Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How To Finetune Your Social Media Strategy

Its not about the platforms but how you use them (courtesy of Blogworks.org)

I was invited to the Strategic Online PR & Media Relations Asia 2010 conference to share how my organisation embraced social media and managed to glean some useful lessons from the other sessions. There were a broad range of topics covered - online campaign planning, crisis communications management, brand communications, Search Engine Marketing (SEM), defamation law, social media sentiment monitoring, and web analytics.

What struck me most was that social media strategy is increasingly becoming a mainstream discipline. It is no longer about "gurus" making broad sweeping statements. Instead, it is a richly multi-layered and highly nuanced subject.

Some of the key learnings I have picked up are below:

1) Ensure that your website/blog is able to be picked up easily on mobile platforms. With so many people on Android and Apple devices like iPhone and iPad, it is critical to adapt to mobile surfing needs.

2) Don't just game the system for traffic by using popular tags that have no relevance whatsoever to your product or service. People will loathe you for deceiving them this way!

3) Measure and assess how your social media platforms are doing. This should go beyond the traditional unique visitors and pageviews to information like traffic sources, number of conversions, time spent on specific pages, search engine phrases, and the popularity of specific content.

4) Learn to listen - and maybe even eavesdrop - on what your online stakeholders are saying. Through web monitoring and sentiment analysis tools/services, you can pick up both the quantity and quality of digital conversations, and adapt your communication tactics accordingly.

5) When building online communities, understand the dynamics of how these work. Develop content and topics that will encourage participation and interaction rather than pure hardsell.

6) Always integrate both your online and offline communication strategies, especially when managing a crisis. Don't say something in your blog or tweet that is uncoordinated and ill-timed. You may pay heavily for it - just ask Jackie Chan!

7) Understand the dynamics of digital dialogue - authentic, personable, realtime, transparent, and reciprocal. Don't hide behind a facade or a mask. At the same time, don't be silly and let a moment of unbridled spontaneity destroy years of goodwill.

8) Protect yourself online by learning about certain basic legal principles like defamation law. Don't stir trouble for yourself by unnecessary attacking individuals or organisations online without a sound basis for doing so. Better yet, don't even begin - the online world has enough negative energy as it is!

9) Having a presence on every available social networking platform isn't enough. At times, it may even be unnecessary. What you do with them is far more important, and each have very different dynamics. While Twitter may be useful to connect to fellow professionals, Facebook could be a better way to share more personal and social content.

A hat tip to organiser Linda Teo of T.U.N. International, chair Donald Steel, and fellow speakers whom I met like Lars Voedisch, Charlie Pownall, Tina Di Cicco, Joel Cere, Ian McKee, Andrew Chow, Kelly Choo, Brian Simon, John Chang, and Prantik Mazumdar.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why Facebook Hasn't Killed Face-to-Face

Social technologies and networks have driven demand for meet-ups like Social Media Breakfast

One of the greatest misunderstandings about the rise of social media platforms is that it will replace the need for being physically present at places and events. After all, it is far cheaper contacting somebody via Twitter, Internet Messaging, Facebook or Skype than to meet them in the flesh.

Now that social technologies have gone mobile, your iPad, iPhone, android or symbian smartphone allows you to plug in and participate in conversations 24 by 7. Need richer levels of interaction? Simply get a mobile broadband device or tether your 3.5G phone to your laptop and you can share documents, wikis, blog posts, presentation slides, spreadsheets and more.

With the development of increasingly realistic 3D technologies, one can also visit virtual worlds or tour exotic locales without leaving one's chair. Feeling peckish? You can order practically anything and everything you wish online - from custom-tailored suits and shirts, gourmet food, wines and household toiletries.

In case you do not already know, global online participation is growing and growing - reaching a high of 1.6 billion users in 2008. Singapore has the privilege of being one of the world's geekiest nation, with skyrocketing numbers of online users.

But hang on a minute. Global travel patterns haven't quite declined. On the contrary, they are spiking up more than ever before, especially this part of the world.

Recent local reports have also suggested that visits to attractions and museums haven't quite declined. Last year, for instance, more than 2.8 million visitors - an alltime record - visited NHB's museums in Singapore.

Retail sales, mostly transacted in brick and mortar establishments, have been growing strongly in Singapore following last year's downturn. The anecdotal sprouting of F&B outlets, shopping malls and retail shops in recent years have also gone unabated.

So what is happening here?

Seth Godin articulated it very well, expressing that the "experience I have with you as a customer or a friend is far more important than a few random bits flying by on the screen".

The desire to see somebody face-to-face now becomes more coveted than ever before. With so many virtual friends, fans and followers, people find the need to physically connect both personally and professionally even more valuable than ever before. The alienating effects of working alone behind a notebook or SMSing on a smartphone is more than compensated by meeting the person in the flesh.

The profusion and glut of online information - likened to a bursting waterhose by Steve Rubel - also mean that people will crave something authentic, real and physical. Digital bits can't quite replace physical atoms, especially when it comes to stimulating one's senses of sight, scent, sound, touch, and taste.

What used to be abundant (physical goods and services) are now relatively scarce compared to the gazillion number of websites, blogs, forum posts, photos, games and other things one can access online - most of them free. Hence, the sensory and carnal pleasures take greater precedence over the virtual ones.

You can brew a Starbucks ground coffee, enjoy a bird's eye view of the Grand Canyon, or ogle over the latest shoes from Jimmy Choo in the comfort of your home. However, it can never replicate the multi-sensory experience of a Starbucks Cafe, the awe of actually seeing the world's largest natural ravine, or the physical pleasures of pampering your feet in an exquisite crystal encrusted footwear.

The next time somebody tells your that setting up a blog, Facebook fan page, Twitter account, or Youtube channel will jeopardise your physical business, ask him or her to shove it. Real hard.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Why Wowing Customers (Alone) Isn't Enough

Courtesy of sayitcommunity.com

Lately, I've been listening to Harvard Business Review's excellent Idea Cast during my commute, and have been inspired by some of its ideas. The latest on "Why Delighting Your Customers is Overrated" was quite a revelation.

Presenting findings from a study of some 75,000 people by Matthew Dixon, managing director of the Corporate Executive Board's Sales and Service Practice, it revealed the following findings:

- While customers may repeatedly visit a business after being impressed, this tends to be the exception rather than the norm.

- Most customer defections come about due to companies' inability to provide "standard" customer service. Common examples are telcos keeping their subscribers waiting for hours, airlines losing their customer's baggages, and restaurants failing to fulfill orders expediently.

- Contrary to popular belief, people don't mind self-service - say on a company's website or through a kiosk. The problem arises when they cannot find what they want, and that's when they have to make that phonecall to a call centre.

- In fact, having to speak to a customer service agent on the phone is rated quite poorly as a way of solving service issues. This often gets exacerbated by telephone tag.

- Another myth about service is speed. Customers don't necessarily want their problems to be solved in a short but curt manner if it doesn't address the whole issue. There are also different categories of customer complainants, with some needing more touch, some needing to be heard, while others just requiring a quick fix.

When I consider my own experiences with service providers, the above facts do resonate rather soundly.

For example, how many times have I felt frustrated by having to wait for at least half an hour or longer when calling a telco's service line? How many times have I vowed (not wowed!) never to return to a retail outlet with rude and inattentive staff? How many times have I wanted to strangle an event organiser who botched up basic facts (like failing to identify who the Guest Of Honour was)?

On the contrary, "WOW" experiences, while certainly leaving positive impressions (which I occasionally blog about), may not necessarily lead to increased patronage. Certain extraordinary service encounters - like having an immaculate restaurant waiter knowing that your 6 year old needs unbreakable child-sized cutlery, or a shop whose owner remembered the dietary preferences of your pet budgerigar - could lead to more frequent transactions. However, the point is that the failure to meet the basics are often more costly for organisations.

How should companies prioritise their time, energies and (often limited) resources then?

First, they should look at solving all of the "pain" points of their customers. Examine what the common complaints of customers are, and focus the organisation's attention on resolving them. While the frills are important - especially for luxury oriented businesses - one mustn't ignore getting the fundamentals right.

If resources are limited, these solutions could be offered through a DIY manner. A very simple example I know are the self-service check-out counters at hypermarts like Woolsworth in Melbourne, which has a staff or two ready on hand to help any struggling shopper.

Ensure too that all your staff are trained on product knowledge and problem solving. While upselling is a necessity for any company looking to widen its profit margin - and which company doesn't - it is even more important for them to identify customer scenarios and resolve them.

Learn to also adapt to what your customers are telling you by reading their body language and vocal cues. If they appear to be in a hurry, you shouldn't try to keep them hanging on the line. If however, they do want to talk at length, allow them the opportunity to air their grievances before you get the first word in.

Do you agree with the above ideas - that it is far more important to get the basics right? How will such strategies influence a company's "branded service"?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

From Vertical Ladders to Multidirectional Lattices

MC Escher's "Relativity" courtesy of Nexxgen

As I was listening to my favourite podcasts from Harvard Business Review, I came across the idea of the Corporate Lattice, which was also the title of a book by Cathy Benko and Molly Anderson of Deloitte. It was a fascinating concept in organisational management which debunked the still widely followed traditional hierarchical organisation, while still providing some semblance of order.

According to Deloitte,

"Today a career is no longer a straight climb up the corporate ladder, but rather an undulating journey of climbs and lateral moves. The proverbial corporate ladder is evolving, right before our eyes, into a corporate lattice."

Diagrammatically speaking, the differences between a traditional ladder-like hierarchical organisation and a lattice organisation can be illustrated by this chart from Deloitte:

Courtesy of Deloitte

The Lattice Organisation isn't a brand new concept. In fact, Bill Gore, the original founder of this concept in 1958 (its that old), shared this quote (source):

"The simplicity and order of an authoritarian organization make it an almost irresistible temptation. Yet it is counter to the principles of individual freedom and smothers the creative growth of man. Freedom requires orderly restraint. The restraints imposed by the need for cooperation are minimized with a lattice organization."

So what are the principles of a Lattice Organisation? Adapting from Deloitte:

1) A lattice organisation has multidirectional paths for employees - up and down (career-life fit may dictate a slowing down in latter years), lateral, as well as diagonal. There are many ways to progress beyond the traditional vertical ladder.

Courtesy of Deloitte

2) A lattice model looks at work which is more dynamic, ephemeral, and project-based. Teams are assembled on a grid, with the possibility of connecting with each other in a spontaneous manner.

3) A lattice organisation has multi-directional support, relationships and interactions. In Gore's model, this can be divided into "sponsors" and "leaders". Sponsors engage in a one-on-one relationship with the associate and mentors him or her (more like a coach) focusing on the person. Leaders focus on business objectives, take leadership of teams, develops strategy and solve problems.

Naturally, work changes significantly for the individual. With the deeper integration of work and life, coupled with the fact that work is no longer a place but a function, there will be a greater multiplicity of roles in such an organisation. There are four dimensions according to Deloitte: Pace, Workload, Location/Schedule, and Role.

Courtesy of Deloitte

These variables may change depending on one's primary role, life stage, geographic consideration, and preferred contribution pattern (eg being a professional versus a manager).

Personally, I see lots of similarities between this structure and what we intend to implement in my organisation. Calling our approach that of a hybrid-matrix organisation, we hope to find ways to make work not only more flexible, but modular with various modes of development for team members. Project groups, including spontaneously occurring innovation task forces, could also be in the cards.

Of course, managing such a structure isn't going to be easy. For example, staff appraisals may need to increasingly take a more multi-dimensional approach, with peers and other managers coming in. However, it may be the only way organisations can move forward into the future.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Talent Attraction through Social Media

Source: The Sirona Says Blog

In an age where the competition for talents becomes red hot, the most important strategy that any organisation needs to have is to get the right people in, motivate, retain and develop them. With more and more Singaporeans spending a large amount of time online, it is critical that any HR recruitment strategy should examine how social networks and channels could be deployed in the fierce battle for talent.

In my view, there are two key ways to a social recruiting strategy: develop compelling organisational content, and leverage on the right channels and connections.

Compelling Organisational Content

Like any marketing or selling endeavour, getting quality candidates interested enough to join your organisation will depend not only on the official spiel of the company, but the stories that they heard. Word Of Mouth becomes very important in distinguishing between the choice employers from the more abysmal ones.

The most important factor is this: DIFFERENTIATE YOURSELF FROM THE REST.

In other words, whatever you put up should show to be an interesting, unique, caring and fun employer in a BELIEVABLE manner. This is an important point as you do not want to give the wrong impression.

I have seen many recruitment advertisements that unfortunately showcase "heroic" employees doing glamourous tasks when the truth is often far more sordid and sombre.

How do you then show yourself to be different from the rest? Here are some possibilities:

1) Put up a video showcasing how staff have developed and grown as a result of what they do. If possible, keep this raw, authentic and amateur. We have seen so many slick and professionally done videos that having yet another one done just won't do.

2) Get ready stories of staff who have excelled at their work or have specific anecdotes of how the job has added real meaning and value to their lives. Long-term staying colleagues may be good candidates to begin with, and they could perhaps share why they have sacrificed/ devoted such a large proportion of their time to the organisation.

3) Employ lots of photographs to tell the story, rather than merely text. If you can show staff doing things in the course of their work, that would be a plus point. Again, however, don't over glamourise the shots!

4) Use humour and a light-hearted touch, and communicate in a direct and conversational manner (like normal human beings). In this day and age, nobody likes to work in an environment resembling a mortuary. In fact, even funeral parlours, hospitals and churches these days have remodelled themselves to be innovative and enterprising places to work in.

5) Develop content that is spreadable and easy to adapt. In other words, don't just write a job description alone, but short little Facebook styled posts, blog posts, or 144 character (or less) microblogging posts (for Twitter or Plurk). Use photos and pictures.

6) Be creative and innovative but keep it real. Find the hidden 'gems' in your organisation who are able to stand out from the crowd and profile them. However, you need to be somewhat authentic. Working life isn't a non-stop party where everybody dress up in clown suits with red alcohol-infused faces!

Comprehensive Channels and Correct Connections

The business of talent attraction is also defined these days by personal networks, Word Of Mouth and referrals. I find that in my own personal experience, some of my greatest hires came to me not through a conventional recruitment advertisement.

To leverage on the power of networks, here are some possibilities:

1) Get your employees to help to spread the word. This is probably the most pertinent and important point. Nobody is a better ambassador for the organisation than somebody who is already working there. However, do choose carefully who you enlist to help you spread the word.

2) Encourage them to use all of their personal social networking platforms - Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Forums (if it is relevant to job employment), email lists and so on. Again, this is dependent on individual preferences as you cannot force them to do so - that would be antithetic to positive HR practices!

3) Leverage on your own organisational social platforms and networks. This could be the corporate website, Facebook fan page, Twitter, Blog, and so on. If you manage a forum, post it up there. For multi-organisational HQs, leverage on your subsidiaries and affiliate organisation's own networks and request their help to spread the word.

4) Tap on professional networking sites like Linked-In, Plaxo, and professional interest forums to draw the right folks to your organisation. For example, if you're looking for a curator or heritage specialist, wouldn't it be good to look for people on heritage forums to begin with? Ditto for programmers, web designers, publicists, HR managers and so on.

5) Develop the tools for spreadability. This would mean tailoring the texts and descriptions in a way that makes it easy for people to just Forward/Retweet/Share the information to their networks. If necessary, you can even develop widgets that can be embedded on websites/blogs for this purpose.

6) Be personal in how you leverage on other people's help. Don't send a mass, nameless, faceless email blast asking all and sundry to help - the end result is that nobody will! Instead, look at customising and handcrafting each and every request for help to the individual (if possible), subject to limits of course.

7) As part of the 80/20 Pareto's principle, don't try to get every single employee or contacts help. It may perhaps be better to focus on those with the greatest influence (read: number of followers/friends/fans) as well as those with the right networks (ie people whom you are targeting as future employees).

Friday, August 20, 2010

8 Tips in Organising a Blogger Gathering

Citibank & Bloggers at 10@Claymore
(courtesy of 24 Seven)

Any PR person worth his or her salt these days would know that reaching bloggers, youtubers, flickrers, facebookers and twitterers (etcetera..) isn't exactly the same as engaging the mainstream press. Trying the same traditional approach may only court failure, disappointment, and maybe even a tongue lashing (trust me I have been there)!

So how does one attract bloggers to participate in a gathering?

Let me use a recent dinner I was invited to - courtesy of Citibank Credit Card - at the 10 at Claymore Restaurant of Pan Pacific Orchard as an illustration.

1) Organise the event in the evening or weekends rather than the day. Unlike members of the mainstream media, many bloggers do have a full-time job/lessons/NS which may not allow them to leave during office hours.

2) Keep the gathering as casual and informal as possible, but ensure that there is some semblance of order. Bloggers do not like to be preached to for too long a duration - they'd rather be up and about exploring the experience for themselves.

3) Provide lots and lots (and lots) of photography/videography/audio opportunities. I suppose this is quite commonsensical, considering how obsessed we are about getting a good pic. Oh yes, do also ensure that we can camwhore too!

Citibank & Bloggers at 10@Claymore
Geeks of the world unite! (courtesy of 24 Seven)

4) If possible, provide nice "after the event" photographs so that bloggers can use them for their own respective blog posts. 24 Seven has done a great job here for the recent dinner.

5) Provide lots of opportunities for mingling, networking, schmoozing, and socialising. They don't call it social media for nothing!

Citibank & Bloggers at 10@Claymore
We like to talk lah...(courtesy of 24 Seven)

6) If you do need to sell something to the bloggers, do it subtly and gently. Do not insist on a deadline for publication. If the bloggers are decent human beings who are not out to exploit you, they will share something good with their networks without coercion. Just be patient and wait for it...

Citibank & Bloggers at 10@Claymore
Marcoms Manager KS Lee of Pan Pacific Orchard sharing about the restaurant and hotel (courtesy of 24 Seven)

7) Naturally, a press release would still be useful. More importantly however, is the provision of other useful multi-media aids like photographs, logos, videos, audio clips, and so on.

8) Finally, provide opportunities for bloggers to contribute and participate to the event. Many of us are gadget geeks (see below) and love to talk about the technical specs of our latest tech-enabled acquisitions.

Citibank & Bloggers at 10@Claymore
Bloggers love to play with tech toys - regardless of the setting! (courtesy of 24 Seven)

What other tips would you have to share about organising blogger events?

OK, enough of the geek speak. Here are the amateurish photos I took of the wonderfully indulgent (and sinful) dinner we had that night at 10 at Claymore. Enjoy!

This post has been made possible by Citibank Credit Card. Apply for one now and enjoy special deals like a $20 Tangs voucher. If you are a Citibank credit card holder, you can enjoy the following yummy gourmet deals from 10 @ Claymore during these periods:

* Valid 1st Aug 2010 - 30th Sep 2010
- Get 1 complimentary THE CLAYMORE (which is a steak) with any order from the grill menu.
- Get a 2nd grilled item from the grill menu for $10, with any order from the grill menu.

* Valid till 31st Dec 2010
- 15% off total bill

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What a Bus Captain Taught Me

Singapore SBS Public Bus
Courtesy of Naked Singapore

After a long and tiring day at work, I had my dinner at a coffeeshop in Chinatown and was waiting for my usual buses back home. The bus stop was pretty crowded with weary commuters.

While waiting for my bus, I noticed something unusual.

A Singapore Bus Service (SBS) bus number 63 appeared to "stall" a few metres away from my bus stop. When I peered into the bus, I noticed that the bus captain's cabin was empty.

My first reaction was that the driver must be buying coffee or easing his/herself. After all, that's quite a common occurrence.

On closer inspection, however, I observed that the bus captain was actually helping an elderly gentleman to find a seat in the bus. Instead of just barking orders from the front, he got out of the driver's seat, held the guy's hand and led him to find a seat.

That's not all. When another silver-haired lady got on board the bus, the driver got off his comfortable driver's seat yet again and navigated the senior to a suitable seat at the back of the bus.

Throughout this time, another bus was waiting behind this one. Several taxis and cars were also behind, while passengers waited for the next bus. However, the bus captain's priorities were clearly on the comfort and safety of the elderly gentleman and lady.

(Incidentally, the bus driver was Indian in ethnicity while the gentleman and lady were Chinese.)

This short heartwarming episode taught me several important customer service/life lessons:

1) Never get too busy and fixated with what you are doing to ignore the comfort and safety of your customers.

2) Tailor one's provision of service to the specific and peculiar needs of one's patrons. While elderly patrons may require assistance in securing a seat, passengers with disabilities may require bus captains to flip open the wheelchair access ramp (at the rear exit of the bus) and to wheel the passenger in.

3) Focus your attention on one customer at a time, and let him or her know that you are 100% with them during that time.

4) Extraordinary service sometimes means temporarily downplaying the needs of other customers - at least on a temporary basis.

Perhaps the greatest thing that this small incident has taught me is that little acts of kindness and graciousness does exist in Singapore, and that it transcends language, ethnicity, age, or gender.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

YOG Roars with a Breathtaking Beginning

Through the kind assistance of Coca Cola Singapore's June Kong-Dhanabalan, Ethan, Tina and I caught the opening ceremony of the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore.

Opening Ceremony of Singapore YOG 2010

Touted as the more extravagant show ever staged in Singapore, the close to two-hour event featured the 3,600 athletes hailing from more than 200 International Olympic Committee (IOC) member countries in 26 events over the next 12 days.

Opening Ceremony of Singapore YOG 2010

Joining more than 27,000 others at The Float of Marina Bay, we enjoyed a spectacular showcase befitting of this world-class event, filled to the brim with the optimism, energy, and vibrancy of youth.

Opening Ceremony of Singapore YOG 2010

Close to 7,000 performers - majority of whom are youths under 18 themselves - showed us their mettle in front of an impressive stage with a reflective pool. We were also thrilled and awed by the dazzling displays of fireworks and pyrotechnics which brightly lit the beautiful night scene of the Marina Bay area.

Opening Ceremony of Singapore YOG 2010

My favourite segments of the show include "Selamat Datang" whereby 750 youths formed the five white Olympic rings, the soulful rendering of the Majulah Singapura to thunderous applause, the "Champion" segment with cuddly monsters (see photos for details), and the "Don't Play with Fire" section which featured a giant dragon made of youths and flamboyant flaming displays.

Opening Ceremony of Singapore YOG 2010

The remaining sections of "S.O.S. Urgent. For your immediate attention" and "Bud" were also painstakingly rendered, with the gigantic video screens helping to augment the visual experience.

Opening Ceremony of Singapore YOG 2010

Perhaps the most heartwarming parts of the show occurred when Singapore's only Olympic silver medalist Tan Howe Liang, together with fellow Olympians, handed over the Olympic flag to 8 young Singaporean athletes to be hoisted on the flag pole. I liked the way in which the ceremony paid homage to the sacrifices and contributions made by the former heroes of their countries' flags.

Opening Ceremony of Singapore YOG 2010

Bringing the event to a climactic finish was the lighting of the 32-metre high Olympic Cauldron. The flame was conveyed on a 27-metre long Phoenix which was intricately lit and conveyed on a floating platform with some 200 dragon boaters assisting in shepherding it on water. 6 youth athletes had the rare privilege of passing the flaming baton and the honour of lighting the cauldron went to 16 year old sailor Darren Choy. This was crowned by a formidable fireworks display while the flame shimmered and glowed in the night sky.

Opening Ceremony of Singapore YOG 2010

As Singaporeans, we are proud of this historic milestone moment. Let us put aside all our misgivings about this event and join our young in celebrating the greatest sporting event ever held in Singapore!

Here are the rest of my photos for your enjoyment.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Colourful World of Costumes and Cultures

Singapore HeritageFest Opening
Check out Singapore HeritageFest these two weeks!

Feeling bored this weekend? Don't!

There are tonnes of activities to do as the inaugural Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) opens today, with a smorgasbord of 26 sports, culture & education, and outdoor activities awaiting. Other than the Marina Bay area which is teeming with free concerts and programmes starting today, you can also check out the various shopping centres like Suntec City Mall where the Singapore HeritageFest is happening.

This year's Heritage Fest themed "What Brings Us Together?" is held in partnership with the YOG and stretches from 11 to 22 August 2010. There are hundreds of different activities sprawled across six shopping malls (I'm checking out Delicious Heritage at Tiong Bahru Plaza), the highly popular Expedition H tours, plus the grand finale (Heritage Sparkles in the City) from 20 to 22 August at SMU Green offering food, fun fairs, fabulous concerts, and free entry to the museums (21 and 22 Aug)!

I was privileged to attend the launch of the Singapore HeritageFest and witnessed the opening of Diverse Threads, One Humanity - an exhibition on traditional costumes at Suntec's Tropics Atrium. In its 7th year running, this iconic cultural extravaganza attracts more than two million visitors each year.

Singapore HeritageFest Opening
NHB's CEO (aka my boss) giving his opening address.

Singapore HeritageFest Opening
Acting Minister for MICA, Mr Lui Tuck Yew (aka my big big boss) sharing his vision. I like how he spoke about heritage being encapsulated in the word "HOME" - "Ho" which stands for Hope and Hospitality, and "Me" which stands for Memories and Meaning.

Singapore HeritageFest Opening
Professor Tommy Koh (Chairman, NHB), Acting Minister Lui and Mr Michael Koh launching the event in a pinata-inspired confetti spewing contraption.

Singapore HeritageFest Opening
The opening performance represented multi-cultural heritage through its fusion of various drums and percussion instruments...

Singapore HeritageFest Opening
...accompanied by dancers in brightly hued, ethnically styled costumes.

Singapore HeritageFest Opening
They were accompanied by two rope dancers who awed the crowd with their athleticism and grace.

Singapore HeritageFest Opening
Don't try this at home kids!

Singapore HeritageFest Opening
Nor certainly this!

Singapore HeritageFest Opening
The climactic finish to the opening performance.

Singapore HeritageFest Opening
Next, its on to the global array of cultural costumes. Neatly arranged in alphabetical order, you can probably find most of the countries you recognise here.

Singapore HeritageFest Opening
You can learn how some of them are made, like the Japanese kimono and yukata represented here.

Singapore HeritageFest Opening
I hear that all the countries represented in the YOG have a costume here. Some of them like the Baltic republics states (Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia) and the Central/South American states like Suriname are probably less familiar to Singaporeans.

Singapore HeritageFest Opening
Can you recognise which countries these costumes hail from?

Singapore HeritageFest Opening
No prizes for guessing where these costumes - emblematic of fusion cultures - hail from!

Singapore HeritageFest Opening
One can never start too young in inculcating a love for heritage and culture. Let's hope these young toddlers remain as enthusiastic in their latter years!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Me? A 17 Year Old YOG Cheerleader?

That was my first reaction when invited by June Kong-Dhanabalan from Coca-Cola to hop on board their Happiness Mobile (Coke is the official worldwide sponsor of the games). Offering a bird's eye view of the Journey of the Youth Olympic Flame (or JYOF), I will feel what it's like to be a teenager hollering my lungs out, waving my hands in the air, and cheering on an open-top "Hippo" bus. Of course, I was heartened to know that the blogfather mrbrown has already experienced this.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
Here's the custom-fitted Happiness Mobile

Held in conjunction with the upcoming Singapore Youth Olympic Games (YOG), the Singapore leg of the torch relay sees some 2,400 torchbearers (including June herself) conveying the Youth Olympic Flame through all the five community districts and ending in the heart of the city. Participants hail from the 500 odd participating schools, sponsoring organisations, as well as government agencies.

How was the experience like? Well, let me bring you on a pictorial journey.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
Real teenagers (most came from Nanyang Polytechnic and other institutions) on board the Happiness Mobile/bus, stashed with lots of goodies like clappers, caps, fans, and of course bottles of Coke.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
Nothing beats the tropical heat like heaps of ice-cold Coke!

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
These folks in orange are the selected torchbearers who were stationed at respective posts during the journey.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
A close-up view of an air-inflated clapper.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
These boom boxes played helped to keep the energy high (along with the caffeinated ice-cold Coke drinks of course).

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
Our journey started from Meridian Junior College.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
Here you can see some of the cheerleaders waving their hands and clappers.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
Some of the bystanders waved back at ground level, like these two girls here.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
Others caught the action perched high in their flats.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
These waving Singapore flags provided clues that National Day has just passed.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
It was great to see that people with disabilities also joined in cheering the convoy as it passed. Incidentally, 34 beneficiaries from VWOs were also selected as torchbearers.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
I felt like a celebrity - cheerleader or cameraman - as lots of people in the crowd tooks photos of us.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
Adrenaline levels remained high on board the bus, despite the sweltering afternoon heat.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
This banner showed Pasir Ris-Punggol Town's support of the YOG.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
The student volunteers decked in red hopped off the bus, distributed Coke-branded goodies, and ran on again.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
We passed by various Junior Colleges, Secondary and Primary Schools. Most of them mobilised their teachers and kids to form cheerleading squads as the convoy passed.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
Some even came prepared with their own banners.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
After an hour and a half or so, June and I hopped off the Coke Happiness bus.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
Following us in blue were our friendly counterparts from Samsung Singapore. I am sure Daniel must be involved in this somewhat.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
These mobile outriders (aka traffic police officers) worked tirelessly to ensure that the safety of the torchbearers.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
I finally caught sight of a torchbearer, running to pass the torch to the next person in line.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
Easy does it. You don't want to drop a gas-fueled torch! :)

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
At that point of time, June and I hopped on the YOG coach to catch an air-conditioned ride.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
Here's a smile from one of the hardworking torchbearers. She is about to write her feelings and thoughts on participating in this historic event on the writing board.

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
Other fellow torchbearers in the bus chatting animatedly about their experience as flaming ambassadors. Well done guys and girls!

Singapore Youth Olympic Games Torch Relay
We were greeted by a huge crowd at the stop point who were young, old, multi-ethnic and truly representative of our society.

Here's a video showing some highlights of my journey:

It was nice to see such support of the YOG in Singapore. If you haven't already done so, go get your tickets now!