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

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Social Media Tech and Philippine Politics

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What to expect when you frequently criticize President Duterte’s government on Twitter

If you follow politics in the Philippines today, you will find a country deeply divided along political lines. Much of the conflict centers on how you feel about the extremely popular but controversial President Rodrigo Duterte. Regardless of where you stand in the political spectrum, one side accuses the other of manipulating social media using avatars, bots or “influencers” bought and paid for by funds furthering political agendas.

Now people who follow this blog know that I never write about politics (though my political views are no secret). I write this not to make a political statement but rather to share an observation from a digital media professional on the role that social media and technology play in modern politics.

I use Twitter to share media and, on occasion, air my sentiments towards developments in the Philippines, the country of my birth. Recently I tweeted the following:

Shortly thereafter, I noticed that my Twitter handle was added to a number of lists labeled “Duterte” by suspicious Twitter handles…

Screenshot_20160901-181748

Why should I consider them suspicious? After all, wouldn’t Duterte interest many people in the Philippines and all over the world? But what caught my attention was the similarity between these accounts…

Big Cats.png

Now perhaps the Philippines political news followers’ proclivity for big cats is coincidental. Let’s assume for a moment the correlation between Duterte followers and CS Lewis fans is perfectly innocent…

I did notice that another similarity with these accounts: each had an unusually high number of tweets. For example, “rick” or @rickrick888 has tweeted over 415,000 times since his account was created in March 2009.

415k

How unusual is that? In order to accomplish this feat, @rickrick888 would have to tweet 153.4 times a day. That’s well over the average. (There are about 500 million tweets a day made by 300 million active twitter accounts, or an average of only about 1.6 tweets per day.) That either means @rickrick888 has been tweeting 8.5 times every waking hour (assuming a human needs to sleep at least six hours a day) for the past seven and a half years…or that “rick” isn’t human at all.

The final clue is the tweets made by these accounts themselves. Let’s take a look at some of “Bobbit” or @bobbit2266’s tweets…

Truncated

Notice how his tweets have been truncated? That indicates these tweets were not typed into Twitter but rather generated by another source, such as a Facebook page or other third party application using Twitter’s APIs. This is common in digital marketing and is often used by brands to automate social content distribution. (They were truncated because the original content exceeded Twitter’s 140-character cap.) That means either @bobbit2266 is really sloppy and doesn’t care about aesthetics…or that these tweets were not entered by a human but by software.

Of course the real question is: what is the motivation behind these accounts and their recent move to monitor my Twitter activity? Have I been put on some kind of “watch” list? Should I brace myself for a troll storm or cyber attack? Or maybe whoever is behind these accounts are simply interested in my dog, whose photos I frequently post.

Either way, this proves to me that there is some truth to the suspicion that social media machinations are actively at work in the Philippine political scene. For what end, who can really say?

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.

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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.

I accept the ALS #IceBucketChallenge

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I accept the Ice Bucket Challenge and name comedian Hossan Leong, founder of Goodstuph, Pat Law, and CEO of SingTel Yuen Kuan Moon. 

 140821 Ice Bucket Challenge

I accept the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS awareness made by Don Anderson, Singapore MD of We Are Social!

In turn, I nominate comedian and all-around performer Hossan Leong, founder of Goodstuph, Pat Law, and CEO of SingTel Yuen Kuan Moon. You guys have 24 hours to respond! 

The ALS ice bucket challenge has already raised more than USD 30 million for the ALS Association. You, too, can donate at www.alsa.org

Now if you think you’re too cool to participate in this worthy cause, check out who’s already done it here

Recent additions include Tom Cruise…

…and former US President George W Bush.

Update: as of 22 August 2014. SingTel CEO Yuen Kuan Moon accepts the challenge. Well done, Moon!

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:

Creative Client of the Year

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Creative Client of the Year at the Creative Circle Awards 2013 by phatfreemiguel
Shiny!, a photo by phatfreemiguel on Flickr.

Last night at at the Creative Circle Awards 2013 (aka “The Gong Show”), I was awarded Creative Client of the Year for my work at SingTel. There were a number of awards given to SingTel that night for the #HawkerHeroes and #Need4GSpeed campaigns. (Click here for the full list of winners.)

What a ride! Just last week, SingTel took home the lion’s share of the awards at Marketing magazine’s Marketing Excellence Awards and was awarded Marketer of the Year.

I may be the one that took home the gong (yes, I get to keep that freaking huge gong in the photo) but I share the credit with our agency partners, Ogilvy, BBDO and MEC, SingTel management and most of all my amazing Digital Marketing team at SingTel. Thank you all so much.

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