“Building Public Confidence”: Patrick Nathan from SMRT spoke on SMRT’s social media strategy, ROI measurement and incident management for COMM 346

Patrick Nathan is a Vice President of Singapore Mass Rapid Transit – SMRT, heading its Corporate Information and Communications Division (which includes Corporate Marketing and Communications, Passenger Service Department, and SMRT’s interestingly-named Information Fusion Centre). On October 22 he was Guest Lecturer in the social media ROI module in COMM 346 Social Media Strategies. He was accompanied by his SMRT Corporate Communication colleague Jean Pham Ai Ling.

lecturejean idea pitch jun kai
In his lecture, Vice President Nathan introduced SMRT’s social media use for developing an effective PR Strategy and building public confidence. More specifically, he discussed and explained how the collective new media platform (it includes Corp intranet, mobile apps, the SMRT blog and other social networking sites) streamline SMRT’s strategy to build and operate customer engagement, awareness, education, and incident management.

Regarding this year’s July 7 rail service disruption, which had extensive spillover impact on Singapore generally, V-P Nathan said that “for better community outreach” SMRT discussed “on broadcast platforms” various aspects about it and, importantly, about “taking responsibility, apologizing for the inconvenience, and explaining what went wrong, steps taken to rectify the fault and service recovery measures.” In these ways, he said, SMRT “did its best to demonstrate accountability, sincerity and transparency.” He also elaborated on how SMRT measures and evaluates the effectiveness of social media, mainly via two aspects: outreach and engagement.

In the workshop session which followed, V-P Nathan set each group an assignment which, in broad terms was to “Develop content ideas for an integrated PR strategy to address a persistent PR challenge for SMRT, and suggest an appropriate brand ambassador for SMRT.”

Group 2’s resultant pitch with its eye-catching catchphrase of The Right Ride – conveying the idea of an excellent customer experience for commuters and users of SMRT services – was evaluated highly by V-P Nathan and Jean Pham Ai Ling, and won the idea-pitch competition.

The win for the group (Tang Jingfang, Tan Wan Ling Elizabeth, Lim Jin Yang Mark, Juliane Benedict, Jeannie Teo Jin Min) means that it has achieved an impressive hat trick: three idea-pitch wins in a row – MBS, Uber, and SMRT. Group 2’s Jeannie Teo Jin Min said they had

“… focused on the prominently-persistent PR challenge of facing extreme public discontent over train breakdowns, delays and other service issues. And we want to amplify the unsung heroes: the service and technical staff of SMRT who tirelessly work long hours to provide a wholesome experience for commuters. This would be shown through a video where scenes of a day in a SMRT staff-member’s work are contrasted with those of a regular commuter – a student, housewife, businessman etc.”

V-P Nathan’s reaction and comment was one of high satisfaction with all the idea pitches:

“Honestly I cannot fault any group’s idea; the difficulty always comes with implementing the strategy. But if I must select only one idea, The Right Ride pitch was particularly impressive as it successfully captures the very essence of SMRT service with a couple of words and that sounds very modest and tries to be aspirational at the same time. I really would love to use this idea for our campaign implementation for real. That is what we want to provide to all Singaporeans.”

As a winning team, the group was awarded small prizes.

Group 2 has achieved an impressive hat trick: three idea-pitch wins in a row - MBS, Uber, and SMRT.
Group 2 has achieved an impressive hat trick: three idea-pitch wins in a row – MBS, Uber, and SMRT.

COMM 346 very sincerely appreciates SMRT for its informative and educational presentation and workshop activity for the class. We in COMM 346 hope to continue this industrial-educational conversation for future modules.

Faculty additional note: Patrick Nathan also brought into our COMM 346 Guest Lecture session the clear benefit and prestige of his substantial academic credentials, and his impressive Public Service track record. He has a Bachelor of Social Science (Honours) in Political Science (National University of Singapore) and a Master of Science in Strategic Studies (Nanyang Technological University). He served on Singapore’s National Security Secretariat 2002-2004, then was seconded to the National Security Coordination Centre, Prime Minister’s Office, as its Deputy Director, until 2011 when he joined SMRT.

Content Making (Social issues) – Sugarception

Hi everyone!

For this project, I wrote a blog for 4 weeks on issues related to sugar at sugarception.wordpress.com. The blog mainly focuses on the issue of the food industry manipulating consumers into buying food products that actually contain more sugar. In addition, the food industry does not disclose how much added sugar a product contains on its food label, deceiving consumers further. I also took on controversial issues such as how healthy a Subway sandwich is.

Find out what I learned about content-making and engagement on Friday!


Sarah Ho

Media Case Analysis (Business) – Nasty Gal

Hi everyone!

I have based my media case analysis on Nasty Gal.

It is a fashion retailer based in the United States of America that specialises not only in clothing but accessories and shoes as well. Nasty Gal started off in 2006 as an eBay store by its founder, Sophie Amoruso, who sold old pieces of clothing. It’s first brick-and-mortar outlet was opened in 2014 in Los Angeles.

Despite having almost a million followers each on Facebook and Instagram, the likes on posts by Nasty Gal barely reaches a tenth of its follower ratio. It’s Tumblr and Pinterest accounts are also seriously under-utilised.

As such, the 2 content pieces I have created for them will hopefully tackle these problems!


Guest Speech: Success of Uber rides with effective government relations

APCO’s Steve Liew – in his continuing policy and strategy advice to UBER’s operations in Singapore– speaks at COMM 346.

Students compete with fresh ideas to get Uber stories across to counterpoint increasing pressures from the Singapore taxi industry

SL mark.lim  white boardclass

APCO Worldwide1 Executive Director Steven Liew spoke on Uber’s strategic message plan to deal effectively with government relations, and to protect the legitimacy of its (i.e., Uber’s) business, against hostility.

Mr. Liew discussed the conflict between Uber, on one hand, and the Singapore taxi industry, on the other. Basically, each Singapore taxi driver is required to have a vocational licence, whereas Uber drivers do not need such a vocational licence.  Taxi drivers say that while competition itself is fine, it is unfair that their main competitors, namely Uber drivers, are not required to have the same vocational licence. Obtaining the vocational licence requires proving knowledge of road safety and related issues, and if taxi drivers must do so, Uber drivers also must.

During campaigning for the recent general elections, the taxi industry voiced its complaints, especially to Khaw Boon Wan, now Singapore’s Transport Minister and Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure. Minister Khaw has said that the taxi industry has a point, and that the Ministry was re-examining the situation. Simultaneously, though, he also has said that some people do prefer using Uber, and that authorities always should be “fair to players, whether incumbent or insurgents, and must strike a balanced approach.”

Mr. Liew  also spoke similarly. He said that as a lot of Uber drivers are really only driving part-time, if they are required to have a vocational licence, many of them “… will drop out of driving completely. On the other hand, if MOT (Ministry of Transport)/LTA (Land Transport Authority) does nothing, taxi drivers will feel their interests are not protected by the Government. And there are 100K taxi vocational license holders out there, of whom something like 30K – 60K drive taxis regularly. MOT/LTA cannot ignore this pressure group.”

Mr. Liew then proposed to COMM 346 students a challenging assignment: What good way can this matter be handled?

In response to Mr. Liew’s stimulating challenge, students competed with fresh ideas highlighting various aspects of Uber, one of which is that Uber creates jobs for breadwinners, and that they provide efficient and convenient rides for all Singaporeans. Each group pitched diverse ideas, encouraging as many people as possible to share their experience with Uber, and portraying Uber as a life-changing platform for fast revenue generation etc.

Cherie Lim Ying, Group 5, proposed to Mr. Liew that the difference in road safety and road knowledge between taxi drivers and Uber drivers could be bridged by online job training for Uber drivers (who would have to go through related courses and assessments). This would increase Uber-driver eligibility to be on the same level of skills and knowledge as the taxi drivers.

Group 2 (Tang Jingfang, Tan Wan Ling Elizabeth, Lim Jin Yang Mark, Juliane Benedict, Jeannie Teo Jin Min) was the winning team, due mainly to their enthusiastic and experience-based presentations about communal and practical values Uber can bring to Singaporeans. Group 2’s Mark Lim said “Our message highlights how Uber can change commuters’ lives. We think that the humanizing approach would be well received by most Singaporeans. People often come across troubling situations to get a ride, particularly when all taxis are on call or changing shifts … From my own experience, on the verge of being late for class, Uber was my hero and came to my rescue. Collecting this kind of commuters’ anecdotal pieces, we can plan on starting a hashtag campaign such as #SuperUber on Instagram.”

Mr. Liew commented that all the groups’ efforts are commendable. He gave special mention to Group 2’s work, pointing out that they had “… shown the importance of prior research and experience with customers’ service you are going to pitch ideas for, to make your ideas more appealing and convincing in a practical sense.”

With its workshop ideas pitch, Group 2 is prize-winner (second time consecutively)!

Mr. Liew’s excellent lecture presentation was about the history of disruptive technology, opportunities and challenges in a sharing economy industry like Uber. He also gave a rich description of how Uber embarked on working with regulators, managing pressing issues, in addition to the role of social media in creating awareness and engaging stakeholders.

1 APCO Worldwide is a global public affairs and strategic communications consultancy.

Group 9 – BreadTalk


My group has chosen BreadTalk since it has been one of the top home-grown brands in Singapore. As most of us know, it’s a bakery chain specialising in producing a variety of breads, cakes and pastries. Recently, Breadtalk has come under fire on social media for a string of scandals that has damaged its reputation. First, many netizens were angered when Breadtalk launched the ‘LKY’ buns meant to commemorate the late Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, and they felt that Breadtalk was insensitive and disrespectful. Then a photograph was circulated on Facebook showing Breadtalk selling repackaged Yeo’s soymilk while labelling it as ‘freshly prepared’ on the bottles  Caught red-handed for unethical marketing, many customers felt that their trust was betrayed and many netizens questioned the quality and authenticity of Breadtalk’s other bakery products. Netizens went on to comment on the poor service standards experienced at outlets on social media which fuelled more negative sentiments towards the brand, and this resulted in a severe loss of customer trust in Breadtalk. 

Although Breadtalk has released a statement of apology for the soymilk incident on Facebook, public response was largely negative as many felt Breadtalk did not sincerely admit its labelling and marketing mistake. Instead, Breadtalk claimed it has been clearly labelling the vendor’s brand and product information and instead issued a vague apology for the ‘misaligned presentation’. This led to a backlash where many customers wrote angry comments on social media, but Breadtalk failed to address them all.

So, my group wants to look at how we can effectively manage and respond to such negative customer feedback and generate more positive word-of-mouth and buzz to improve customer attitudes using social media. In the long run, it is also important for Breadtalk to rebuild customer trust is its brand.

Have a good weekend!

Xue Shan

How far can social media analytics help us in social media listening?

As we have learnt in class and tried our hands on the technology provided to aid us in our group project, a thought of “how far can such technology help companies tune in to social media listening to understand the needs of their target audiences and in turn, create business strategies that drive up revenue and sales” surfaces.

Yes, it is without doubt that with social media analytics, it can help companies to listen to conversations and obtain the general sentiment their customers have of their brand. Customers’ views often hold an important role for companies to gauge how customers perceive the brand, and often customers may then go a step further to influence the decision of the rest of the population by either showing support or going against a company’s brand. Hence, it is crucial as a starting point for companies to harness these technologies to their advantage to understand their customers before formulating their business strategies that can better fit the needs of their customers accordingly.

Though it may be a good start to tap on the customers’ views, there may be a limit as to how far the technology of social media analytics can accurately track the sentiment of the population.

Firstly, most of the younger generations are more likely to be technological-savvy as compared to the older generations and thus, the sentiment tracked by the social media analytics may be skewed towards the online voice of the younger crowd, failing to capture the opinions of the older generation.

Secondly, we have learnt previously that there are more “watchers” than “producers” in the social media hemisphere. Hence, likewise, sentiment tracked may be skewed towards the more expressive “producers” as compared to “watchers”, whom may hold a particular view but it is not voiced out on a social media platform yet.

Thus, companies have to be cautious with the interpretation and use of output generated by social media analytics.

In conclusion, I believe that having the technology of social media analytics opens the door for an opportunity to hear the voices of the customers but we need more than just the technology to get a comprehensive picture to obtain the market insights required to formulate business strategies that are favorable to the company.

So, what’s your take regarding this discussion on the technology of social media analytics? Any suggestions that can help overcome some of the limitations raised above?

“We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months”- President Obama.

In light of yesterday’s school shooting that the USA have suffered in Oregon, I thought it would be interesting to look at the role of social media in the before- and after math of the events.

On October 1st, 2015, a gunman named Chris Harper-Mercer shot nine people dead at Umpqua Community College.

The mass shooting is the latest incident of a chain of gun violence events in the US. Back in June, nine people were murdered, at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. Like after each incident, President Obama is demanding tighter gun laws. At a national level, the debate of ready availability of firearms and the role of mental health is undergoing.

However, perhaps the role of what happens online should also be up for debate as another important factor.

Subsequently, after the shooting, media outlets have drawn a link between the shooter, Harper-Mercer, and the online social media image-board 4chan. A number of outlets have drawn attention to posts on 4chan the day before the shooting, where an anonymous poster warned the public ”not to go to school in the northwest tomorrow” because ”some of you are alright”.

I attended high school in Helsinki, Finland, and from watching/reading Finnish news media, we have similarly seen this in the diverse school shootings here, where the shooters had ”warned” the public on a social media platform.

I thought it would be interesting to draw a parallel to internal communication that we discussed in class, and how/if organizations should monitor their employees’ use of social media. We can also link this to the question that is being debated by journalists and social media activists: how far should online platforms police speech and communication?


The debate of how social media should be monitored more has included social justice activists blaming social media platforms for their “hands-off approach to regulating speech”, which allows trolling and “hate speeches to thrive” and “mass killing plans to get egged on”.

What do you guys think about the idea of tighter regulations on social media posts? Do you see it as a violation of privacy or perhaps a positive step towards national security?


You can read more about it here:

Moon, Angela (2015, October). “Oregon shooting threat may have circled on social media”, Found October 2, 2015, from: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/02/us-usa-shooting-oregon-threats-idUSKCN0RV5W720151002