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Postcard from China: I did it!

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I’ve still yet to leave Beijing but the last few days have been quite interesting.  I had to give my first all-Mandarin presentation this week, first in Shanghai, then in Beijing.  Though I’m somewhat fluent in Mandarin — I left Taiwan when I was 10 years old and grew up in the US, returning back to Asia only after my son was born 3 years ago — I was always more comfortable in a conversational setting.  I only had formal language education through 4th grade in primary school, so talking to me is probably sometimes like talking to a school kid!

I was asked by Travel Link Daily to talk about the trends in social media that I see and to share best practices on how to get greater ROI from social media investments to Communications Managers in the travel industry — including some our own clients.  Originally, the presentations were supposed to be in English, but when the organizer saw that I was Chinese he asked my staff if I could speak in Mandarin, and my staff member said yes.  And so the invitations went out “THIS SESSION WILL BE CONDUCTED IN MANDARIN!”  Several nervous rounds of laughters later… I came to face the reality of the situation the night before I left for China.

Thankfully, our newly formed Brand Karma Guide team, under the capable leadership of Kay, translated the transcript of my talk from English to Chinese, and also my slides from English to Traditional Chinese.  Then our team in Beijing took over the slides and translated them from Traditional to Simplified Chinese.  With over 1.5B Chinese people in the world, colloquialism can present huge challenges in our being able to understand each other even with the same fundamental language.

On the plane, in the car, in the hotel… I got familiar with my new talk.  Joseph, who is my General Manager of the Greater China region, and Mario, my co-Founder, were with me and were of tremendous help, although I think Joseph was half-way between being terrified and having a heart attack when he had to correct my intonation as I practiced.  Mandarin words have 5 inflections, so the right sound but wrong inflection means the difference, for example, between a horse and a mother.

But I think things went OK.  No one left during my presentation in either cities.  The Q&As session at the end was lively and highly interactive, much more so than when I give a presentation to Chinese people in English, so all in all I think it was a success.  And… I jumped over a big professional hurdle.

Thank you, team, for your support.  Thanks, Travel Link Daily, for the invitation.  And to everyone who has ever had to present in a non-native language — I salute you for your courage.



Written by Morris

August 13, 2011 at 9:41 am

Caught in a Bad Hotel

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Most social media stories nowadays are about customer engagement.  This post is about employee relations in the 21st century, and what happens when social media enters the mix.

A few weeks ago, a video called Don’t Get Caught in a Bad Hotel was posted on YouTube.  It was a flash mob covering Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” music video which is currently the most video of all time on YouTube with 214M views.  The video was created by workers fighting to get affordable healthcare and a fair contract at a number of hotels in San Francisco.  In the 3 weeks it’s been posted, the video has garnered over 175,000 views and been covered by a number of news outlets, including the Huffington Post.  In fact, when one currently searches the hotel on YouTube the video is the first to come up.  The 10th result in organic search when Googling the hotel leads you to this story about the flash mob.

We see a lot of things about social media and customers.  But brand managers should look internally first; any brand that doesn’t have a social media policy for their employees may be at risk of an intractable PR crisis, particularly one who treats their employees poorly.  Workplace rants by employees are becoming major headaches for companies.

In the past, what happened inside companies were kept behind closed doors.  In this age of self-expression, what happens inside make headline news on a fairly regular basis.  Take for example, Hon Hai Precision Technology, the world’s largest contract manufacturer of electronics with customers like Apple, HP, and Dell.  Its Foxconn Technology Group employs more than 400,000 people in Shenzhen.  Since the beginning of this year, 13 employees have attempted suicide, with one leaping to his death hours after the Chairman had visited the factory promising to increase safety.  The blog world either condemns Foxconn’s working condition or point to the stress of trying to make it in China today as the main reasons why these suicides occurred, but that’s all speculation; no one really knows why.  Though ZDNet points out that the suicide rate is low in comparison to the China population average, Foxconn is still in the process of training more than 100 mental health workers, as well as making changes to improve its employee relations.  But will it be done fast enough to save lives?  And when will this impact Foxconn’s customers directly?  For example, hurting Apple (which just recently overtook Microsoft in market value) in the same way charges of sweatshops and child labor violations continue to tarnish Nike?

Part of the measurement for brand value is employee morale.  As every employee contribute to the brand experience, high morale should equate to a better brand experience, and leading to higher customer satisfaction and both customer and employee loyalty.  Social media about employee relations and working conditions therefore affect not only your current employees, future recruits, but also, your customers today and prospects tomorrow.

Paul Hogarth of the Huffington Post asked his Facebook fans whether they, upon seeing the “Don’t Get Caught in a Bad Hotel,” would boycott the hotels listed, and here’s a very revealing response:

“It will be seen by a lot more people than your average – ‘what do we want and when do we want it’ protest – because as much as I am pro union and will support boycotts, I don’t forward info on every single boycott because seriously, nobody would read my reports if I did. I saw the YouTube video and then saw that the Palace Hotel was part of the boycott list and canceled my reservations for tea at the Garden Room. I probably would not have found out about the boycott if it wasn’t entertaining enough to go viral, and I definitely wouldn’t have posted it in my [Facebook] status and then five of my friends probably wouldn’t have posted in theirs …”

Last year employees at a Domino’s Pizza were fired and faced criminal charges for improper food handling as a result of their prank video post on YouTube.  Though Domino’s didn’t do anything to provoke this, it was humiliated and eventually had to respond via YouTube to do damage control; and their brand suffered in the immediate aftermath.

Assuming brands treat their employees fairly, it’s still much better for them to have a communications plan in place already, as opposed to having to scramble on the fly to come up with a plan when something unexpected erupts.  As was the case with Domino’s, it only took 2 thoughtless workers, a lack of social media guidelines for employees, and a slight hesitation in response time to tarnish the brand.  Since then, social media has only gotten bigger and employees… more expressive.  Take the time to craft a plan and talk to your employees if you haven’t already.  You don’t want to get caught in a social media storm without a plan.

Written by Morris

May 28, 2010 at 11:29 pm