Marketing in a space with few established rules
By Joanna Seow

SINGAPORE – Stephanie Phua was once asked by a client why her social media agency Duo Studio charged what it did when his own intern could easily create the content and more.

She countered that her agency’s clarity of approach and strategies stem from her 10 years of experience working with social media content, and hiring experienced professionals would offer more peace of mind.

“There’s a lot of strategic thought we put into messaging and creative production to ensure brand integrity is sustained… Glad to say, he was convinced in the end,” says Ms Phua, 32, whose six-year-old company has worked with clients such as corporate heavyweight Fraser & Neave and Reebok.

That is just one of the common misconceptions about the social media marketing industry, which some see as just Instagramming and posting content all the time, or as a faceless tool that serves as a means to an end, she says.

In fact, it is an ever-evolving landscape that requires marketers to be connected and authentic at the same time. The Singaporean audience has also evolved from being relatively passive to finding their voice to speak up for what they believe in, she adds.

The growth of social media marketing provides more opportunities for smaller firms to compete with better-known ones.

Many big brands are still struggling to manage the shift from traditional marketing – which was more one-way – as not all are equipped with the right resources to handle social conversations, and smaller businesses may be able to outperform them in this area, says Ms Phua.

“If you truly understand what makes your target audience tick, how to drive good conversations and dedicate resources to getting this platform right, the beauty of social media is that outreach is democratised,” she says.

Q: What do you do at work?

A: No one day is the same for sure. A typical day involves team strategy meetings, client calls, overseeing shoots, and catching up on the latest in social media trends.

Q: How much do you earn?

A: $80,000 to $100,000 annually.

Q: Why did you decide to pursue this career?

A: I would call it serendipity. I graduated at a time when social media was still nascent. In my first internship, I was tasked to do a social media landscape study in South-east Asia and that’s where I saw there was a lot of thought leadership articles and best practices coming from the West, but a huge gap of knowledge and information available about South-east Asia.

I started experimenting with content on a personal basis, and started seeing the real business value that the platform could bring.

I was using Twitter to network, writing for a tech publication, and running my own blog where I’d play around with SEO (search engine optimisation) to see how it impacted traffic and businesses.

I was well and truly bitten by the social media bug then, and have never looked back. I set up Duo Studio in 2015 with pure intentions of adding soul to social – remembering the way we used to communicate before social media, and driving social media content that touches, engages, sparks conversations and is relatable.

Q: What is your educational background and how have you upgraded your skills along the way?

A: I graduated from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University in 2011, obtained a certificate in graphic design from Shillington College in Melbourne in 2013, and am an instructor who teaches classes in social media algorithms and creative brief writing.

I actively pursue being a practitioner. Even in running the agency I am still very hands-on, as I think it’s important to be close to the work since things keep evolving in this space. I rely a lot on my team to keep me updated on the latest developments in the space as well.

Other skills I focus on are leadership, management and communication skills. I enjoy doing this through talking to leaders I look up to, reading books and watching documentaries.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in getting to this point in your career? How did you overcome them?

A: When I left my first job, I was still an executive and relatively green in the industry. It was definitely a huge leap from being in the creatives department to managing a company.

Every year brings on immense growth for me. The first year was really about getting the administrative nuts and bolts down pat. Then when we hired a team, it was about being a good manager.

The years after were about being a good director with a clear vision, and now about being a CEO – managing overall operations and resources, leading the development of the company’s short and long-term strategy, as well as creating and implementing the organisation’s vision and mission.

I’m actually quite introverted and had to come out of my shell at lightning speed to learn to manage and influence people. Every year, I am fast tracking to a different side of myself and that has no doubt been challenging, but also satisfying.

My absolute star of a team is also a tremendous motivation for me. I enjoy working with people who inspire me every day.

Q: What are the best and worst parts of the job?

A: The best part of my job is being able to work in a space that has very few established rules. There’s no “right way” of doing things yet, and I enjoy being able to shape this in our own way. It has implications on hiring, processes and organisational structure.

This is also the worst part though, since there aren’t any best practices to emulate, a lot of it is based on trial and error. Finding the right people who are willing to be on this journey with you and build something from scratch is tough.

Guiding clients to understand the full value of what we do on social media as well as what social media can do for them is also a long process which requires a lot of patience.

It gets frustrating if people fail to catch the vision, or undervalue our work, but it is immensely satisfying when everyone is aligned.

Q: Are there any surprising perks?

A: Surprising perks of the job would be being able to meet very interesting people. The bulk of our work is centred around telling stories of interesting personalities in Singapore – I’ve spoken to chef-owners, perfume makers, full-time content creators, bartenders and the like.

Another pretty superficial perk is access to good food. We have our fair share of F&B clients that keep us well-fed!

Q: What are your tips for people who want to start or grow their careers in this field?

A: Know why you want to be in this field. And it cannot just be about convenience or because it’s the cool thing to do, because you will not last the distance.

I believe very much in three key values – honour, clarity and grit – that have guided me in my career.

Technical skills-wise, platforms like Facebook are offering a slew of online courses which I would say are the best (and free) to take.

People I follow: Julian Cole, Mark Pollard, Jacob Cass. Once in a while I enjoy getting “pep talked” at by Gary Vaynerchuk.

Have a question? Let us know!