This week for my Interview Series, we have Wai Chim, a digital content specialist and published author. With her experience as Head of Content at digital marketing agency, Switched On Media, Wai had a lot of interesting things to say about content marketing and strategy as well as some of the emerging trends in the industry.
1. First of all, can you give us a bit of background on yourself and your career path to date?
I’m originally from New York City and have been living in Australia for over six years. After graduating from university in the US, I took some time off to teach English in Japan and then completed a post-grad degree in Creative Writing at the University of Sydney.
I always knew I wanted to write and after I finished my graduate degree, I landed a job working for a small environmental publication producing quarterly magazines. After a year, I realised that digital was really the future for content and moved to online only. I then moved into a digital content role at Switched on Media, first as a Journalist and then as the Head of Content looking after a team of journalists and graphic designers to produce a range of digital content.
2. I’m really keen to discuss your role as Head of Content at Switched On Media — can you tell us about what sort of work you were doing there?
At Switched on Media, a lot of the projects we worked on were in conjunction with our other digital offerings such as search engine optimisation (SEO) and social media. We’d do anything like write articles that would become guest posts on blogs or write content for clients’ websites. As the team grew, we began to integrate visual elements into our content offering, such as making infographics and e-books and eventually including a more technical side to include widgets and interactive infographics.
3. Were there any standout projects or campaigns that you worked on that you’d like to share with us?
I think the infographics we did were among some of the best in the market. We used our journalists to research and pull together an interesting story that could then be interpreted by our graphic designer. Because the journalist and graphic designer worked really closely together, we could deliver a great end result. Some of our best infographics we produced for Commonwealth Bank (some examples below). Meanwhile, the infographic we did for ActionAid captured a silver medal in Magnum Opus awards, which recognises standout projects in content.
4. Outside of the clients that you worked on at Switched On Media, are there any particular brands at the moment that you find are really great at delivering content to their audience?
I think a lot of companies are embracing content marketing now, which is really great to see. Internationally, big brands like Virgin Mobile are putting together fantastic content hubs, like Virgin Mobile Live. The fashion and beauty industries definitely lead in this space as well, such as L’Oreal that started with a simple content marketing site makeup.com and this year have partnered with Rolling Stone and leveraged social media to deliver undiscovered music content to their audience.
On the Australian front, companies like Carnival have great editorial websites like Discover Cruising which I think is a good example of providing useful editorial content that’s relevant to a brand. I love some of the interactive infographics that are coming out by brands as well. They really help to draw in the audience and deliver information in a smart, sexy and engaging way.
5. It seems as though a lot of businesses are talking more about content marketing and strategy these days — what are your thoughts on the industry and some of the emerging trends?
As social media becomes more of the status quo and not the shiny new marketing tool, brands and marketers are finally figuring how important it is to integrate all of their efforts, which is why content marketing and content strategy has become so fundamental. Now that companies understand how to build communities on channels like Twitter and how to make quality videos on YouTube, there will be a greater focus on the substance of all of these mediums – and that’s the content. Brands will want to be more efficient, consistent and holistic about the messages they put out on these various channels, so content strategy will become critical.
6. In that case, what sort of skills to you think will become increasingly more important for content strategists?
I think the best content strategists will come from two sources: either a great web designer/developer who knows how craft a good story or a journalist who has a deep understanding of the technical aspect websites and how digital channels work.
The key to a good content strategy is to have a solid understanding of the nitty gritty technical stuff (and that doesn’t mean you have to know your PHP from your PERL but knowing some general HTML and how search engines work) and also the editorial ability to distinguish engaging stories from the riff raff. These two worlds have been pretty siloed in the past but as creative projects move increasingly into a more technical realm, a good content person will be able to make the best of both.
7. As someone who is constantly producing quality content, I would love to hear more about how your creation process works. Are you at that stage where you’re able to just sit down and write when you need to?
For me, it comes down to a lot of time to read and research, to connect the dots between things and come up with something new. I think I have come to a fairly basic creative process where I can pretty much sit down and write a blog post/article/write-up some stats for an infographic when I need to and have it be “good” or “quality content”. But the challenge is that “good” is often not good enough.
For example, bloggers are pretty picky about the articles they post on their sites and just because your article has some good information and facts and a little bit of personality, it might not be good enough for a number of reasons. The bar is pretty high now, especially for the more popular channels and for bigger audiences.
Having said that, the process of creating something that’s GREAT – well that can still be a bit of a hit or miss. Sometimes, awesome ideas come at random times (the shower and Friday night drinks are popular ones) or they might not come at all. And that, I guess, is the mystery of the creative process.
8. I know your book — Chook Chook: Mei’s Secret Pets — was published in August last year. Can you tell us a little about the book as well as your next steps as a published author?
Chook Chook is a project that I had started working on about 5 years ago in my own time. It’s a kid’s book for ages 7+ and is about a little girl growing up in rural China and her love for her pet chickens even though she’s not really allowed to have animals on the family farm. It’s largely based on some of the stories of my parents growing up in semi-rural Hong Kong and village life in China.
I was so amazed when my manuscript was plucked out of the slush pile from the University of Queensland Press and my now publisher actually loved it – it’s a pretty difficult hurdle for many aspiring writers and I’m still really surprised and thrilled that I got in. Being an author is a bit of a steep learning curve although my digital marketing experience has definitely proven useful. I’m currently working on the sequel to Chook Chook as well as a few other stories that have been boiling in the back of my mind.