Saturday, August 30, 2008

Wanted: Social Media Responses to the AIMS Report


Courtesy of AIMS

Yesterday evening, a good friend and journalist at Zaobao called me to ask for my views on the freshly minted recommendations by AIMS. I gave her some inputs from NHB's perspective. How we are actively embracing social media and reaching bloggers - not only on our own turf (Yesterday.sg) but through outreach programmes working with various online communities.

Some of you may already know that we have changed a position from e-Marketing to Social Media Marketing. I am also encouraging my team members to participate in various communities by attending their gatherings and meetings. You may wish to read more about NHB's approach and views in the article at Zaobao (in Mandarin).

The best way to engage bloggers is to be one yourself. Only then would you understand their mindsets, motivations and modus operandi.

This morning, I read that The Straits Times gave a fairly comprehensive coverage on the recommendations by the Advisory Council on the Impact of new Media on Society (or AIMS). From what I gather, they are seeking inputs and views from the public for a six week period - both online and offline - and these would eventually go to the Minister of MICA for consideration.

A rather lengthy consultation paper (more than 100 pages) was drafted, which you can download here. It is quite a breezy read and the points were quite clearly articulated.

In summary, the key points raised were as follows:

1) The government should invest more in engaging the public - and netizens - through new media platforms. It suggests how public officers should work more closely with online citizens and to engage (as opposed to enrage) them. Some of this could result in a sea change in government public communications policy if implemented.

2) Online political content, especially political films, should be liberalised. One section spoke about repealing Section 33 of the Films Act. Others highlight the need for greater openness within boundaries of social harmony and tolerance.

3) Minors should receive greater protection from the dangers of the internet. This signifies a growing understanding of the problem of cyber crime and how minors need to be protected more adequately against digital deception. Recommendations include strengthening community participation and creating a fund to catalyse this.

4) There should be some form of immunity provided for digital intermediaries (ie channel managers) from online defamation cases. The idea behind this is to alleviate the fear of blog aggregators being held responsible for their published content. This will make them less fearful of hosting more divergent views without fear of litigation.

Personally, I feel that this is a positive step forward for the social media scene in Singapore. Initiatives like this help to air some of the problems and issues which beseige the social media space in Singapore. By accepting the divergent views and feedback from bloggers, facebookers, plurkers and other social media users, policies could be possibly be aligned (or realigned). Naturally, there will be detractors, but at least there is some progress here.

What do you guys think? Are the recommendations above worthy of pursuit? As bloggers, social media practitioners and digital doers, your views do matter. Do feel free to submit your inputs here.

PS - Ivan Chew has blogged a rather comprehensive post on the AIMS report here. Check it out too!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Singapore is World's Number One Brand


Courtesy of Christopher Chan

Yesterday, I flipped through My Paper and read that Singapore has hit the top spot in East West Communications global survey.

According to the report, all 192 countries in the United Nations together with another eight which were not are included in the survey. The company has also analysed five million references to the 200 countries or regions. These references are found in about 400,000 news articles found in 38 leading global media sources in the second quarter this year.

A fuller report of the findings can be found here.

To be honest, I was initially a little sceptical when I read this. I mean, we are a little red dot that has been derided for our harsh public caning laws, banning of chewing gum and labelled as a cultural desert.

However, when you think about it further, there really is reason for us to clinch the numero uno position. For a start, our economy has managed to sustain itself, the political situation is fairly stable here compared to our neighbours, and we are also known for leading the pack in innovation. Winning the Youth Olympics Game bid, inaugurating the world's first Formula One Night Race, and introducing the Integrated Resorts are some of the pioneering measures taken. Jobs are also at an all time high, and people are generally satisfied with their lives (relatively speaking).

Of course, these results are only valid for the second quarter (ie April to June 2008), and we do know how perception can swing tremendously in a matter of months or even weeks. Sceptics may also say that this is only one of such survey. Perhaps, our ranking may not be as positive in other similar studies. Moreover, the study only looks at press articles and reports, and doesn't include interviews with the man-on-the-street.

Well, either we are really that great or our international PR is superior. Either outcome is equally good enough for us to celebrate!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Creating a Sustainable Social Media Enterprise


Can you compete against what's there in the social media universe? (courtesy of fredcavazza)

As social media gains in popularity and starts attaining mainstream status, more and more "netrepreneurs" have hopped onto the "blogwagon". Peddling new and exciting platforms, tools, widgets, and channels, they are relentless in pushing them out. The sad thing is that many of them often do not have a clue about the basics of how markets work.

Here are some of my thoughts (admittedly recycled from an email I wrote many moons ago) on what one should consider before starting anything 2.0-ish in nature.

1) Positioning. From the onset, you need to get the messaging right about what your venture hopes to do and how it differentiates itself from the tonnes of other web 2.0 applications out there. How does this differ from the others? What are the Unique Selling Points (USPs) that this service offers?

2) Content. If you focus entirely on made in Singapore content, your audience is unlikely to reach that of Wikipedia's. However, it may get you a more loyal and consistent readership. You may also need to filter the wheat from the chaff and exert some editorial direction and control. Quality can sometimes be subjective.

3) Range and scope. What are areas that your new blog/platform/facebook-killer/widget will cover? Is it purely limited to geek appeal or can it also attract more mainstream business folks in areas like marketing, PR, finance, operations, sales and finance? It sometimes pays for you to be more focused on an exact niche than use a blunderbluss approach and fire everywhere.

4) Community. You need to build your community of believers. These are your alpha-customers, ie the folks who are going to be your beta-testers. Think about the focus of what you are doing and the kind of members that you wish to attract. Do they need to be engineers and programmers or will the average Joe do?

5) Target Audiences. Who are the folks that you are hoping to hit? Are they already frequenting the social media universe or are you hoping to reach the unconverted? I think one of the largest untapped market in Singapore's blogosphere are mainstream companies. What's interesting is that many people participate in social media for leisure purposes (hence social) as opposed to work reasons. This represents a huge blue ocean opportunity if you know how to seize it.

6) Sustainability. This can sometimes be the achilles heel in any social media initiative. You need to continue to keep on doing it and then some. Continuity isn't only important for content but marketing, operations, manpower and finance too. It isn't just the technology or the vast network of friends from all over the globe that you have. It is also about managing a business and leading a team!

7) Stakeholders (or even Shareholders). These special folks can provide a reality check, flashes of inspiration, and act as devil's advocates - a must to ensure that you don't go over-enthusiastic in wanting to change the world on a dime. They have a stake in ensuring that the new endeavour succeed, and it will be good to involve them as much as possible every step of the way. It is best to get a panel of advisors who come from different backgrounds so that they can provide different perspectives that add value to your venture.

Are there any other points that one should consider? Comments and criticisms most welcome!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I Got a Free Bus Ride!!

Every once in a while, you come across a clever bit of marketing which makes you smile. That's what happened to me today as I took my regular bus 166 back home.

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At first glance, it looks like any regular branded bus. Anybody can tell that Great Eastern Life is celebrating its 100th birthday.

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It looks like business as usual inside as you can see above.

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Heavily brand-oriented panels like this helps to remind you about how Great Eastern makes life great.

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A grandpa celebrating his birthday with his family members all around. So cliched isn't it?

What took the cake however was this.

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Did you see that? If not, take a closer look here:

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Yes, the bus was offering FREE bus rides to anybody who takes it. In other words, no tapping of the EZ Link card nor slotting in coins and dollar notes. And the best thing about it is that there are no strings attached!

You don't have to buy any insurance from Great Eastern, you don't have to take a brochure, and you don't have to tell anybody about it.

Wow! Now that is certainly a clever way of getting positive brand association and awareness. I am sure folks taking that bus would be a lot more appreciative of Great Eastern's effort to make life great.

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And a FREE bus ride certainly is to me.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Be Real or Remarkable (Not Both)



Seth Godin recently shared about the problems which companies face when they try to be both authentic and slick at the same time. He created a nice looking chart (see above) and warned us about being caught in the dead zone which is between the twin peaks above.

According to Seth,

"...really well done HTML email works, as does unique, hand-typed text email. It's the banal stuff in the middle that people don't read. And yet, 95% of what I see is precisely in the dead spot of the middle zone.

The Blair Witch Project and Pi both felt authentic. The Matrix was perfectly slick. The new Star Wars cartoon is just dumb."

Interestingly, this point had some parallels with an earlier observation I made about authenticity in advertising as seen from the flyer below.



While the above flyer appeared to be amateurishly done, it did attract my attention a whole lot more than the yawn-inducing ads that real estate agents typically generate.

Similarly, I have noticed that Talent-time/Singapore Idol/The Dance Floor/other amateur talent contest winners rarely make an impact beyond their second or third years in business (with the rare exceptions). There is a distinct difference between doing well on an amateur, root-for-the-underdogs platform versus the cold, hard realities of trying to sing professionally for a living. You may sound cute and charming mimicking Britney Spears, but end up being hopeless with your own compositions.

In marketing and advertising, you need to decide where you wish to belong. Be either truly authentic, raw and gritty or go for the ultimate lush and classy category. Find a way to differentiate yourself from your competitors and do not try to be too many things to too many people (at least in one campaign or product launch).

At a certain point of time, one has to make a decision on where one's standing is. And to accept which way is best.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Saying Sorry is Good for Business


Courtesy of Josh Bomb

As a PR professional and spokesperson, I tend to monitor what's being written in the Forum pages of newspapers and the responses by organisations to public complaints and grouses. You can learn a lot about a company by how it positions its reply and the tone of voice in which this is done. More often than not, they tend to be polite but defensive.

Sadly, many companies in Singapore prefer to protect their organisational interests rather than that of their consumers or clients. What do I mean by that?

First, they spend huge sums of money to advertise, market and promote themselves as the coolest, hippest and greatest. They conduct focus group after focus group to determine what customers want. They engage top notch market research firms to obtain razor sharp (well at least that's what they think) analytics on their prospective customers. They create brand-rich aesthetically pleasing environments that awe you the moment you step into their shop fronts.

What happens when they screw up? More often than not, customers have to maneuver through an obstacle course to seek redress. And this is often done grudgingly by the lowest ranking staff in the pecking order.

Consider this fine example by J.Crew which is highlighted by Church of the Customer's Jackie Huba. The company's e-commerce website faced problems and they decided to quickly face up to it. What's especially heartwarming is the note below which came not from the customer service manager or PR director but the CEO and President themselves.



Other than the email above, customers who experienced difficulties were given some form of compensation (though this was subject to the levels of severity). I think this does infinitely more for a company's brand than endless ads and numerous in-your-face posters spouting superficial superlatives!

As highlighted by one of the commenters on Jackie's post, the best example of corporate apologies must come from Johnson and Johnson with the Tylenol Poisoning Case. After seven people died from ingesting cyanide-laden Tylenol in 1982, the company issued a nationwide recall of Tylenol products which cost it an estimated retail value of over US$100 million. It even took up ads to tell everybody not to consume any products that contained Tylenol.

Not only did Tylenol (and J&J) not keel over, but both the brand and the company grew stronger than ever with Tylenol becoming the most popular over-the-counter analgesic in US!

Now tell me friends, is it really that difficult to eat humble pie, say sorry and meant it through your actions?

Update: Contrast the examples above with what Faerie Imp experienced here with a courier service from hell. I can totally empathise with her!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Hot Heroes and Magical Museums

Check out this National Day video done in celebration of the achievements of the everyday Singaporean. Done by Spin Network and commissioned by the National Heritage Board, it has a nice and cheerful ditty which makes you wanna tap your feet and sway along to the rhythm.



Oh and while you are at it, do also have a look at this one, which is produced by the same company. It is actually a corporate video for the National Heritage Board, done in a rather unconventional manner as far as corporate videos go.



Hope you enjoy them!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What Reservist Does To You

After eight days out in the field, your mind does tend to slow down quite a bit. Yes, I was called back for In Camp Training (ICT) over much of last week and just came back to office today.

Personally, I didn't mind going back to my reservist camp. It gave me a chance to reflect, ponder and deliberate on the vicissitudes of life from a different vantage point. It also allowed me to switch off mentally and to breathe a little more deeply and slowly.

Naturally, ICTs come with opportunities to flex those muscles which have been lying idle for too long due to disuse. One could also play philosopher, economist, politician and psychologist with one's fellow camp mates during those dull and lengthy hours of waiting. You will be surprised at the quality of the discourses that we had after a few hours out in lush tropical vegetation!

Being away from technology (no laptops or camera phones allowed) helped me rediscover the joys of reading and having person to person conversations. There is a certain charm in going back to a simpler form of existence, when the only things which mattered were food, rest, and moving from point A to point B in the quickest possible manner. IPPT was also kinda fun for me as it gave me the chance to measure my fitness levels and the outcome of my fitness fanaticism.

Well, all good things (ok some good things - the heat is killing in our tropical sun and I do miss the buzz of being in the office) do come to an end and it is back to reality for me.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Social Media Breakfast 3 @ Asian Civilisations Museum

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ACM is the proud venue host of Social Media Breakfast III

Social media is what it is because people simply love to socialise. And boy did I get a major dose of that yesterday morning at Social Media Breakfast 3 (SMB3), courtesy of Daryl Tay, Claudia, and Derrick.

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SMB3 brainchild Daryl chatting with Cullen

Held at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) through the sponsorship of the National Heritage Board, SMB3 is part of a series of networking events held in order to get bloggers more well aquainted with each other. Close to 60 bloggers, facebookers, forumers, chatters and other digital denizens of the 2.0 kind thronged the River Room of ACM this morning.

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Participants mingling and chatting either seated...

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...or standing...

It was a blast to see people freely chatting, chomping down the buffet breakfast spread (actually more like brunch and even lunch for some of us!), and just having a great time networking, rekindling old bonds of friendship and forging new ones. I was especially delighted to see my online buddies from the media socialist group November, Kenneth, and Coleman, as well as Friends of Yesterday Marcus present (we called ourselves the Yesterday Socialists, Friends of Media or something like that lah... haha).

Both Daryl and Claudia did a good job in getting the party started, and I had the privilege of giving my "corporate spiel" and explaining why museums and new media can become best of friends (unlikely as that may seem). It was a treat to meet many friends both old and new.

They include DK, Mintea, Nicole, Daniel Goh (who used to work with me), Uzyn (the founder of Ping.sg), Cullen Hartley, Bernard, Andrew Peters, Supriya Addanki, NTT, Farinelli, Yuhui (are you related to Yu Mei btw?), Dorothy Poon, Mohammed Hisham, Alvin Lim, Pat Law, Daniel Tsou, Jerrick Lim (both from Tech 65), Professor Ulrike from NTU, Su Min, Willy Foo, Laurent Roux, Glenn Van Zutphen, Todd Murray (Active Channel), and Vincent Tan.

All in all, kudos to Daryl and team as well as my own guys David, Wei Chong and Kenny. You guys rock!

After the event, we took some of the Omy blog award finalists on a tour of ACM. They include Jean, Alice and some of the other finalists including DK and Nicole.

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ACM curator Clement Onn describing some of the Indian customs to OMY blog award finalists

This was followed by my own explorations of the recently launched Seeing Red exhibition held at Shaw Foyer of ACM as part of the China Modern China Contemporary Festival.

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Seeing Red displays the material used during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

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Some of the famous little red books espousing maxims from China's great leader Mao Zedong.

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Funky badges and plates adorned with images of the great leader.

Naturally, Ethan wanted to be a part of the action. And he certainly got busy at the Explorasian Zones for kids at ACM!

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Putting together a couple of blocks to form a Chinese word.

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Trying on shoes which were several sizes too large...

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And dressing up like a Torajan Warrior from Indonesia!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Transparent Marketing


Transparency in marketing taken to new heights! (courtesy of laffy4k)

The subject of ethics in marketing has been broached numerous times, and one of its key issues relate to disclosure and openness. Or more specifically what colouring agent E224 in your breakfast cereal really means.

In the age of social media, information has become abundantly available for free.

Unsure about what this company is telling you about its product? Just google its name and look around for the reactions of others, especially those unrelated to the company.

Need to be certain that you are paying a fair price for this service? Simply check out one of the existing forums and discussion boards related to this.

Even if you can't find existing information available on the net, you can still ask around. There are at least a billion or more folks online at any one time around the world. Surely, somebody would have the answer.

Against such a backdrop, one needs to be honest and open. "You can run but you can't hide" as the saying goes. Declare to the world what really goes into that quarter pounder, where you source your raw materials from, or how often you truly give to your favourite charity.

Trying to fudge it or ignore the problem will not do. Doing it on prime-time news is suicidal (even if you are a Hollywood actor or actress). Just ask the list of companies who have done it - Walmart & Edelman, Worldcom, Whole Foods, and Kryptonite Locks among others. Denial is a poor strategy to follow deception.

Being transparent in marketing means being honest, sincere and open without giving away the game to your competitors. It means revealing information which would affect the health of your consumers without having to suffer the Michael Moore effect (eg Supersize Me). It means paying attention to the values which your customers hold dear, and correcting your business practices if they run counter to those values. It also means being able to say sorry the moment something explodes in your organisation's face, and being truly remorseful about it through sincere corrective measures.

Sharing one's business and thinking process can actually work to one's advantage. People who use your products or services may be curious about what goes on behind the scenes. Tell them how much you invest in training your staff, or how each and every widget goes through an intensive 50-step process. Share with them your CEO's dream and vision, as well as the pains that you take to ensure that every ingredient is organically sourced for in a planet friendly farm.

It won't be easy of course. Marketers (and publicists) are usually trained to say things which are sugar-coated and nice. Saying the positive things about one's company is a piece of cake. Spilling the dirty beans is another thing altogether. However, in this day and age, customers probably expect nothing less from us than the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

So help us God.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Coastal Escapade

My family and I love nature and the outdoors, and most of our weekends are often spent either at a garden or park. A few weeks back, we decided to check out the Changi Point Boardwalk at the recommendation of my wife's colleague. It was a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.

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Made up of four sections, the Changi Boardwalk hugs the Eastern outline of Singapore, and allows one to experience the rustic and quiet charm of one of Singapore's oldest beaches. Adorned with heritage trees, it meanders through holiday bungalows and chalets. Here's a photolog of our recent trip at one of its sections.

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Our journey started at this little shed, which is located just beside some government bungalows at Cranwell Road and Andover Road.

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A brief explanation of the sights, sounds and scents that one can encounter along the way.

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There are two options for boardwalkers - a Kelong Walk and a Cliff Walk.

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We decided to venture first on the Kelong Walk, making our way through the wooden planked pathway shrouded by luscious green foliage.

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As we made our way through the path, the green corridors gave way to a nice sea view.

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A little "kelong" sits at the boardwalk extending to the sea.

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What does this lady have in her net? Are they crabs?

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Unfortunately, no. They are catfishes from the sea, with nasty stinging barbs that can do you in.

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In times like this, expert help is needed. A malay lady assists in removing the poison glands from the fishes.

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Our next walk was up the hill to the Cliff Walk.

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Along the way, we spotted yet another fisherman blissfully casting his cares into the ocean's caress.

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A contrast in size and height. Hmmm... what's Ethan trying to do here?

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You got it! He is using a coconut as a football!

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More patches of green to soothe the eyes, mind and spirit.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Do You Trust Someone Virtual or Real?

There is something which I always suspected about offline versus online Word Of Mouth (WOM) marketing. And that is that nothing beats the real thing.

While reading my favourite blog about WOM, which is the Church of the Customer, I came across these interesting statistics through its links. They hail from the US, the world's most wired nation:

"Around 3.5 billion word of mouth conversations take place in the U.S. on a daily basis, of which just 7% take place online via instant/test messaging, chat rooms, email and blogs. The remainder take place offline either face to face (75%) or on the telephone (17%)."

Source: bizreport.com

What does this study mean? Simply that despite all the blogging, facebooking, twittering, plurking, myspacing and so on, people still trust somebody whom they can see or hear in a purchasing decision. Well, at least in the US, which speaks a lot considering how 2.0-enabled they are.

A similar study cited by Church of the Customer from BIGResearch shows that those who gave advice are likely to be online researchers, as seen below.

"Do you give advice to others about products/services you have purchased?"

Active online researcher All adults
Regularly gives advice 47.0% 29.4%
Occasionally gives advice 49.8% 63.4%
Never gives advice 3.2% 7.2%

Source: BIGresearch, SIMM 11 (December 2007)

What's interesting is that the study further revealed a similar finding to the earlier report that these folks who are active in searching for information online, are actually more active in spreading the news through offline channels. Email is apparently very popular (it is still the greatest killer app after all), and so are mobile forms of communication like voice calls and SMSes.

However, blogs, facebook accounts and other social media platforms account for a much lower impact in WOM marketing. Have a look below to see what I mean.

After searching, how do you communicate with others about a service, product or brand? (Check all that apply)

Face-to-face 72.7%
Email 63.2%
Telephone 55.0%
Cell phone 35.3%
Instant messaging 17.7%
Text messaging 13.1%
Online communities (e.g. MySpace, Facebook) 11.8%
Blogging 6.8%
Other 1.8%

Source: BIGresearch SIMM 11 (December 2007)

Of course, not everybody agrees with this, including Jackie Huba herself who cited the above studies. She feels that the credibility of the source of information is more important than the medium in which it is disseminated in.

I feel that the above studies would have been better if they have included the impact of forums and discussion boards on WOM purchasing decisions. While I am unlikely to buy something based on just reading one or two blogs (you never know if they are paid sometimes), the likelihood may improve if I visit a forum where many people provide their comments and value added inputs. Those like Epinions, hardwarezone and tripadvisor have been great in soliciting unbiased opinions.

Whatever the case may be, the findings show that people still prefer that person-to-person interaction when sharing good deals (and bad deals I may add) compared to a larger and more faceless crowd. Body language, tone of voice and other subtle signals from a person to person may make one appear more real and genuine. It is much easier for a 40 year old man to impersonate a 15 year old girl online, than offline!

People may also feel that there is a greater tangibility when dealing with somebody whom they can see or hear (voice is still seen to be more personable than text). Feedback is more instantaneous and direct in these one-to-one channels.

Does this mean that blogging has been overhyped as the killer application for WOM? Will this put to rest all attempts to monetize Facebook? What are your views?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Growing Growing and Growing

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Like my son Ethan, his birthday tree has been growing and growing in the last 8 months or so since we first planted it in December 2007. If you recall, this was part of the Plant a Tree programme by NParks, with each tree planted costing $200 that goes into the Garden City Fund.

We were pleasantly surprised to see the little sapling bearing large and lush leaves that are dark green in colour, a sign of health as it pushes its way through in its green and sunlit world. Naturally, we couldn't resist taking a few shots of it as it is also a member of our family - the green, silent and woody kind!

Hmmm... maybe it is time for us to plant another tree? Perhaps one for my upcoming birthday?

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Tina and Ethan striking a pose.

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Ethan counting the number of leaves on his birthday sapling.