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​The Digital Agenda for Recovery

Published on: 29-Jul-2020

As firms around the world grapple with the consequences of the COVID-19 lockdown, many have turned to digital ways of conducting business. But as most organisations struggle with re-evaluating their business models, “born-digital” firms have become more influential than ever. Twitter, in particular, continues its success and has seen remarkable growth in the first quarter despite the pandemic.

“The Digital Agenda for Recovery”, the second instalment of “The Impact of Business Unusual” webinar series organised by the Alumni Association (AA) of Nanyang Business School (NBS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), was conducted on 15 July 2020, with over 200 participants from 15 different countries.

Thought leaders Mr Maurizio Barbieri, Head of Sports and Gaming Partnerships SEA and Greater China, Twitter, and NBS Associate Professor Goh Kim Huat, Nanyang MBA Academic Director, discussed the popularity of Twitter and how firms can accelerate their digital investments and capabilities. The session was moderated by Mr Jack Lim, Vice President (Corporate Engagement and Careers), NTU NBS AA and Senior Advisor at Azendian Solutions.

Mr Barbieri kicked off the session with a presentation on what Twitter does. “Twitter is what’s happening in the world and what people are talking about right now,” began Mr Barbieri, “but Twitter is not only moments, Twitter is also movements”. Citing the case of Colin Kaepernick, the American football quarterback who was blacklisted by the NFL (National Football League) for his stance towards civil rights, Mr Barbieri showed how movements can be aided by great marketers. In starting a campaign featuring Kaepernick with their “Just Do It” message on Twitter, Nike became “the most important conversation [on the platform]” in the first 96 hours of their campaign. “Nike was trending. And immediately there was a massive uptake in sales.”

Mr Barbieri emphasised that Twitter “is a conversational tool.” In recent months, users have been driven by the need for information around COVID-19 and this has contributed to Twitter’s massive growth in the first quarter (24%). Additionally, lockdown has increased users’ video consumption. Significantly, Twitter has been working with video content for the past four years. The difference between Twitter and other platforms, clarified Mr Barbieri, is not about working in video or not. “The thing here is what kind of video we want to have on the platform’. Twitter is not in competition with other social media platforms. “We are just a different platform that is going to be used at different times”. But what separates Twitter from the rest, declared Mr Barbieri, is their ability to “give brands the audience they are looking for” and help them “reach the people when it matters”.

Mr Barbieri pointed out that “people don’t wake up thinking about your brand. If 77% of the brands were to disappear, we wouldn’t care”. It used to be that “the more I pay, the more I can get in terms of results”, but Mr Barbieri stressed that now “cultural relevance is what really matters. The more you’re part of that conversation, the better the results will be”. “People now want brands to be helpful”, said Mr Barbieri, but “people are not happy in seeing brands exploiting the situation” either. Firms on social media have to be prepared for negative feedback. “You need to be open to admit that you are wrong. And more often than not when you’re this open, you’re actually going to be OK.”

With regard to trending topics on Twitter, Mr Barbieri said that “the conversations around football, around Formula 1, are three or four times higher than what they were 12 months ago.” Importantly, now “people are not at the venue, so a screen is the only way for us to consume the content.” Therefore, publishers and brands should find ways to reach this audience as “they are going to be watching and they are going to be talking, and they are going to be interested in what you have to tell them. And this is extremely powerful.”

Questions pertaining to businesses in general were also addressed to Associate Professor Goh. On shaping digital strategies in response to the disruptions caused by the pandemic, Associate Professor Goh pointed out that businesses that have both physical and digital aspects need “to try to make [the non-digital aspects] digital and accelerate the process”. Strategy comes in with relation to the digital part of a business and “many companies are reengineering their processes because the jobs have changed.” Changes in consumer behaviour also call for adjustments in business strategy. In the past few months, consumers have been forced to take on more online shopping, for example, and this has led to accelerated moves towards digital platforms. Associate Professor Goh warned that this may lead to the “Amazon effect”, where “the ability to transfer such services gets consolidated and you have the situation where winner takes all”.

Associate Professor Goh also acknowledged that small and medium-sized enterprises with a business-to-business model would find it difficult to do analytics “because you need to set up the infrastructure just to collect the data before you do anything else. And that is very costly. Only the very large companies with their own production line can invest money for that”. Furthermore, Associate Professor Goh warned of the possibility of cannibalism. “If you were to move everything to digital, you will open yourself to many competitors” in the digital space. Also, “if you’re doing 100% digital, then it’s very difficult to know exactly why customers don’t buy from you”. Therefore, Associate Professor Goh strongly advised those trying to go digital “to make sure they get it right the first round”.

Taking a step back, Associate Professor Goh identified agility as an important skill to have in the new normal, since “it’s almost impossible to plan for uncertainties when you don’t have the probabilities of different stats”. Additionally, communication continues to be a useful skill. “In the next six months or so, a lot of us will be relying on existing relationships”, said Associate Professor Goh. If you are an incumbent in the company, working from home is “less disruptive because you know the people to call, you know the things to say, things not to say”. But a new hire might struggle as communication cues are difficult to translate via a video call. Weighing in from a hiring perspective, Mr Barbieri said, “Twitter would be looking for “people who believe in what we are doing. The ability to buy into what we’re trying to do”. He emphasised, “qualifications, certificates, diplomas, degrees, these are something everybody has now. But what you do and how you use it, that’s a different story.”

Lastly, in answer to what NBS is doing to prepare students for the workforce, Associate Professor Goh noted the changes in hiring trends from generalists to specialists in the past few years, possibly due to industries’ move towards digitalisation. However, Associate Professor Goh cautioned, “it’s not easy to train people from scratch. These are skills where there is a certain barrier to entry.” At NBS, more hard skills classes have been created under the MSc programmes, which are targeted at a younger audience, along with open executive programmes that are catered to more established individuals. “For MBA in the coming year, students can do an analytics track where they can take up more technical courses if they choose to.” Having said that, Associate Professor Goh acknowledged that this is not for everyone and the aim is still to funnel students to the right type of skills and jobs.

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