No, not those celebrities. Mediacorp is, after all, a media & entertainment network and so some of the country’s most well known
    160802 PM #ThisIsUs

    Hanging with the PM

    160802 Obama #ThisIsUs

    The POTUS photobomb

    faces are in the company’s employ. The victory is when people you wouldn’t even dream of appear in your UGC stream. In this case, a Singaporean in the US posted photos from Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s state visit on Instagram using the #ThisIsUs hashtag. Imagine our surprise when not only did the PM appear in a photo but so did US President Barack Obama!

If you’re working in social media, hopefully you’ve experienced all four in the course of your career. Are there any other victories that I’ve I missed?

 

Promote the Most Important Brand Of All: Your Own

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improving-your-personal-brand

For my parents’ generation, career advice was relatively straightforward: get a high-paying job with a large, stable company and you’re pretty much set up for life. Even today, this is still considered conventional wisdom, especially in Asia where large conglomerates dominate several industries. I once had one of those “stable” jobs, a marketing management position with a multinational company called Nokia, at the height of its dominance as the world’s largest mobile handset manufacturer. We all know what’s happened to Nokia since then.

The truth is, there is no such thing as a stable job anymore. Last year the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported the average employee tenure for technology companies is three years, or less than two years in advanced markets like the UK. (The same report quoted that the average employee tenure at tech giant Google was only 1.1 years.) Whatever we once believed as the covenant between employee-employer is now a thing of the past. There is every likelihood that a marketer, either by choice or by circumstance, will be moving from one employer to another every few years. Yet the average marketer still neglects to look after the most important brand of all: his own personal brand.

Author Reid Hoffman goes one step further, arguing that one should manage his career as if it were a start-up (The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, available on Amazon). A simpler way to start is to ask yourself: What can we learn about how the world’s biggest brands are managed and how can they be applied to your career as a marketer?

Great brands are unique

What is your personal brand’s unique selling proposition? Identify what it is in your field that you specialize in. It’s not enough on your CV or LinkedIn profile to say that you manage ad agencies and are responsible for CRM. Instead specify how you specialize in transforming traditional marketing organizations into digital marketing organizations. Talk about how you have a track record for gleaning new marketing strategies from analyzing available data. Share how you have taken many US brands and made them relevant across multiple Asian cultures.

Recount your past successes and, in all likelihood, recurring themes will emerge. Stick with those themes and elaborate on them through blog posts, drawing on examples from your career or from your observations in the industry. Volunteer to speak on these topics at conferences or media interviews. A powerful brand’s uniqueness echoes across all forms of media. Your personal brand should be no different.

Great brands are authentic

The world’s most powerful brands are true to themselves, credible, consistent and never claim to be more than they are. A major Singapore company was recently caught paying bloggers to praise its services and malign the competitors’. Whenever a brand stoops to such inauthentic behavior, being found out is inevitable.

In a competitive job market, many fall to the temptation to overstate one’s qualifications or claim understanding of topics on which one actually has limited experience. This is unnecessary. Your own career offers a wealth of lessons and experiences to draw from. Authors are constantly advised, “Write what you know.” The same consideration must be taken in defining your own personal brand.

Great brands stand for something

Power brands have values and are not afraid to express them, even if it means alienating existing customers. Much has been written about Starbucks’ stance on diversity and marriage equality, which caused some conservative Americans to call for a boycott of the brand. CEO Howard Schultz admits publicly, “Not every decision is an economic decision.” The move may have been unpopular in some sectors but it also forged stronger bonds with a core set of loyal brand advocates.

Brand loyalty is built when a customer decides that a brand shares similar values. Similarly, as a brand, you should never shy away from having an opinion on something you feel strongly about. Too many Marketing blogs and social media posts are full of politically correct, often-repeated, safe content. They are also dull and indistinguishable. If you want your personal brand to stand out, take a stand on issues and passionately defend them.

Great brands form alliances

Apple Pay x MasterCard, Spotify x Uber, Adidas x Yohji Yamamoto, LEGO x Star Wars…great brands aren’t afraid to collaborate with other brands. Such associations can bridge a brand towards a different audience, others can nudge the brand away from its roots towards new areas.

In building your own personal brand, make sure to form relationships with others with similar domain expertise. If there is someone whose career you admire, reach out and meet over coffee. If you are in similar fields there should be no shortage of things to talk about. There’s no limit to what opportunities may result. This is where social networks liked LinkedIn can also be a powerful tool.

Now more than ever, your career needs to stand for much more than simply which company you currently work for. Identify your career’s strengths and start putting together a strategy for how to grow your own personal brand.

A version of this article was published in Marketing magazine’s January-February 2016 issue.

5 tips for digital content

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Presenting at Content 360 in Singapore

SingTel has spent the last three years refining and investing in its social media and digital content strategy. In the last year alone, SingTel has produced a wide variety of content, from educational infographics to award winning video campaigns like #Need4GSpeed and #HawkerHeroes.

For brands looking to venture into digital content designed for social media for the first time, the path forward might look daunting and pockmarked with risks. Here are five tips to guide you:

1. Aim for the heart, not the head

One of the first things we learned from working with the giant social media network Facebook was the useful sanity-check question: “Why will they care; why will they share?”

When a consumer decides to share a video or re-tweet an article, it is usually either because he found the content thoroughly upsetting (to which the reaction was “I have to share this!”) or he found the content so amusing (to which the reaction was “I have to share this!”).

#HawkerHeroes worked particularly well for SingTel not just because of the presence of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay but also because it delved into an issue close to Singaporeans’ hearts: local heritage and cuisine.

As tempted as it sometimes gets to fill marketing content with information, just remember that if this was only about appealing to rational minds, social media would be about the viral distribution of white papers.

2.Accept the fact that you are not Ellen DeGeneres

“Please make this viral” is a phrase social media marketers dread. Too often, making a material viral is seen as the only goal worth pursuing. But unlike Ms Degeneres, most mere mortals (or brands) will never be responsible for the next Most Retweeted Tweet in History.

Instead, understand where this piece of content fits into your overall campaign strategy. Is it meant to educate? Or call attention to an issue? More realistic metrics such as video views or clicks to a campaign site would then be more sensible goals.

3. Have a good budget for production, but set aside a budget for distribution first

Often all the resources are poured into production with an expectation that something so brilliantly creative or funny is sure to go viral. (See Tip #2.) But even the best creative work is wasted if no one finds out it exists. Especially in today’s extremely cluttered media environment where hundreds of hours of video are being uploaded to Youtube every second, the chances of your shiny new video being discovered organically gets smaller by the day.

Combining an influencer outreach programme, traditional PR and an initial burst of paid media can give your content that boost it needs to get an audience’s attention and get that Share snowball rolling.

#HawkerHeroes, SingTel’s most successful campaign from last year, may have looked like a random viral campaign. But it only came to life through a complex, multi-channel strategy whose execution was planned down to the minute-by-minute detail.

4. Get your consumers involved

The best content campaigns are the ones where the audience gets in on the action. Consumers can be valuable co-creators, as we have seen in a number of campaigns from Old Spice to Oreo.

SingTel’s own #Need4GSpeed enlisted consumers to provide their best applications of a high speed mobile connection which were then translated into comedy sketches by comedian Hossan Leong.

5. Keep it simple

One common mistake brands make is to make participating in a campaign too complex, which can be an obstacle to a social media campaign’s success.

I personally prefer apply the “60-second Rule”. Ask yourself, would responding to the content or participating in the discussion take more than 60 seconds? Years ago, brands relied heavily on mechanics like photo submissions and anticipated no more than 10% of the audience would actually participate while the rest simply watched. Today the hashtag offers a much simpler way to participate and lowers barrier to entry.

Content-led social media campaigns need not be so daunting. While there are always risks, they can be extremely rewarding for any brand with the right concept and adequate planning.

This article was originally published in Marketing Interactive and was based on my presentation made at Content 360 on 3 April 2014 in Singapore. Full presentation below:

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