Designing Content: Of Vegetarians, Bugs and the Matrix

Content Hexagrid Exercise
Content Hexagrid Exercise

How do you go about designing and thinking up online content for a library …. associated with a religion? Using the content hexagrid, this participant of the Online Community Management course thought up some interesting ideas. Besides talking about the religion itself, its figures and philosophy or sayings, there are other “lateral content” ways to engage the audience in categories Singaporeans find of interest.

For example: food. In this case: you could showcase vegetarian dishes, presented in quality photos or in the context of representing frugality and simplicity in diet. You could talk about how to prepare such dishes, or what are the substitutes for alcohol in cooking and where to buy ingredients. By engaging in a category (food) that is universally popular, one can maintain interesting content while still relating it to the principle subject. Another powerful tactic is to use photos – but first you need to identify a visually attractive subject or element in your case. Here, it would be photos of monuments, statues, scriptures and art relating to the religion.

What about celebrities and the entertainment scene? In my course, I ask participants if they can think of some way to associate their brand/company with the current entertainment scene. Would this work with a religion? It can – take for example, this participant cited that The Matrix has Buddhist elements in its story.  Other movies/TV shows cited include Running on Karma and the classic Journey to the West. Did you know that the actor Orlando Bloom, the singer Tina Turner and director George Lucas are also Buddhists?

Another way we categorize and design content is via the 40:40:20 Rule. The second 40% represents “content that gives or creates value to the community or members”. For example, what can you post about that gives your fans valuable information that improves their experience of your brand/association? An example would be tips that they appreciate. In the case of the Buddhist Library, it could be the aforementioned “How to cook delicious vegetarian food” or – something that I myself appreciate very much: “How to get rid of pests/insects in your house without killing them.” – the latter example is excellent.

I use a plastic bag. :)

(Thanks and Credits to: The Buddhist Library / facebook.com/BuddhistLibrary )

Simplifying Social Media Is Not That Simple

So I’m presenting a 30-minute talk on social media to members of the Association of Small & Medium Enterprises (ASME) tomorrow. My boss suggested that I should keep things simple, as it’s likely that many of these folks are not that well-versed in social media for business purposes. I understand the point, but to be honest, this isn’t so simple. No one really teaches the basics of social media because social media is by nature intuitive. There really isn’t any “basics” in social media – you either use it or you don’t. The differentiating factor between success and failure boils down to context, customization and a lot of “feels”.

There is another reason why I feel learning “basics” is a challenge in social media. It is that everyone has heard of it – how great it is, how essential it is to business, how easy it is to use, how everyone and their pet cat is on it (seriously, there are many pet cats on social media). But, like many other aspects of business, it’s only really great and easy if you have already have all the supporting factors in place, many of which are circumstantial. If you don’t, no amount of training helps.

Most people already know the “basics”, like “a Facebook page is good for marketing”. And even if you don’t, it’s just a google away. I won’t present a slide just to show people that.

Everyone knows you need good photos online – for the cover, the profile and for content – but I can’t teach you the art of photography in 30 minutes, and I’m not even qualified to teach it in 30 days.

People may have heard that Instagram is the in-thing now (with younger generations) – but saying that is not often news. In fact, the issue is that to say these “basics” is tantamount to stating the obvious.

So if I were to say “Content is King! Your Facebook Page must have great content to win customers!” – it’s painfully obvious. Even if for some reason someone wasn’t aware of this age-old (by internet standards) rule, saying so without going into extensive detail can lay the ground for disappointment, when said someone realizes just how difficult it is to come up with good content.

Picture Credit: http://jeffhester.net/2013/03/19/social-media-explained-with-donuts/
Picture Credit: http://jeffhester.net/2013/03/19/social-media-explained-with-donuts/

Point being: social media has seen enough widespread use that everyone (or at least those who choose to attend a “Digital Marketing” seminar) probably has an inkling of some sort, no matter how simplistic or even erroneous. And even if someone does not, I can’t really help you in 30 minutes and at the expense of the boredom of some 98% of the audience.

The title of the talk I’m giving is “Five Ways to Winning Customers on Social Media”. The challenge for me is to present 5 tactics or points that a) if you’re a complete newbie to social media, it would still make sense; b) if you’re a novice (but still inexperienced), it would still be useful; and in fact, c) if you’re an expert, you would still enjoy seeing the points reinforced or even learn something new about something you already know.

Take for example, the issue of content and hard sell. Most inexperienced online marketers will default to a majority of hard sell on their Facebook page, following the strategy of traditional marketing. Marketers more attuned to the paradigm of social media (or those who have watched how successful pages do it) may mix in other entertaining content. By and large, what I want to do  for people is to provide a more pointed definition or plan regarding what other content would work on a Facebook page.

For this reason one of the “Five Ways” has to do with the 40:40:20 rule which divides content type into hard sell, “soft sell” and a kind of “no sell”. For example, the idea that as a company, you can impress your potential customers by posting content that makes you look knowledgeable in your domain is a form of soft sell. Posting a picture of a cat – which would invariably gather more likes than any of your other posts – will be a form of “no sell”.

There’s a good chance, I would say, that anyone who’s on Facebook would have seen some degree of soft sell and no sell – but may never have realized that it works in terms of social media marketing. That is the sort of area that I will try to straddle in this talk – to help people realize what they already know, and articulate it as strategy.

Change is good for you: the perpetual beta of social media

imminent-ned-facebook1Every time Facebook rolls out an update, (some) people will complain. Every time your company intranet rolls out an update , (some) people will complain. The difference? Facebook updates every other month (sometimes more often). Your intranet probably hasn’t been updated in years. Either way, people – some people – will always dislike change. Even for the better.

Are you one of those people made to use ancient software for your company intranet or other internal “enterprise” software? Software that looks and works like it was made in the 1990s? Software that looks awfully outdated next to Facebook, iOS7 or New York Times?  Many people still do. Why do they still exist? Well, there are many reasons. But I will say that the chief reason is a resistance to change. Inertia. An unwillingness or even lack of courage to lead the change, however painful.

Facebook changes a lot, and if you ask me I’ll tell you that that’s a good thing. Because at least Facebook is trying to improve. Sometimes for its own benefit, and sometimes for ours.  (OK, to be honest, I am very annoyed by Facebook’s recent algorithm changes which have reduced the overall organic reach of Pages, but apparently it is in the name of individuals’ news feed relevance).

Regardless of whether your company’s internal software tools are upgraded for IT’s benefits or yours, the point is that it occurs too rarely. The problem with a lot of modern enterprise IT “solutions” is that they are built for today using yesterday’s technology and are unable to change tomorrow. They lack nimbleness and flexibility. They are also “governed” by rules that add to the picture of ponderousness. Some people may argue this is necessary, that at enterprise level, care and security are of utmost concern. I won’t disagree – but at the expense of updatedness? At the cost of relevance? Has anyone ever calculated the cost-benefit ratio of security at the expense of updatedness vs the fall in productivity and competitiveness due to obsolescence?comfort-zoneMany software systems slide into obsolescence in the name of governance. Is it worth the productivity of employees to be always using obsolete or near obsolete software and computing paradigms? What is the true cost of using software that is a year out of date? 2 years? 5 years? Computing evolves too fast today to tolerate such a cost. I reckon this is one of the key reasons that in recent years, the disconnect between IT departments and business users have grown – including the disconnect between IT departments and social media users, such as marketing and customer engagement, and even customers themselves. When was the last time you were a potential customer of website and left without buying because the website didn’t work smoothly as you wished?

Exacerbating this is the natural bias of management to side with the secure, the governed and the predictable; and to resist the risks and unpredictability of change. Many managers want upgrades but do not want change. They forget that the two come hand-in-hand. Such managers often take the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” stance, praising the merits of “stability” – but two or five years down the road, the software has only become a ponderous deadweight of “stable” obsolescence. Perhaps that software has had a few patches, maybe even a mid-life upgrade. But in the world of enterprise software, issues of maintenance contracts, budget and even the nature of internal “expertise” often limit just how far the upgrade(s) go. In the end, a Symbian phone with upgraded Symbian OS is still a Symbian phone. (Don’t get me wrong, I have great respect for Symbian/Nokia – they gave many many years of great mobile experiences!).

The term “perpetual beta” came about around 2009 when Tim O’Reilly was talking about Web 2.0. Not surprisingly, it is closely associated with the social (media) movement.  In a way, it translates as the software or service being likely to have on-the-fly updates without being fully “tested” (which might simply mean not fully ‘project-manage’d or ‘governanc’ed). While it is a means of seeking users’ understanding that certain things might not work properly or may even break down, it also allows developers to observe actual use and take real user feedback from the software.

Gmail is one of the most well-known examples of a perpetual beta – it was in “beta” for some five years from 2004 to 2009. Do you remember the days of asking for a gmail invite? Point is, some of the world’s most popular and modern, up-to-date computing tools today are those that are constantly changing, such as Google apps and social media tools like Facebook.  O’Reilly describes some of the characteristics of perpetual betas as having:

  • Services, not packaged software, with cost-effective scalability
  • Control over unique, hard-to-recreate data sources that get richer as more people use them.
  • Trusting users as co-developers.
  • Harnessing collective intelligence.

While these may not apply to all kinds of enterprise tools, I dare say these are qualities often cited as valuable to companies, in the area of IT, enterprise architecture, business management, human resources and the marks of an effective modern business. These are precisely the qualities afforded by social, by social media, including socially empowered internal enterprise tools. The reason many of these qualities are still missing in companies is because the paradigm of a perpetual beta is still anathema to many corporate mindsets. Unfortunately, this means the perceived costs of nurturing social is inherently not welcome, even though its advantages are highly sought after.  The intranet needs social to survive. Unfortunately, inertia needs little to survive. Think about this next time you are forced to use an antiquated version of Internet Explorer to use your intranet, the next time you are shown the cost of making a small change to your website functionality or the next time you have to log in twice in a Single-Sign-On system. JD houston change

The Social Internet of Things and an Old Can of Privacy Worms

The internet of things is coming. And then it will go social. As this video – posted in March 2011, almost 3 years ago! – from Ericsson (still a name then!) illustrates. Have a look:

Imagine a fridge that messages you to tell you that the milk expires today.
Looks great doesn’t it? And then the privacy issues will come in. Notice in the video, the man appears to have blocked his girlfriend from seeing his activity in order to surprise her (Video: 0’26”). So, you see, even in the future – we will still need lists and privacy settings. We’ll still have to make decisions about what we post, when and who will see it – for both good reasons as well as not-so-good reasons.

Just as people grapple with and complain about online privacy issues today, they will continue to struggle with balancing pros and cons as social expands beyond the mobile gadget and web browser. When your home or office knows your location, for example, you will have to think about who ought to know. If at all.

Imagine your sofa telling the TV to turn off because you’ve dozed off.
Now imagine: what about businesses? How will a typical business deal with the social internet of things? What will it be like, when your photocopier/printer, office desk, telephone, room, water cooler all become part of the internet of things? Would you welcome such a technology paradigm? The meeting room prepares itself for a presentation 15 minutes before a big meeting. The printer orders extra cartridges knowing that next week, a big report is due.

Imagine an office that arranges a meeting for 10 people in one-click
But: just like useful social apps on mobile phones, would we run into issues of having or giving out too much information? Would employees like the idea of their boss knowing when they are in the pantry? Would the boss like it if his employees knew exactly where he is all the time? When he arrives in the morning? Some would say this is useful information. I imagine a system that automatically arranges a meeting for X number of people based on knowing their needs, their schedule and location. Just tap YES to confirm. Productivity would shoot through the roof(?)!

Imagine a boutique that can find out the clothing sizes of customers who walk in.
But, at some point, people will start to say they’re uncomfortable with being findable anywhere, anytime. They don’t want to leave digital footprints – let alone social ones – in the office. Some will even say the internet of things is a security hazard – who knows if that WiFi-connected microwave is listening to discussions at the pantry?

Companies will balk. They will start to shy away. They will question. They will want to play safe. And then, they will simply say they don’t want any part of it. Networked machines will not be allowed in office.

galatica

The rest of the world will move on, especially among consumers and homes. Consumers will play with the social network of things. Yes they will complain about privacy issues too, but they’ll use it anyway, like smartphones and Facebook. Then one day, some companies will realize they are falling behind their customers. Companies which resist the advancing tide of consumer technology will realize that they don’t really understand the market. Just like how today, consumers are ahead of businesses in use of social. Consumers have higher expectations because they have more experience adopting social.

Businesses may recognize the need – they may try to design services which are social B2C, but because they do not adopt it internally, their appreciation is limited. It’s like how many businesses market to customers with social tools, but do not use social tools within the company.

We can be certain that the internet of things will come, and that it will become social. It will have privacy issues. It may even suffer the occasional massive hack/breach disaster. It will also have many as-yet undiscovered uses and advantages. We’ll have to use it to understand how to deal with it. Above all, we cannot use “Not a priority”, “No budget”, “Lack of management support” and other barriers that have long plagued implementation of social media as an excuse to hide from the reality that it is important. The future will only get more connected.

3 Ways Social Media Still Can’t Win

Red Pill Blue Pill front web

In some ways, social media’s magic red pill still doesn’t work, it hasn’t been swallowed. Why are we still trying to justify its existence? Why are we still constantly arguing for its support and funding? On the other hand, do we question the need for traditional marketing? Do we question the need for a salesman in the company?

Lately, it looks as if the newest member of the “social” party to slip down into the Trough of Disillusionment is social business. “Social Business is Dead!” proclaims this article by Chris Heuer (CEO, Alynd – “SaaS for accountability in collaboration. Improves performance & productivity.”)  at the popular and influential blog of Brian Solis. The title is a little guilty of trolling for eyeballs – a little like my own –  and it works. But actually, the article isn’t saying that the practice of social business is dead – rather, it’s saying that the crusade to justify social business has been a failure. To be even more precise, the problem is that the “social” argument has not succeeded. Management didn’t buy it.

It’s not that the ideas are losing or that the goals are without merit, they are. The problem is that the deeper meaning and richer context is being lost on executives who still think the word “social” indicates a frivolous time-wasting pursuit. To them, it’s about what someone ate for lunch. Or it’s that thing their teenagers do to ignore them at the dinner table. Despite the Arab Spring, the customer revolution and an increasingly connected society which turns to Twitter with every earthquake or news event, the idea of being a Social Business has failed to break through the care barrier in most C-Suites.

– Chris Hueur

In fact, I’d argue that management doesn’t even like it. Management prefers the tried and tested corporate model of command and control. The idea that it should “socialize” its processes and in the process lose some of that control – argued for years as a benefit, has not been bought. Management still wants to manage.

Thus, the reason social business – as a term – has died, is because the key stakeholders won’t go social.

Social-Media-Fail

1. Easy ROI reporting still doesn’t exist
Social Media still resists easy ROI reporting. Yes yes, I know some of you will say there are existing tools and methods of measuring social media ROI, but how many are actually successfully reporting it? Did you convince your management of its value that easily? After all, latest studies show that social media ROI is still as elusive as ever. I’m not saying that ways to measure it don’t exist. I’m saying that it’s still too difficult for most companies to convincingly report it.

ROI absent

What’s needed, perhaps, is for social media to actually make a sale. We social media practitioners may argue that’s not the point – social media is about engagement, branding, community, etc.  But you let me know if your boss didn’t demand you show Facebook “conversions”.

2. Content is a king in a circus act.
In the beginning, we all said that content is the key to everything. I think this is still true. However, instead of being able to focus mainly on content relating directly to the product one sells, many businesses are forced to engage users/fans by posting, well, cheaper thrills. Humour, quotable quotes, “viral videos” of varying quality and taste – doesn’t matter, so long as you get likes, comments and shares. Our eyes widen at the sight of “27 shares” even though an hour ago, we were feeling sheepish posting yet another single-frame funny comic we found via Google Images. It works! And we hope somehow, this wisdom-spouting quotation inspires a dear fan to buy something from our website.

Is this the way we intended our social media to work? Maybe, but I suspect it’s also one reason why many senior managers still view social media with a mixture of disdain and indifference, like how an adult might view a bunch of rowdy kids.

3. Management still not into social
And that’s my next point. It is like the social business article mentioned above. For many senior management types, the problem of social media is not so much a matter of its business benefits, provable or not, but that it is social. While there certainly are exceptions, traditional corporate management culture has little reason to trust or adopt social. It’s simply too unpredictable and its benefits too elusive, when compared to the industrial-strength sales reports of traditional brick-and-mortar business operations, including marketing.

It’s not so painful that they need to make a massive investment to transform their organizations. They continue to make money and operate as they always have. That is the problem. The old model of organizational design and profit making is obsolete but it hasn’t yet completely or visibly failed for the people in charge.

– Chris Heuer

It may be that this is an illusion too – because some might say traditional marketing has even lower ROI than social media ROI, in terms of the cost-to-benefit ratio. Does it? Whether or not true, the fact is, many companies will still put traditional marketing first, simply because that’s what they’re used to, even in the face of statistics proclaiming of social media’s (supposed) superiority.

What if social media never existed?
You could say that social media is in this state precisely because it is attempting to solve the problems of or overturn the model of traditional business and communications. Consider: if social media never came about, never existed – would the world today want this level of “social”? Would customers remain satisfied with traditional advertizing, traditional paper mail and flyers, newspapers, telephones and the idea of a corporate business as a detached industrial entity whose sole mission is to sell “good-for-you” products whose marketing you always believe? Would we have known any better? Would we have ever missed the social collectiveness of Facebook, the viral communication of Twitter? Would we have contently stayed in the Matrix of the blue pill, and never sought more?

Because remember, this world existed before. And many companies still take the blue pill. The fight isn’t over yet!

Appreciate it, understand? The conundrum of implementing online collaboration

I recently gave a talk about the issue of getting social media to work in a company, using weight management as a parallel. The whole idea really was to show that, not only is it an endeavour that requires many moving parts to coordinate and be driven together, but that to get it to work on the external community, the internal community cannot not participate either.

While the topic is not at all new, I actually only had two weeks to prepare my presentation. To be brutally honest, I incubate my content for a very long time before I deem it worthy to be seen by public eye, so two weeks is not a lot of time.  Because my three fellow speakers were going into fairly intense topics (strategy, business, FB contests and content), I decided that, as the opening speaker, I’ll go easy on the audience and present something fairly high-level but easy to understand.

No, they didn’t want that. They wanted practical advice, stuff you can actually put into “doing”. Good on them, I say! It’s good that they want practical, implementable advice! It’s good that people are no longer satisfied with yet another philosophical speech on why Social Media Is Good For You. Because: We Know Already Lah. Instead, they want “Yes, yes, but how do I get it to work, dammit?”

So anyway, I made my point: it’s high time to take social media from its fashionable outward-facing marketing role, and bring it back into the organization. Because it’s high time we used social media internally, as an organization tool for knowledge sharing and collaboration. That’s the bit that’s missing in Singapore that keeps us from catching up with the mature social media markets out there, overseas.

But it’s not that easy
But the problem with implementation is at least two-fold. First, there’s the usual stuff about identifying the right software, forming the project team, doing up the ITQ/tender (argh), tech specs, etc. Frankly, all the annoying, boring stuff (except maybe the first one). …. And the fact is, many people have already done this. I’ve done it before. And it didn’t work most of the time. Internal collaboration didn’t happen even when all this stuff was “implemented”. Why?

There are many reasons why. Chief of them is, why, people are still stuck with their emails of course, and unproductive habits of mailing each other Word docs to co-edit. Gosh, it’s 2013 and we’re still doing it! So much for progress! Ridonkulous! We nod at each other with chagrin, wondering why our colleagues still don’t get it. Six months later, nothing changes.

The root of the problem is a certain lack of internal practice. Two things are missing: an appreciation of the social, and the practice of social. Both are related. It’s like: it’s impossible to explain the beauty of Twitter to someone who simply refuses to use it. Even if you somehow get an approving nod at one strategic meeting where you did succeed(?) in explaining Twitter, by the next meeting, the heads that nodded have forgotten. Why? Cos they don’t use it.

It’s exactly like, oh everyone knows sugar is bad for you and you have to exercise. But how many practise that? Not many.

Now the thing is, failure to enable collaboration is not for lack of intellectual understanding. We know precisely, in descriptive terms (you know, like words in the grand Strategic Plan White Whatever Paper), Why Social Is “Good”/”The Future”/”What Your Business Needs”. But knowing the “why” does not translate into appreciation. Social needs to be appreciated. This is the missing bit. This is why 100% of everybody agrees that “collaboration” is holy and good, but only 10%* actually use it, cos that’s the percentage that appreciates it, because they actually use the damn tools.

So, what I’m telling you is that – we’re not getting anywhere in online collaboration, because we just talk, nod our heads in meetings and write papers about it. Stop that. Just do it already. Take a leap of faith – you say you know it’s good right? So just go ahead and implement it. And then you jolly well use it, bosses, managers, people and all.  I’ll have you know that I spoke to a consultant on successful implementation of online collaborative software and she and I had the same conclusion – it’s the support and leadership of management that makes the difference. We sighed in mutual understanding.

*Possibly less.

Online Community Management – Art or Science?

Art-Science-773522

One day a month ago, an acquaintance from NUS’s Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning (CDTL) asked me if I would be interested in doing a presentation at a conference on teaching. I said, as someone teaching social media engagement, I wasn’t exactly sure if I could contribute. I said that my approach isn’t as “academic” or pedagogical as a conference of educators might expect. Although, the fact is I’ve been trying to address the issue of teaching something inherently unteachable. I.e. community engagement.

That sounds interesting, he said. So I continued. The problem with trying to teach human engagement is that it is full of “soft”, indefinable things like creating trust through sustained exchange and engaging a person’s interest through content. I’ve tried to define them in terms of frameworks, but that in itself is always tinged with futility.  My acquaintance nodded knowingly, and said that that’s precisely what needs to be done – “framing” something that resists definition. Even in the business of education, the same problem applies – how do you scientifically define the process of “teaching”? In doing so, do you lose its essence?

The simple answer is that online community management is an art and a science. An art because it has to deal with human behaviour – particularly the irrational kind. Even employees can be (positively) irrational. Because it has to deal with nuances of language, emotion and atmosphere; because it takes leaps of faith and educated guesses – stuff that a pure scientist would either balk at or become confused with.

But we cannot ignore the science part, because at the end of the day, online community management makes use of technology. This means two things:

1) It, as well as social media in general, is a product of computing – specifically social computing. Meaning, if computing (and computers) didn’t exist, social media wouldn’t exist either. We do not know of a better tool that powers online virality or ambient awareness or asynchronous communication.

2) It is measurable, because it is computerized – it is a creature of numbers. It is also becoming increasingly sophisticated. While it can still be argued that web technology measures the quantitative better than it measures the qualitative, the fact is there are many computer scientists out there who are trying to create better ways to measure social media – be it in terms of sentiment analysis or social engagement.

Coming back to online community management, it may be some time (if ever) before one can truly measure such qualities as trust and negative comments. When it comes to defining and teaching the subject, the need to portray both “art” and “science” aspects of the field is immediate. For example, the topic of developing a community from start to sustainability needs a framework to help define it in a “step-by-step” manner.

As my acquaintance puts it: it may be a difficult and perhaps futile thing to do, but someone’s gotta do it. I can only say I will try.

“SG” are two letters in Instagram – Singapore businesses #caughtgramming

Video by JinnyboyTV of Malaysia. (Of course they’re on Instagram)

Considering how obsessed Asians – especially Singaporeans – are with taking photos of everything, especially food – it’s no surprise that a low-participation-cost tool like Instagram has gradually and fairly quietly gained immense popularity here. It is said from July 2011- July 2012, the growth in the share of visits to Instagram, for Singapore, was 8121%. (Though, frustratingly, it is not clear it is 8121% of what figure.)

instagram_logo_smallInstagram is owned by Facebook, and it would seem that the recent trend of youths abandoning Facebook has been partly because they’ve been drawn to Instagram instead. Unlike Facebook, Instagram is more focused in its agenda and simpler to participate in – snap, filter, tag, share.

In designing my Online Community Management for Social Media #issocm course, one of my foci is Singapore case studies. Specifically, case studies of Singapore companies using social media to drive community and engagement. During my research and in the course of using Instagram myself, I’ve found companies using Instagram to connect with customers, and quite effectively too. It’s a pleasure to see these companies find success in a way which is still not quite commonplace in Singapore. Here are some of the ones I’ve encountered:

Instagram G2000

G2000 Singapore (http://instagram.com/g2000singapore)

On their Facebook Page, G2000 Singapore showcases their Instagram feed in an app. First ‘gram went up on 28 Feb, 2013, and they currently have 412 followers. G2000’s Instagram features an attractive and colourful variety of photos, from fashion statements (both professionally taken as well as informally posed), glimpses of lifestyle and modern living, humour as well as the occasional inspiring quote. (“Being male is a matter of birth, being a man is a matter of age, but being a gentleman is a matter of choice.”). All in all, an impressive presence on Instagram. #g2000

G2000’s social media presence is handled by Vocanic, Singapore.

* * * * *

Instagram obolosg

Obolo Cafe (http://instagram.com/obolosg)

Sometime in September 2012, I sat down at Obolo Cafe, and ordered a Yuzu Cheesecake. My friend had a Cassis. It was while we were both instagramming our cakes, as any true Singaporean would, that I noticed Obolo had an Instagram presence. “Tag us #obolosg to get featured” is the instruction. With nearly 1600 followers, Obolo has been ‘gramming since then in September 2012 (though one notes that their follower:following ratio is inverse, with some 5 times more following). Besides the usual food photos (lots of macaroons), Obolo also features customers and staff, and discount deals as well as job openings. There’s also a quaint Instagram of their humble beginnings. #obolosg

* * * * *

Instagram nutrifirst

Nutrifirst Pte Ltd (http://instagram.com/nutrifirst)

Nutrifirst, a health & fitness supplements company, calls upon customers to “tag us @nutrifirst if you wish us to repost your photo and stand a chance to get a one time sponsorship!” A win-win scenario taken up by mostly men, apparently, involved in bodybuilding/training, as seen on their Instagram feed. Instagrammers get to show off their muscles, receive gifts from Nutrifirst, and advertise the company’s product at the same time. Their first Instagram was posted on 24 April 2013, but the account currently has over 500 followers, which is not bad for a month’s work. #nutrifirst

Nutrifirst also has an impressive Facebook page boasting over 30,000 fans.

* * * * *

Instagram NLB PLS

Public Library Services, National Library Board (http://instagram.com/publiclibrarysg)

(Not a commercial business, but worthy of mention). I used to work at the NLB, a member of the Digital and Knowledge Services division where I worked on social media/online engagement and knowledge sharing services. Their Marketing folks have always been proactive on social media and it is with no surprise that I found them on Instagram. The Public Library Services, which handle all the libraries except the National Library at Bugis, have 616 followers to-date and post a great variety of Instagrams, from featured books to various promotions, events, happenings involving the public libraries, visitors young and old, and even art. Among the very useful things they post are notices on the days the libraries are closed. All in all, a very lively and useful account to follow if you’re a frequent library visitor. Tag @publiclibrarysg to get their attention.

The NLB is also responsible for the Singapore Memory Project, also on Instagram (below) with the handle and hashtag #iremembersg.

instagram iremembersg

I’m pretty sure I’ve only scratched the surface.  I feel that in Singapore, where many smaller businesses may not have taken full advantage of social media yet, Instagram is a viable opportunity, or at the very least, a good platform for testing the waters.  For one thing, it’s a heck of a lot easier to explain than Twitter! Instagram is:

  • Free
  • Lost cost of participation – for both yourself and for followers.
  • Already popular among Singaporeans, especially the 18-29 demographic.
  • Relatively “light” and clean engagement. Compared to Facebook or Twitter, Instagram crises are almost unheard of.
  • Attractive, being entirely focused on the visual.
  • With diligent hashtagging and geotagging, you can quickly build up content and engagement around your social as well as physical “locations”.

All you need is someone among your staff who has a good taste in filters.

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Online Community Management for Social Media Course (Jul/Sep/Dec 2013) #issocm

I’m developing an Online Community Management course at the Institute of Systems Science, National University of Singapore. Do check it out – if you find yourself attending, we’ll be certainly playing with Instagram hands-on. #issocm.

Online Community Management for Social Media Short Course at the Institute of Systems Science, NUS

Google Glass is an Inevitable Technology (Just Like Social Media)

Since its debut, Google Glass has had its fair share of raves….. and a lot more ranting. It is absolutely, completely, utterly, 100%-ly NOT surprising that the first thing people jumped on is the issue of privacy. It’s been talked about, debated, speculated upon (with suspicion), fingers pointed at, and is still being questioned.

But you know what? Despite all these threats to the technology’s viability, I believe it will still win in the end. This is because, Google Glass represents an Inevitable Technology. It is a technological concept, like radio, screens, wireless internet, rechargeable power sources, recycling and not forgetting social media, that makes sense. So long as you take away the “petty” concerns, the idea makes so much sense and has so much true value that it is inevitable that it must exist.

scifi contact lens
Life imitates sci-fi as contact lens displays inch closer to reality (2009)

Granted, Google Glass is not perfect – and by “Inevitable” I do not say it is perfect. The idea is inevitable, not this particular manifestation of the idea. The idea that we will wear information displays on our head, before our eyes, is as inevitable as the idea that the phone must leave behind its wires to the wall (and go mobile).

So, while people continue to debate the problems of Google Glass, the technology will not die. It will get better and better, until either one day the privacy/security issues are resolved, or the value the technology provides so far outweighs the alleged dangers, that no one cares anymore. Like how we continue to “ignore” the danger of mobile phones microwaving our brains; like how we continue our addiction to social media despite all its privacy issues.

So I say, be patient – don’t strike off the technological concept just because its firstborn manifestation is imperfect. Google knows this, and that’s why it’s always, for want of a better term, trying stuff. Google has a reputation for rolling out controversial services and eventually shutting them down. Many see this as a weakness and laugh. But I see in them a spirit of innovation. We tend to forget that many others are not shut down but continue to evolve. Whether or not the Google Glass as a device will be killed in the future, I am not certain. But the technological concept (info display on eyepiece/eye), I still believe is here to stay. Google may have to face the brunt of privacy advocates’ rants, but – at least they tried the innovation. Dare you?

Some technologies are fads, some are too far ahead of its time, others are born immature; some will die, others are inevitable.

Online Community Management – the Unobvious Job

What’s the difference between “Social Media Management” and “Online Community Management”? Is it the same thing?

The term “online community management” is still relatively new in Singapore. And that’s one reason why I’m writing this.

Though perhaps the concept isn’t new – isn’t it basically social media management? Yes and no. Social media management is, simplistically, the running of social media channels, everything from setting up Pages and accounts, tweeting, curating and posting content to reporting   metrics. Its activities are centred around the channel – in a sense, it is channel-centric.

It is implicit in “social media management” that managing the fans, followers and members is involved. That’s where online community management has its focus. It’s in the people in your community, people whom you want to engage, people for whom you want to get a sustained positive response.  So, in a sense, online community management is a part of social media management, inasmuch as social media marketing is part of digital marketing.

I believe the main reason the term “online community manager” is only just beginning to take root in Singapore is that until recently, the focus of most organizations has really been exactly about social media as (marketing) channels, with community management as a secondary concern.

The Obvious vs the Un-Obvious Job

It is inevitable that as companies gain a better grasp of social media channels, they run into issues that are specifically more about online community management. Like the “webmaster” of the past, it will gain importance as the jack-of-all-trades character who is not just doing the obvious thing (“running the Facebook page”) but also the less obvious thing (“managing fans and driving engagement”)

Source: http://www.freshnetworks.com/blog/2011/01/community-manager-appreciation-day-pros-and-cons-of-community-management/
The Online Community Manager is sometimes called a “one-man team” or “crazy madness”. Source: http://www.freshnetworks.com/blog/2011/01/community-manager-appreciation-day-pros-and-cons-of-community-management/

We might argue that not every online community is on social media. For example, the discussion community around a popular blog might not be considered social media (especially since these existed before “social media” did).

Regardless, it’s fair to say that social media management and online community management have many things in common. But here are some ways to differentiate them.

Note: These are not exclusive differences. Social Media Management has some aspects of Online Community Management, and vice versa. The points below are an attempt to differentiate their foci, not to divide the two disciplines. They really do share a lot in common.

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If you would like to learn more about my thoughts on
Online Community Management, do check out my OCM course
at the Institute of Systems Science, NUS. </end self-promo>

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Focus

  • Social Media Management focuses on the channel. “We want to grow our Facebook fanbase.”
  • Online Community Management (OCM) focuses on the people. “We want to make our Facebook fans happy and engaged.”

Consider: it’s possible to have a social media channel with tens of thousands of fans/followers, but little engagement.

Channel

  • Social Media Management is often channel-specific. “We engage fans on Facebook and Twitter.”
  • OCM is in principle channel-agnostic. “We engage fans. Wherever they are.”

Consider: Many companies start off by saying they want to “get on Facebook” (or the like), not “We must engage fans”.

Target Segment

  • Social Media Management uses marketing to gain new fans. The objective is to bring new fans in.
  • OCM “uses” its community to market to itself. It focuses on keeping fans within.

Consider: social media campaigns often use marketing tactics, such as marketing lingo and giveaways, to attract new fans, while the professionals involved (they could even be the same ones) are tasked to focus on content and engagement to keep existing fans engaged.

KPIs

  • Social Media Management ultimately is often designed to drive a hard business objective. E.g. sales
  • OCM wants to drive participation, interaction, discussion and other means of engagement. Typically these are considered a means to an end (the end being a business objective)

Consider: management often grills social media teams as to what is their ROI, and how do they benefit sales. When a crisis occurs online, management asks how the team will handle it – the latter is a matter of OCM since it involves pacifying a community; whereas the former is about marketing/bottom line.

…. and so on.

All points are entirely arguable. This is no attempt to define the two terms definitively. It’s just food for thought for those of us trying, perhaps, to make an un-obvious job a little more obvious, a little better appreciated.

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Thanks for reading to the end! Once again, allow me to introduce my
Online Community Management 2-day course starting from July,
at the Institute of Systems Science, National University of Singapore. Care to join up? 

Online Community Management for Social Media Short Course at the Institute of Systems Science, NUS